Brunette's Have More Fun (...Right?)

"We know how we got this far.. Strength and courage and a Wonderbra
(How I made it through the last 6 weeks. Ten points if you get the reference... #spiceupyourlife)

If you have opened this blog post, you're in for a treat. It's a sunny day, I'm sitting outdoors on my patio, and I already know this post is going to be extra long, since my life has been extra exciting these past few weeks (also because I have all of the necessities in arms reach: snacks, drinks and a foot rest. Why would I need to go inside?!). You'll hear me talk about my body hair, draining out (and measuring) my bodily fluids, how I react to anesthesia (you don't want to miss this), what not to tell someone before they go in for surgery, a story about the biggest needle I have ever seen, and even some cute baby pictures. It's gonna be a good one.

Before I can move forward, a quick story about my patio set. Here was the debate in the days before my surgery. Do we get a cute (less functional, less comfortable) patio set? Or do I say f**k it, and get the comfiest set I can find? I chose the latter. I got the set above and I LOVE it. I have already spent so much time out here. Jeff, however, asked me if he was being "Punk'd" when I brought them home. Okay... they're kinda ugly.

I'm going to start about three weeks ago: when I went in for my pre-op class at the hospital, to learn exciting things like how to empty bodily fluids out of my drains and how to properly treat my new breast (if this makes you uncomfortable, you definitely should not scroll through this post). Part of this lesson was from a physiotherapist. She went over exercises to help us fully recover from either a bilateral or single mastectomy. She lamented about how important exercises were to ensure you got back your full mobility. The first excercise? Put your hand into a fist and slowly open and close it. 

Wow. This is excercise? I hate excercise, but this is easy! If this is considered excercise, count me in!!


You mean, I wont be able to open and close my hand? I won't be able to shrug my shoulders? How will I show Jeff how indifferent I am when it comes to choosing between Suits and Bloodline as our after-dinner show?!  (You simply can't ask me to choose between Coach and Harvey). What are these surgeons going to be doing to me?

I was a bit frantic about how I was going to live for 6 weeks without being able to make a fist, much less be able to use my arm for anything else. The severity of my surgery hit me. I signed up for an online course to learn coding that I hoped would pass the time and had books on books on books to keep me occupied and give me something to look forward to. 

The days before my surgery I pulled out all my summer clothing and moved all of my "comfy" clothes to an arm level distance. I definitely wouldn't be able to reach up high (I am not supposed to reach over my head or lift anything over 10lbs). I moved all of the best snack foods from the high cupboards so I could reach them, and I got some pretty awesome hot pink body pillows (Jeff loves this addition to our bedroom) to support my arms and hold them elevated while I was healing from my axillary dissection (scraping out all the lymph nodes in my armpits).

I remember back to the days before my surgery as being fairly... calm. I kept waiting to be nervous. I kept thinking I was holding something back, burying my true feelings, but it never did come. The day of my surgery my Mom, Jeff and I packed up and were at the hospital for 10:30AM. We had some waiting time where we laughed, caught up on Homeland, and were in pretty positive spirits all around.

Around 1:30PM, they sent me in to get a "block". I had no idea what this was. In case you don't either, it's a type of anesthesia that they inject into your back through a series of needles, that travels through the chest to numb the area for up to 24 hours. It helps with pain post surgery. 

I met with my anesthesiologist, and as she was administering the block, she asked if I has any questions. All that popped to mind was "How do you know I won't wake up in the middle of the surgery?"

"Well... I don't really."

(So NOT the answer you want to hear before going in to surgery).

"It can happen, but it isn't common for your type of surgery."

"Hey! Remember that movie that had the patient getting open heart surgery where he woke up in the middle of it? THAT would never happen".



I got wheeled into the operating room and Dr. Arnaout (still my hero) held my hand while they put the mask on and before I could count down to 3, I was asleep. 

I wake up about 3 hours later in the recovery room. I'm crying uncontrollably. There is one nurse for about 12 patients, all of us having strange reactions to the anaesthetic. I kept telling her "I'm not even sad!!". I just kept crying. I told her I was feeling anxious and she pumped me with more drugs.

They told me they weren't able to save enough skin to be able to do immediate reconstruction (no implant, yet). The cancer was too close to the skin. I had a spacer put in and the skin remaining was stretched over it. It's definitely a shocking thing to wake up to... nothing. More to come on this.

After about an hour of crying and confusion, I moved downstairs where I got to see my family. They let me rest for awhile. When I woke up it was 9PM and they told me it was time to go home. As long as I could walk and go to the washroom by myself, I could leave.

That was a joke.

I looked at her as if she was crazy and said... yeah. I am not moving out of this bed. The pain I felt was a 10/10. I couldn't stand the pressure in my side. They kept giving me more drugs. I tried to move and couldn't use my right arm much less sit up on my own. I tried to brave going to the washroom. Every time I tried to stand up and walk around I got sick.

This was around the time I was admitted to the hospital overnight. My family had to go home and I was moved back up to the recovery room.

I had this weird thing where I was convinced the doctor treating everyone in the recovery room was Bob from The Walking Dead. Anesthesia and morphine do strange things to my brain. 

As soon as I was admitted in for the night, I immediately relaxed. In reality it was probably the piles of drugs, but I don't remember the last time I was that relaxed. Knowing someone is going to look after you, that you're in the care of professionals, is super comforting. I was happy my family got to go home and sleep (although, I don't think they slept much). I tried to get up a few times (unsuccessfully), but eventually around noon the next day I was discharged and able to walk.

 Waking up in the hospital and being reunited with Jeff. Obvi needed a selfie to let everyone know I lived.

I determined it was because they make you fast before the surgery, and I hadn't eaten in almost 32 hours when I woke up in the hospital that I got so sick. Narcotics on an empty stomach don't agree with me!

Jeff and my mom shared the task of helping me sit, walk, lie down and get changed for the days following the surgery. I have been sleeping with my arm elevated and sitting up straight for almost three weeks now.

Last time I wrote to you was about a week after my surgery. By then I was able to walk, sit and stand on my own. I was able to fully lift my arm above my head. Despite the tragic tale of my night in the hospital (if you are going for surgery similar to mine, don't worry. That reaction is uncommon!), I'm recovering really well. My nurse told me that while in most cases they encourage their patients to stretch and move more, she told me to remember I just had a major surgery and not to over-do it. Why is everyone always trying to rain on my parade?! Doesn't everyone know it's summer now? I got patio drinking to do.

Up and at 'em!

You may or may not have heard about the dreaded drains. If you're my friend, chances are you got some disgusting pictures of me with my drains. I was fascinated by them. If you are getting this surgery done let me tell you something: they are NOT as bad as the internet makes them out to be.

The dreaded Jackson-Pratt drains

You empty the drains of fluid every few hours and measure how much is in them. Once they're below 30cc you can have them removed. I had 2 drains, and they stayed in for 10 days. One gave me problems. It wouldn't stop blocking. My nurse told me it was blocking with chunky "matter". Body matter. Stringy, cell-like material. Shudder.

Let me tell you what you're looking at. This is my side. Other then saving my life, Dr A also saved my tattoo. She put my drain right in between the petals! Fun fact: my mom drew my tattoo.

Anyways, once they were out, I was able to shower. This is a definite cause for celebration. 10 days of sweaty hot flashes = this girl needed a shower. I often wonder how Jeff still loves me. ;)

Spoiled brat! 

I went into my surgery without knowing what to expect. Now that I have gone through it, here is my list of things you absolutely need post-mastectomy (also, this is a good link to follow for more tips too):

1) A back pillow with arms to prop you up. It saved me.  (Note: I tagged this one because it was pink like mine, but then noticed it was $350. Do not spend $350. I got mine from Giant Tiger for $15).

2) A lap tray (because you will seriously not want to move any bone in your body if you don't have to for at least 5 days).

3) Clothing that zips up in the front. I couldn't lift my hands above my head, so any clothing I had to put over my head was out. Big, baggy sweaters were the best for me. I attached the drains to myself by pinning them to the zippers and wearing them like a fashionable necklace. 

4) Don't bother with the expensive bras. They recommend you get something without an underwire. If you go to a mastectomy boutique, they have beautiful options without a doubt, but in the end, my favorite bra has been my $5 cotton one from Wal-Mart.

5) Someone to stay with you for the first few days! They recommend someone stay with you for the first night, but I was so happy to have Jeff and my mom to administer my meds, make my food, and help me sit up and lie down for at least the first 4 days.
It wouldn't be a blog post without a picture of my kitties so... here you go.

I'm surprised (and grateful), because I honestly expected to be in bed for about 6 weeks. It's been 20 days since my surgery and I'm (almost) fully back to normal routine. Nights still suck, but what else is new? Hot flashes are still testing my patience, and I have to sleep sitting upright on top of everything. Narcotics made me have the strangest dreams (dead bears and bleeding eyeballs), but I'm able to do most basic functions. I can't work my upper body super hard but the pain is tolerable and at times almost non-existent.

Things I've been up to in the last few weeks:

My beautiful sister donated EIGHT INCHES of healthy hair to Hair Donation Ottawa last weekend and raised over $600 for the cause. I was overjoyed to see so many hairstylists donating their time, young girls (as young as 5!) cutting their hair for donation, and the amazing results: over $100 000 and hundreds of inches of hair. 

Some more life photos:

Family visits, long braids, plants that look like pineapples and patio lunch.

Yesterday we went to see Dr. Arnaout for my follow up appointment. She had my pathology report to review with me. When we got in the room together, she was near giddy. She said she could not have better news. My tumor had shrunk to 1.8 cm (down from it's original 10cm), and it is officially gone. She is confident that it was all removed. I had 26 lymph nodes removed from under my arms (remember: we all have a different number of lymph nodes!), and only 2 tested cancer-positive (less then 4mm). Two others had shown they were full of cancer but the chemo completely killed it off. This is promising because if there was any other cancer floating around my body, it is almost sure to have been killed off by the chemo as well.

So, May 4th I'm (technically) cancer-free. The chemo was extremely successful. Those times where I wanted to walk out and quit... were worth it. In the end, my pathology showed I officially had aggressive, Stage 3 breast cancer. To be honest, I thought I would be more elated. Don't get me wrong: I am so grateful. I could not have better news. I'm just tired. Cancer is tiring. It has literally taken up every waking moment of the last 6 months. I think it will take awhile to feel "normal" again.

I officially win for Transformation Tuesday.

I met with Dr Zhang this morning, our plastic surgeon. I was having pain under my arm. Although I have absolutely no feeling in my armpit and chest area that was operated on, it was definitely swollen. 

If you're afraid of needles, you should just get a touch of cancer. I can guarantee it will take care of that fear quicker then you can say "port-o-cath" (I kid). She pulled out this huge syringe (bigger then my whole hand. The actual needle was longer then my middle finger) and drained a ton of fluid from the area. She actually had to empty the syringe then come back for more. Immediately, I felt relief. This is called Seroma, and if it happens to you: get it checked out. The needle is freaky for sure, but you won't feel it go in. The surgery has damaged all the nerves in the area so the feeling is gone, and it can (sometimes!) be permanent.

After getting over the syringe, she then tells me she's going to "pump me up". So not as fun as it sounds. She grabs another equally large needle, and blows up my spacer with saline to stretch my skin so eventually when I go back for reconstruction, they can insert an implant.

Mentally, not only am I done with needles, but I'm also feeling over whelmed with so many appointments and information at once. Yet again, I'm heading into the unknown. Radiation starts in about a month.

We rocked out from a young age.

I find myself looking at old pictures often and saying "If only I had known what was coming for me!", or "If you had told me this was going to happen to me at 24, I wouldn't have believed you!". I tell myself I would have lived differently, but I know I wouldn't have. I would have worked the same amount, ate the same amount, drank the same amount, danced the same, loved the same, acted the exact same.

I have spent hours creeping Instagram at the "#breastcancer" hashtag, and it is unbelievable how many young women are diagnosed with this cancer. When Dr. Arnaout told me I had stage three breast cancer, I was shocked. Initially I thought I had stage two. Not that it matters now, but it just made me realize (again) how real this was. Stage four is considered incurable... I can't believe I had almost let it get that far.

Here's my cancer spiel for this post. My girl Nalie has a great initiation to #feelitonthefirst. Check yourself out on the first of the month. It's not about doing it right it's about doing it regularly and getting to know your own body. The second you notice changes, get it checked out ASAP. Not every change means you have breast cancer, but it's worth taking a look. Her video below made me giggle: the best way to get comfortable with a topic that makes people uncomfortable is to just be open and real about it. You could save yourself from chemo, radiation, surgery, recovery - heck you can save your own life.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what 7 weeks post-chemo hair looks like...


Thought I would say "Hi!" from my patio (Where'd my blonde go?!). Thank you (again) for all of your support from my last post. Life seems to be trying to test my positivity... but as long as the sun is shining and there are still cute puppies, kitties and babies to snuggle in this world then what is there to be sad about?

Until next time...



PS - Link to my e-mail here. Just in case you want to hear more about drains, fake boobs, or how to efficiently clip your extensions into your wigs, I'm a jack of all trades over here, and just a quick click away. ;)  

PPS - I wrote this post on May 9th and just never posted it. So, here it is. More has of course happened since then, so stay tuned!

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