Life after Breast Cancer Surgery: The Recovery Process

I am almost three weeks post op after breast cancer surgery. Wow. This morning the last of the steri-strips came off after my shower. Seeing my scars for the first time was not as bad as I had imagined it would be. I admit, my thinking and mindset leading up to the surgery was not great.

I would wake up in the middle of the night not being able to breathe wondering how I would look. I was worried my relationship with my wife would change. This was permanent. No boobs. Gone. Forever. I thought about titling this post Drips, Drains, and Phantom Pains but my recovery includes much more than the physical process.

A double mastectomy was recommended as my best choice, but it was not one I was happy about having to make at this point in my life. Or any time in life. I was terrified. Cancer is terrifying. Losing body parts is terrifying. Terror moved in the moment I was told I needed a biopsy. The diagnosis, tests, doctor appointments, and information about breast cancer is scary. Oh shit, I truly couldn’t breathe.

I asked my wife many times if this was really happening. She would just nod. A month seemed like a year from the diagnosis to the day of surgery. As I was prepped for surgery, I was petrified and shell shocked before any cut was made. I did not cry at all that morning. Dawn, on the other hand, was a mess.

breast cancer surgery recovery
December 6, 2016 am

We have laughed about how our usual reactions had switched. Dawn usually holds it together when a crisis pops up, except when it comes to my health and wellness. She hates it when I have a headache and cannot help me feel better. Apparently anything bad happening to me turns her in to a puddle.

When the surgeon came into pre op she told us that my surgery was almost postponed for another day. Oh hell no!  I had already been injected with radioactive materials to mark my lymph nodes, which was an awful experience.The creepiest part of the hospital is the nuclear medicine wing. Trust me. My glowing nodes and an insistent surgeon saved the day.

Honestly, I did not know how I would be able to mentally re-prepare for this. At that point, there was no fucking guarantee I would want to come back if it had been postponed. Fuck that. Topping it off was my surgeon being notified of federal jury duty the week before. So if she got called, I may have made it all the way to Mexico by the time it was rescheduled. Margaritas anyone? Fear makes you think crazy shit.

breast cancer surgery recovery
December 6, 2016 pm

Once the anesthesiologist came in, I was out. I have only flashes of what I maybe think was happening for the next few days. According to my sources, I hear I am very entertaining and food obsessed after procedures. It was Taco Tuesday after all.

Recovery has been slow and difficult. Sleep was rare for the first two weeks. The drains were gross and hurt. Who the fuck stuck two garden hoses in my chest? Click here for video. It was a happy day when they were removed. I was not ready for how annoying a compression bra would feel on someone who was lacking breasts. I feel burning sensations and am convinced that phantom nipple pain is a thing. Seriously.

I cannot say my boobs hurt, because they are gone. The area where they used to live is now called my titless spot. I know it sounds weird, but you should hear how my youngest sounds when he is asking how I am doing. It is sweet and hysterical at the same time. We keep it real in our house.

breast cancer surgery recovery
December 9, 2016

I have been managing the pain without the good pain killers since day 3. Pain meds and I do not play nicely together. Damn disappointing really. I was looking forward to the doctor prescribed vacation from reality that ended prematurely with a migraine, ice pack, and vomiting.

While in the hospital, I had a 3am drug induced revelation. I felt like Jim Morrison on one of his mind bending desert trips. The best way to describe what happened is to say my brain unfroze. I had no idea what was in my IV drip, but whatever it was I am grateful for it.

I just knew that everything was going to be alright and I was okay. All of me, in every way. My body was a mess, but my brain was not. I also knew exactly what I wanted my life to look like. I am not sure how it is going to happen, or when, but I do know I am clear on the direction. For the first time in my 47 years, I refuse to let fear rule my life.

My struggle with fear has been front and center my entire life. My past is part of my story and the negativity affected how I saw myself and the world around me. Fear had been my friend for a long time. I trusted fear. I was resistant to let go of it. I thought it made me tough. It made me miserable.

Some of us are more stubborn than others. By some, I mean me. Ask my wife. I have been desperately trying to overcome fear for many years, especially in the year before my diagnosis. Strangely enough, since September, many of my biggest fears have come true.

breast cancer recovery
December 14, 2016

Cancer took care of the top three on my list. Yet I am ok. Once you get over the fear of loss, the fear of not being good enough, and the fear of what other people think, anything is possible. Turns out that my body must have stored most of its baggage in my boobs. They were gone and I realized how stupid it is to worry and obsess about everything in life. Especially all of the things outside out my control.

Obviously, there are always going to be moments of feeling afraid. Everything that I have gone through in my life has been basic training for this battle. I am cut out to be a warrior. I survived physical abuse and neglect as a child, emotional and mental abuse as an adult, left my first marriage with nothing, and lost my relationship with my son when I came out as a lesbian. My battle armor is strong and it took a cancer surgery for me to put everything in its proper place and perspective.

My wife lost her step mom to cancer earlier this the month. The day before my surgery actually. Her 14 year old niece was hesitant to attend the memorial service. She was afraid and upset. The night before the service Dawn spoke to her and the part of the conversation I overheard was about fear.

She explained how fear works and how what we imagine happening when we are afraid never is as bad we think it will be in real life. She encouraged her to not be afraid. My wife is like a wise broken record when it comes to fear. Fear, not fuck, is the four letter word in our house. In the end, her niece decided to rise above her fear and went. She did it afraid, but she did it.

December 20, 2016

When we are anxious, our brains team up with our emotions and wreck the place. I have gone around this mountain for most of my life and know all of the shortcuts. They do not go anywhere. Dawn says there always need to be a takeaway so here goes.

There can be fear in the known and unknown but it do not trust it for one second. Fear makes things seem bigger than they are and steals the joy in our lives. It is a time waster and robs us of peace and our energy. Letting fear rule is scarier than cancer, surgery, or anything else out there.

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