Tuesday, December 16, 2008

12/16/2008: Infection Strikes

I am convinced that the world is a rollercoaster and that I am not strapped in. I thought my emergency surgery last Tuesday was going to be a breeze. I imagined that I would wake up from surgery, have some tightness in my chest with a little discomfort, be reunited with my family, order a semi-edible meal and sleep in a semi-comfortable bed, then head home the next morning. I was sorely mistaken.

Before my surgery several nurses came into my room to prep me. They used these sanitizing wipes to wash my entire body before I got into the bed. They said because of my compromised immune system from chemotherapy that they had to take every possible precaution. Shortly after I was cleaned my plastic surgeon arrived and marked my body to get me ready for surgery. My parents sat with me in the final moments before they took me back. Once I was in the room a large man entered. It was my surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Mason who originally diagnosed my cancer. He was there doing other surgeries but wanted to see me before they put me under. We chatted briefly about how far I had come in my journey and my black hair. The anesthesiologist started my drip. The room started to swirl, Dr. Mason leaned over and kissed me on the cheek telling me that it was all going to be okay and I felt the tears swell.

I woke up in recovery with horrible pain in my left breast and side. I had a huge, white blow-up contraption lying on top of me that looked like a floatation device for the pool that you use to float around and sunbathe on. It was pumping in hot air. The nurse explained that my temperature was incredibly low and they had to get it back up quickly. She continued checking my temperature and stayed with me in order to gage my pain. She explained that my plastic surgeon Dr. Wendy Gottlieb had done a lot of work on my left side and said that I would be very uncomfortable when I woke up. I continued asking for pain medicine and inquired as to when I could go to my room. She said not until I could go longer than eight minutes without asking for painkillers.

I watched as the woman across from me who had just had a mastectomy tried desperately to pull out her drainage tubes. Several nurses ran over and strapped her arms down as she screamed. My heart ached. Another nurse came into my curtained-off area and said an acronym starting with ‘S’ and ending in ‘D’. I proceeded to respond to her in a loud voice explaining that I was clean and did not want any STDs. I told her to “keep her bugs to herself.” Then the nurse next to me mentioned something about a scrotum which made me laugh like a 10-year-old and I then yelled “scrotum” at the top of my lungs. I’d like to say that most of this was due to the medicine, but honestly who knows. I decided I needed to pee and was given a bucket to sit on. My attempt was unsuccessful as my bladder was not cooperating, so when I laid back down I noticed the whole left side of my gown was covered in blood. I screamed for the nurse. She ripped my gown off, applied a folded gauze pad and told me to apply pressure. I was pressing on my breast as the pain pulsed through my whole body. The nurse ran to call Dr. Gottlieb. The gauze pad was reinforced with lots of sticky plastic tape to keep pressure on the leaky incision and I was given a new gown and a warm blanket.

Once I arrived in my room I was given a morphine button which allowed me to administer pain medicine once every 10 minutes. My pain was now under control. I had two contraptions strapped to my legs that continued to fill with air then deflate in order to keep me from getting blood clots. I must have been allergic to them because I broke out in hives and welts all over my legs and could not stop scratching them. I finally ripped them off that evening and tucked them under my covers. I finally had to pee and called the nurse. She told me that I needed to go in the bucket in my bed. I assured her that “my cup would runneth over,” but she insisted. I was right and she was wrong. The nurse told my mom not to make a big deal about me peeing all over my bed since she didn’t want to embarrass me. My mom laughed and said, “You don’t know my daughter.” We all had a pretty good laugh about it. The next time I told the nurse I had to pee she helped me out of bed. Guess she learned her lesson. When you gotta go you gotta go.

It is no surprise that I am cranky and miserable being slowed down and achy only a week after surgery. Not to mention that the results are not to my liking at all. My surgeon opted to go with the smaller size implant that I had picked out, however my skin is still very tight so the implants are smooshed. My left breast is very swollen and black and blue. The swelling runs all the way down my left side to my hip bone.

On Friday I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Gottlieb and she informed me that when they went into my left breast that there was a lot of “gunk” that had built up between the expander and my skin due to the radiation. She said they had to scrap and clean and scrap and clean again. I told her about how unhappy I was with the results and she told me that I need to wait 1 to 3 months for the implants to settle into place. She said that if I am still not happy in 3 months that we will revisit the issue but right now I have to heal. I am devastated by the way I look physically and am trying desperately to be patient, but I am wearing thin at this point.

Thankfully my family was there by my side and my friends came to visit me. They all dealt with my Percocet infused blabber and tear-filled rants about how I am miserable and hate my body. Just like my mastectomy, this surgery has brought with it insecurities, psychological challenges, anxiety and depression. I’m not going to create an illusion that this is all easy and that I am happy. I am all out of faith at this point and that’s simply how I feel. I am not sure how much more I can endure.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

12/7/2008: Surgery Moved

Update: Surgery has been moved to tomorrow (Tuesday) at Virginia Hospital Center at 2:40pm. I will be spending the evening in the hospital due to my skin complications. I will most likely stay with my parents Wednesday evening since I won't be totally mobile still.

I fear that things have gotten worse. As I was getting ready for a party on Saturday night I noticed that my incision across my left breast was black and blue and the blood vessels were bright red. I called my plastic surgeon on her emergency line and she told me that my skin was compromised from radiation and that my incision was starting to open.

I went to Reston Hospital Sunday morning and my plastic surgeon, Wendy Gottlieb was there in sweats with her three-month-old little girl in tote. She checked my incision and then placed a large needle through my breast into my expander. She removed 25cc of saline and then while pulling the needle out stopped outside the expander and pulled out fluid that had built around my expander. She removed 35cc of fluid total in order to alleviate pressure on my incision where my skin has become incredibly thin.

My plastic surgeon and I selected two sizes of implants and most likely I will have to go with the smaller size due to the fact that my skin is so compromised. Dr. Gottlieb says that the fact that my boobs are retaliating now is odd, but not completely unheard of. She said that radiation breaks down the skin over time and that mine is apparently happening now. Just in time for surgery … lucky me! In the interim, if my incision opens further I have to pack it with Neosporin, keep it covered and start taking an antibiotic. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will hold up one more day.

I have real mixed emotions about this surgery. I wish I could say that I was in a great frame of mind, but I'm not. I feel deafeated although I know that is not the full story when looking at the big picture. I am simply exhausted from fighting and I want so badly to be done with all this. These expanders have been incredibly uncomfortable and I long to be able to sleep on my stomach or even my side comfortably. It is hard to explain how they feel. I guess the best description is that they feel like bricks sitting on my chest. They are hard, don't move and are incredibly heavy. But I have also grown accustomed to them and finally accepted the way my body looks. Now I have to fight that vanity battle all over again.

Keep me in your thoughts tomorrow and I will write a blog entry when I am on the mend.

Friday, December 5, 2008

12/5/2008: Thankful List

Thanksgiving marks some difficult moments in my life, such as when my grandmother passed away and when I found the tumor under my arm that resulted in my cancer diagnosis. It was only a year ago that before going to bed I rolled over on my left side and felt a sharp pain in my armpit. I knew at that moment that something was seriously wrong with my body, but I never expected it to be cancer. It is hard to believe that I have been sick and fighting for my life for over a year. It is overwhelming, even now.

My friend Bronwyn said it best when she texted me on Thanksgiving morning and told me to try and celebrate how far I’ve come and all of the Happy Thanksgiving memories I have made in the past. Despite the difficult moments in my life, I took this holiday to relax and truly reflect on all the wonderful things in my life. If you know me, you are aware that I am not one to mope and be negative, especially with so much yummy food beckoning me. So on Thanksgiving I ate, drank, watched football, texted my friends Happy Thanksgiving, laughed as our tiny Yorkie, Abigail Marie barked at herself in the fireplace and curled up in my parent’s big comfy chair while my Mom played with my hair.

I decided to make a list of the top 10 things I am thankful for in my life. I shall not leave you in suspense any longer for this list is quite epic.

10. FaceBook: I know, being thankful for an online social network seems ridiculous in theory, however FaceBook has brought so many good friends back into my life or simply gave me access to their pages where I can stalk them for hours at a time. Either way, it has been entertaining, consuming and satisfying. Thank you Mark Zuckerberg for creating FaceBook from your Harvard dorm room.

9. Dancing & Singing: I have attended weddings, birthday parties, going away events … you name it, and I have done it over the past few months. I have even gone so far as to sing for four hours straight and lose my voice playing Rock Band at a party. I belted Tina Turner ‘Private Dancer’ and ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ from Evita karaoking. I have been out with my girlfriends dancing until 4 a.m. and even breaking it down in my underwear in the living room by myself. I have a new lease on life and I am partying like a rockstar.

8. Traveling: I can’t sit still for too long and being grounded in Northern VA during treatment and surgery was painful for me. Not that I don’t like it here, but I get bored easily and require a change of scenery. I blame it on being a Sagittarian. One weekend in November I visited my sorority sister Nicky in New York City and the next I was in Los Angeles with my friend Bronwyn. These trips reinforced that I am not a victim, but instead am a survivor. I was renewed, although I came home and got a terrible sinus infection. It was totally worth it!

7. Yoga: I started taking yoga about three years ago with my friend Marisa and never before has it been such an important part of my life. On days when I could barely walk or talk, I would lie on my yoga mat and follow some simple breathing and stretching exercises. I was able to meditate and from time to time would even cry during the sessions from letting negative energy and thoughts go. I was focusing solely on healing my body, empowering my mind and strengthening my soul. It made me feel better and for those moments I was able to leave cancer behind and connect with myself.

6. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches: I didn’t realize how bad my taste buds had become from the chemotherapy and all the testing. Everything had this weird vegetable-like taste or metallic flavor. It wasn’t until the afternoon I arrived home from New York that I had my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich in years. I drooled down my face as I relished in the powerful texture and sweetness that the sandwich possessed. I know it sounds stupid, but imagine everything tasting like brussels sprouts for six months and then all of a sudden you can taste a PB&J. It was amazing! I have had seven PB&Js since.

5. Jurassic Park: Now I know this seems completely absurd and especially listed over PB&J, but Jurassic Park heals all my wounds. If you know me well, then you know that I am psycho for JP. “Clever girl” gets me every time and although I have watched the movie 50-some times; I still sit on the edge of my seat and yell at the TV for the kids to hide in the kitchen while being stalked by the velociraptors. Without Jurassic Park, I don’t know where I would be. (Kori, Lord of the Rings is right behind JP. I am psycho for it, too.)

4. Hair: I HAVE HAIR … and just in time for winter!!! Although I believe that I look like a fourteen year old boy, I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I am to have soft, thick, dark brown hair. I have about 2.5 inches of hair now and it is growing really fast! Not only that, but my eyelashes and eyebrows have returned and although they are not as thick and long, they are so much better than having nothing. The vanity issues are finally resolving themselves and I am so thankful.

3. Friends (laughter): It’s like in the movie ‘Sex and the City’ when Carrie is certain that she will never laugh again after her saga with Mr. Big. “You will,” Miranda assures her, “when something is really funny.” Although not as dramatic, my inner comedian lay dormant and I wondered if she would ever come back. Oh, she certainly did. There were a couple of times that I even tried to fight it, but laughed so hard I piddled. (Yes, piddled.) Like Carrie, my friends brought me back to life with their quick wit, making fun of me unrelentingly and holding my hand every step of the way … even when I was too proud to grab for it first.

2. Family: How can I possibly make this list without including my family? I am thankful for my Cheerleader (my father) who has been at every single appointment (except for the boob ones, because that’s just too weird). I am thankful for my Rock (my mother) who from day one assured me that “it’s ok” and even on days when it wasn’t, she made it feel like it was. My Sweetness (my brother) who always told me how beautiful I am even with a bald head, no eyelashes, swollen face, five drainage tubes and the ugliest bra you’ve ever seen. My peanut (Abigail, our Yorkie) who kept me entertained while in my darkest of hours by stealing my glasses off my face and hiding them throughout the house. My family is my everything and with their love and support we beat cancer.

1. Being Cancer Free: It is one of those things you really cannot understand unless you have lived through it. Hearing the word “remission” and knowing that death had you in his grasp and you fought like hell and won is the most incredible feeling. Cancer is the worst thing I can possibly imagine. And it isn’t simply what it did to me physical, psychologically and emotionally, but how it affected my family, friends, work, school … my entire life. Cancer pulled the rug out from under me and without my team of doctors, a strong will power and endless support … I would not be here today. I am thankful and truly blessed.