It’s been a full week since my latest surgery, and recovery is going as well as can be expected!
Before I go into detail, I have to take a few moments to thank the two most wonderful parents in the world. They have been at the hospital for every appointment and surgery, and they have taken care of me throughout recovery. I spent the last week in their home, and they went above and beyond to help me be comfortable. Mom even learned to empty my drain (ew.) and did this for me multiple times a day since during that first week it made me woozy to do it myself. Now, even though I’m back in Anderson, Mom is here with me (staying right here in Martin Hall!), and Dad will be traveling back and forth to help.
It reminds me of a time a few years ago. Despite my parents being “empty nesters,” my sister and I have a way of finding ourselves back at home under their care. When I was 27 and my sister was 30, we both wound up as invalids on my parents’ couch. My sister was very pregnant and had just moved back to the States after a couple of years in Europe. Her husband was still working in Paris for a few weeks before he could come over. During this time, I broke my leg while volunteering at Camp Pyoca. Suddenly the empty nest was very full, with both Platt sisters needing some TLC. My parents rose to the occasion as they always do!
I cannot thank my parents enough. If you know them (or see them around campus in the coming days), tell them they are awesome!
Lymph Node Dissection
I didn’t do a great job in my last update explaining what actually happened during my surgery. After being knocked out (so thankful for modern medicine!), the doctor made an incision across my entire armpit. He was able to reopen my first incision and expand it. He then removed a large area of tissue with an entire network of lymph nodes embedded in it. The below photo doesn’t totally do it justice, but you can get a sense of how much tissue is missing and how big of a “hollow” there is under my arm.
The incision had to be closed with staples this time, since the “hollow” typically does not allow steri-strips to stick long enough, and traditional stitches aren’t up to the task. Believe it or not, the staples have not bothered me at all. I don’t feel them. I’m not looking forward to the removal process, but for now they aren’t causing any issues. They will most likely be removed at my check up next week.
The next phase of the surgery was putting in a drain. These drains are pretty common for any type of surgery, not just cancer-related procedures. For some reason, even though I’m totally comfortable sharing pics of my incisions, showing you my drain felt too open. Something about my own fluids being shown to the world… yuck. So, here are a few pics from good old Google to show you what I have going on right now:
Gross, right? But it’s a necessary step in the process. The lymph system regulates fluids, infection, and swelling. I just had a major procedure that naturally produces swelling and collection of fluids. But, that same procedure removed the entire system that would regulate it. That’s where the drain comes in. It removes the fluids and allows the area to heal.
Multiple times a day I empty the drain. At first this made me super woozy. It was not painful at all, but something about it made my head spin… I’m sure it was all psychological. Mom did it for me for almost a week before I was able to do it myself. She is a saint! Emptying the drain consists of running your fingers over the tubing to help loosen any clots or clogs and then opening the little stopper. You pour out the liquid into a special measuring cup that the hospital provides. You record how much came out and what color it is (healthy colors range from yellow to red, but all of if should be translucent. Anything opaque needs to be reported to the doctor!)
The drain can be removed by the doctor when you get down to a certain amount of fluid per day for several days in a row. Something super helpful my nurses told me: Don’t worry if the amount of fluid goes down over the first week and then goes back up. As you get more active during recovery, the fluids tend to go back up temporarily. I’m glad she told me this, or I would have been worried for the last few days. As I’ve been up and more active, the levels have gone up a bit.
I am super tired of the drain already. It is uncomfortable, especially where the tube comes out of my side. Psychologically, I couldn’t handle seeing where the tube comes out, so I put an “Ouchless” bandage over it. It’s easier to see a tube coming out from a bandaid than from my actual body cavity… ugh. (If you’re going through this, check out Curad’s Ouchless bandages. They are amazing, and I used them for this and for my original biopsy spot).
You have to keep the drain pinned inside your clothing (or else it will tug on the spot where it comes out), so big flowy clothes are necessary. And even with the flowy clothes it still shows. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. The part I’ve tried to be the most strategic about is the long tube. It is full of the fluids all the time, and that is just gross. You have to get creative to keep it from popping out under your shirt for the world to see. I have been wearing a stretchy tank top under my flowy tops, and I stick the tube inside the tank. It usually does the trick.
I can’t wait for this thing to be gone, but it makes me woozy all over again to think about it being removed. I’ll let you know how that goes in a few weeks! 🙂
The first few days of recovery were pretty rough. I was fine in the hospital (let’s be honest – probably because of the heavy drugs!), but coming home was difficult. I transitioned to a different pain medicine, and I had to set an alarm for every 6 hours to take my antibiotic orally since I no longer had an IV. I wanted to sleep for about 20 hours straight… 6 hours at a time didn’t cut it!
The pain was manageable when I was sitting still, but any change of position was brutal. Gravity is NOT your friend during recovery. I actually cried the first time I stood up from the sofa. Ugh. Just being honest so you know what to expect if this is the road you’re walking down! I honestly think it was harder on my parents to watch than it was for me to actually feel it, but it was still pretty bad. However, this pain gradually went away, and now it is not a problem to stand up, sit down, lie down, whatever. I feel it, but it is not super painful.
This is major TMI, but I can’t leave it out for those of you going through this. Narcotics-induced constipation is a very, very real thing. The same drugs that stop you from feeling pain also stop your guts from doing what they are supposed to do (it’s all neurological). I will say nothing further (HA!). Talk to your nurse about it before you leave the hospital.
I have an appointment next Monday. The surgeon will check my staples and most likely remove them. During that appointment I should also find out how many lymph nodes were removed (they determine this in the lab as they dissect the removed tissue) and the results of each biopsy. As I noted in my previous post, the doctor does not expect to find any cancer in any of them. The purpose for removal was to be aggressive and prevent a recurrence down the road.
I’m crossing my fingers that I will be ready to have the drain removed at this appointment, but it is not very likely, especially with how my fluids have gone back up in the last couple of days.
At this appointment we will likely set a time for me to see a physical therapist, and I’m hoping we will also set the appointment for me to see my oncologist. I have been told that the oncologist will not want to see me until 4 weeks out from surgery (after most of the healing has taken place), but it would make me feel better to have the appointment on the books.
Thank you for your constant love, support, and prayers! I am constantly overwhelmed by the love you all send my way. THANK YOU!