It has been exactly 5 weeks since I went under the knife, having BOTH of my breasts removed. ...Wow, how quickly has that time gone! It feels like I have done 'so much' and 'nothing', all at the same time! Time flies when you are having ...ummmm...not a lot of fun! ...But, here I am, now, over 1 month later, with two new breasts (both containing no tissue, just implants under muscles) and, after hearing that my removed tissue presented with some "unusual cells", well, I know I made the smart/right decision for me and for my body. My breasts are no longer an extreme risk to my health, I am still cancer-free ...and I plan on staying that way.
So, as you can imagine, having debilitating surgery and a massively, time consuming recovery period, I have learned A LOT about myself. I could drone on about the multitude of little life lessons throughout my recovery thus far ....but, really, what it all boils down to is just ONE succinct point.... and here it is...
Thanks to the foresight of my snap-happy, social media loving mum (and I quote her: "You will thank me for this later, Darling, it's for your blog!"), I have a not-so-glamorous, but extremely acurate, visual timeframe of RECOVERY PHOTOS in the first 7 days post-surgery! ...tap eac of the pictures to read their captions and know what was going on...
I did it! It finally, actually happened... 11 days ago, I had my BRCA1 prophylactic double mastectomy procedure. It's over, it's done... now for recovery.
I really can't believe it has only been 11 days since I walked into the hospital, experiencing such an all-encompassing, heavy sense of fear and anxiety. I felt like I was a little girl, not an adult. Seriously, the impending sense of doom at facing the unknown, as well as my complete lack of control over what lay ahead, left me paralyzed with extreme fear in a way that made me feel like a child. It was petrifying to feel so small.
But since then, I have been wholly different. As soon as I woke in the recovery ward, the fear was gone, washed away, and replaced with an immediate sense of relief. The build up of anxiety had vanished, the worst was 'all over' ...and what an absolute whirlwind my recovery has been so far. Since the operation on September 13th, I am certain that I have experienced absolutely every single extreme emotion and feeling known to man, in their most magnified forms ...it has been torturous and relieving all at the same time... but best of all? It's now done.
I stayed in hospital for three days after my surgery. It was painful, I'm not going to lie. It was not easy and it was not fun. I found the best way to manage my pain was to sleep ...and so I did just that. I took the pain meds and I slept. Thankfully, sleep is a core element of success in surgical recovery. There are certain bodily processes, such as restoration and repair, that your body can only perform when you are asleep, as it is not focusing on doing anything else (like digesting, walking, talking...). Post-surgery sleep provided my body with the chance to carry out these vital repairing and healing processes, without distraction ....so lucky for me that I could, ahem, "sleep for England", as my hospital-bed neighbour so eloquently put it!
Unfortunately for me though, my strong pain meds negatively affected my blood pressure (dropping it as low as 88 over 58). So, before heading home, my doctors took me off these, thus, making my car ride home...well, let's just say: "NOT pleasant". Having hardly moved for 3 days, the action of exiting the hospital, journeying home, making my way up to my apartment and falling into my bed, left me in intense pain, physically and mentally exhausted and very, very teary. I arrived home, I wept ....and I slept.
Since flopping into my own bed for the first time 7 days ago, however, my recovery has moved rapidly from strength to strength, with each passing day leaving me with greater ability and movement, as well as an increasing sense of independence. Thankfully, my gorgeous mum, Julia, has been staying with me; an absolute God-send. I have NO idea how I would/could have managed without her being my nurse, my carer, my arms ...my comfort ...So, thanks, mum.
On day 7, I headed back into the hospital to have my drainage tubes removed (you can see them in the above photo, I had one on each side). This was a huge turning point, as I realised that the intense, sharp, stabbing pains I had been feeling regularly in the upper section of each breast were being caused solely by the end of each of these drains. Once removed, my experience of pain (and recovery) completely changed; from sharp stinging pain, to dull, achey throb ...which is far more manageable and has enabled me to move and function with greater freedom.
Since waking up in recovery, as you can see in my charming little photo above, I have been wearing an oh-so-fetching, post-surgery ensemble ...the medical tape 'bikini', adorned with perfect areola-sized holes to ensure ample nipple exposure. This not only allows for semi-breast-support, but also enables adequate visual nipple-checking abilities, allowing me to keep an eye on the region, to ensure my nips weren't 'dying' ...(yes, nipple necrosis can be a post-mastectomy thing ...and I would advise you to avoid Google imaging it if you ever want to sleep soundly again, trust me...and FYI, all good...my nips are happy and flourishing and they thank you very much for asking!). This fashionable wrapping stayed on until yesterday, day 10; the official unveiling of my 'new girls' at the hospital. The bikini came off and I saw them, undressed, for the first time. They are a bit swollen and bruised ...but they are even, they look natural and the incisions are healing and barely visable. I am absolutely amazed. Truly, I am blown away. To think that less than two weeks ago my body underwent severe surgical trauma and yet has bounced back so quickly and efficiently ...well, I really could not be happier. ...And when the doctor informed me yesterday that they had "tested the removed breast tissue", with the left breast being clear, but the right having presented some 'irregular cells' ...well, it is clear that I made the right decision for my health and my future.
Over the last few days of recovery I have reached many milestones (eg. being able to independently make a cup of tea, washing my own hair, even managing to reach my electric toothbrush down from the THIRD shelf in the bathroom cabinet) ....and as I continue on this road to full recovery, I do so with high hopes, positivity and increasingly big dreams of being able to rehang my clothes in the wardrobe soon and pulling open my apartment door all by myself in the very near future!
Thanks for reading ...and for all of your support!
Love, Emma xx
... And so, the countdown continues.
Only nine more sleeps until I will finally be walking into London's Royal Marsden hospital in Chelsea, for my preventative double mastectomy operation, due to my BRCA1 gene mutation (check out my first blog post for more info on that). I am ready. In my head, heart and body, I feel prepared for it... but I have a sneaky little suspicion that as the day draws closer, I might be headed for a slight roller coaster of emotions... so, be prepared, people!
As you well know, what I currently consider to be the greatest 'silver lining' of my whole genetic mess, is the chatting and reconnecting with all my much-loved friends and family across the globe... as everyone has been getting in touch to send me love and well wishes (again, thanks so much! Love you guys!). I noticed, however, in all these conversations, that there is one specific question that seems to pop up every time: "What happens during the operation?" ...and so, I thought I would sit down and outline this procedure for you guys today, just so you know what I'm heading in there for.
I'm no doctor, so excuse the layman's language, but here goes:
After being placed under general anesthetic, my surgeon (Dr. Gerald Gui) will make a long incision under the fold of my breast. This will allow him to 'flip open' the breast (bleh! sorry, if you get squeamish), so that he can remove ALL breast tissue. Luckily for me, as I do not currently have breast cancer, I am able to keep my nipples... as new research demonstrates a minimal difference in the occurrence of cancer with/without nipples, post-this preventative surgery. Dr. Gui will then scrape the underside of the skin and nipples (Ugh, bleh, sorry again) to ensure that the only breast material left is the skin and outside portion of the nipple; all glands, tissue, nerves will be removed. Leaving the breast 'sack' completely empty for the surgeon to refill immediately... so, the removal and reconstruction all occurs in the one operation. I have chosen to go with a similar-sized implant to what I am already. I am a small-breasted gal, so will be increasing by just 1 size, b to c... coz why the hell not?! I should allow myself to get some joy out of all this crap, right?! ...(Thanks to my ladies who have convinced me not to be so boring, and to go a tiny bit bigger, you know who you are...and I love you!)
Since my implants aren't going to be hugely different, they can be inserted immediately, no need for expanders. Ladies who choose to go significantly larger or who have had a double mastectomy due to a breast cancer diagnosis (so their nipples have been removed, leaving the remaining breast now considerably smaller), they will often need expanders to be put in first. This enables the doctor to slowly stretch the skin over a few months, before performing a second operation to fit the permanent implants. However, this is not the case for me, so I will be getting my implants put in straight away.
Based on the recommendation of my surgeon (and after ample "umming" and "ahhing"), I have chosen for my reconstruction to occur UNDER the muscle. This was a really tough decision for me. It is incredibly difficult to make a choice about something as complex and overwhelming as surgery. As knowing once I'm under the knife, my choice is final and I have no idea which I am really going to prefer or want without seeing or feeling it on me. I was given the option of over or under the muscle. Both have pros and cons. But in the end I have chosen under, as it is the more tried and tested method. This type of implant maintains a longer recovery time (an obvious con for me, being a yoga teacher, as I will be 'out of action' for a lengthier period)... but it seems to me that there is less wiggle room for aesthetic complications in the future. So, I'm going for it... UNDER the muscle.
To get the implant where it needs to be, the surgeon will lift my pectoral muscle and slot the implant in underneath (check out the diagram to see what I mean). He will then use either a piece of synthetic material or pig skin (which has been stripped of all of it's genetic elements, so its basically like leather) and he will create a mini hammock for the implant to sit in. Without this, the implant could pull or slip out of position, as my breasts will have no tissue to hold it in place. Once that is complete, he will stitch me up... et voila! One boob done!... and he will swiftly move on to boob number two, to do the same thing all over again. The full procedure will take approximately 4 hours.
So, there you go. That is what I will be doing in 9 sleeps time. As I said, right now I feel calm and collected.... lets hope it stays that way... watch this space!
Luv, Emma xx
Diagram credit: https://www.novanthealth.org/