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This post will be unlike most things you can find on MikedUp Blog. Normally, I will help to solve a pain point in your life in some aspect of fitness, finance, business, or personal relationships… But not today. Today, I am humbled and grateful to bring you the ultra-personal story of a breast cancer survivor – from life before cancer all the way through to present day…
But this isn’t just any story from some random person… Much like the story I wrote about in 2016 – where a man deployed to Afghanistan away from his wife and child to wage war who ended up returning home in critical condition, not knowing if he would survive the multiple surgeries ahead of him… I too know the key character in this story pretty well.
Jen (as you will read below) is a wife, mother, scientist, … a little OCD (her own words) …, a great sand volleyball player, and above all else – she’s a badass. And as this post’s title suggests, she wasn’t about to roll over when she heard the words, “You have cancer.”
Quite the contrary… As you’ll come to see – she stood up, wiped the sweat from her brow, and then proceeded to kick ass. This is Part 1 of Jen’s story. See Part 2 of Jen’s story here. Without further delay:
Here is the “no holding back” story of one breast cancer survivor – or as we call her: a badass
LIFE… It will through you curve balls
Sometimes you are already at the plate ready to knock one out of the park. Other times you aren’t even in the ballpark yet. If you would have told me a few years ago what the future would hold for me I would have never believed it.
Now I sit here reflecting on the past two years of my life.
There is a part of me that is very much the same and another part that is entirely different.
So what happened? You ask… Well let’s go back to the summer of 2016
June 5, 2016 – 6 weeks postpartum
Man, walking around the neighborhood was getting old. I was never so excited to be cleared to workout. Several years ago I realized that the gym is the place where I could put things. It’s the place where I would go with the stresses of the day or just life in general and by the time I would leave I would feel relieved and they were gone.
I came to find my favorite class was Les Mills Body Combat a mixed martial arts cardio kickboxing workout that is pretty kick ass. I did it throughout my nine-month pregnancy making modifications where needed. I found that it made me feel better and kept swelling down. I also think it helped with a speedy delivery, having Briana (my daughter) within an hour arriving at the hospital.
Good thing it was a Sunday so there was no traffic, otherwise, I may have had her on the way in!
Anyway, after 6 weeks of being on the sidelines, I was back! It was a Monday and there was a Body Combat class that night. You’d better believe I was there and super excited about it. I was not completely back to pre-baby weight, but the walks and breastfeeding had helped shed a significant amount of it.
I was certainly a lot lighter than the last time I had done Combat which was the day before giving birth. (Mike: Yeah – the end of this sentence describes Jen to a ‘T’)
I had still been doing the jumps, even at 9 months pregnant so without a good chunk of that weight, I felt like I could fly! Turns out I just had a different problem, yes I could jump higher, but now I felt like I was going to pee or actually did…just a little bit.
Note to self: don’t chug that much water and wear black pants for the foreseeable future!
June 28th, 2016
It was just over 2 months after giving birth that I felt a small lump in my right breast, I had a fibroadenoma in my early 20s and feeling it reminded me of that, however with the breastfeeding going on I was nervous that it may be a blocked duct or something so I called my doctor to have it checked out.
She was on vacation so I saw her colleague who scheduled me for an ultrasound. The radiologist said it was duct related and felt that it was either a blocked duct or another fibroadenoma – he said they are like freckles, once you have one you can have several.
He wrote in his report – short interval follow-up recommended in 3 months – probably benign. So I scheduled an appointment for September and went on my merry way.
Late Summer/ Early Fall 2016
I felt like I was finally getting into the groove of the new mom thing. There certainly were challenges, how to fit workouts in when taking care of a little one, breastfeeding schedules, sleeping schedules, etc. During the time off over my maternity leave, I got to the gym when I could if Pete (my husband) was home.
If he wasn’t home I would put her in the carrier as extra weight or I would push the stroller and create a little workout from that
I had gotten good at modifying things during pregnancy and I did the same postpartum as I gradually got back into it. I had returned to work and was managing the work/life balance of daycare drop-offs, pumping, and getting as many snuggles in as I could when I got home from work. Briana was officially old enough to go to the gym daycare so we were trying that out from time to time in small doses.
I also went on my first overnight business trip and I remember being so proud of myself for keeping up the pumping even while traveling. I returned home with over a gallon of milk!
Life was crazy, but life was good.
Late September/ Early October 2016
The end of September came along and I went for the follow-up ultrasound. I knew that the lump had gotten slightly bigger and they confirmed that on the ultrasound. It was a different radiologist this time and when he came in to see me he said he thought it was the same thing as the last guy, but said at some point we’ll biopsy it.
I let him know that I was still breastfeeding and he said, “We can wait until you are done.”
I was planning to breastfeed through May, so we were talking about another 7 months or so. The doctor was reassuring and said that waiting until May was not an issue – “We can wait.”
He was talking fast and I was trying to take it all in… Wasn’t successful and ended up asking the nurse if I could speak with him again. She led me back to the lunch room where he was and he repeated what he said and then said to me, “I mean, do I think it’s cancer…NO.”
I then left with a paper to remind me to call in April for an appointment, and as I left the office I had this incredibly uneasy feeling – I wasn’t convinced by his word. After talking the situation over with Pete and a close friend, I remember saying that I felt he was wishy-washy about the whole assessment.
I called my doctor a few days later and explained my feelings, she asked me to come in and discuss
I went a few weeks later and told her that he wouldn’t biopsy because I was breastfeeding, she said she didn’t think that should be an issue and said, “Let’s have you go talk to the breast surgeon and go from there.” That plan sounded a little more reassuring to me, so I made the appointment.
October 24, 2016
It was Briana’s 6 month birthday and I went to see ‘Dr. J’ the breast surgeon. She chatted with me and I ended up having the biopsy later that day.
What mess that was…
When the radiologist took the first sample, she hit a blood vessel and I bled like crazy. They had to compress me for quite some time and 2.5 hours later we were finally done with the biopsy. After that, they wanted me to get a mammogram to have a record of the biopsy markers they had placed.
I am not sure what my issue was, but I almost passed out after they attempted the third image. I sat there feeling dumb and thinking to myself, I can have a kid in 50 minutes with no drugs, but I almost pass out during a mammogram?!?!? You have to be kidding me. I became “that patient” that day.
Of course, I had driven myself, so they made me wait, eat snacks, and drink soda until they thought I was good enough to go home alone. It was a long day.
October 26, 2016
Pete and I had just taken Briana to her 6-month checkup. We had driven separately and Pete had taken our daughter in the car with him… And at this point, we were both headed home.
My cell phone rang and I saw an unfamiliar number
I figured it was the doctor with the results of the biopsy so I answered. She asked me where I was and I said, “I just left the pediatrician and am driving home.”
The doctor responded with, “Oh, you have your little one with you…?”
“No, she is actually with my husband,” and as this conversation progressed – my anxiety level increased exponentially.
She said, “Oh, well why don’t you call me back?”
Right then I knew it was bad news, they don’t ask you to call back when it’s good news. I knew she didn’t want to tell me while I was driving, but there was no way in hell I was hanging up that phone.
So I prepared myself and said, “No you can go ahead.”
After what felt like an eternity, the doctor continued, “I am sorry to tell you that the biopsy came back and you have breast cancer.”
I remember exactly where I was when she uttered those words… Right in front of Brie’s daycare about to turn onto the main road near our house. Time stood still. ‘Wait…what did she just say?’ I thought to myself.
She rambled on and I drove the remaining few minutes home in a fog. I don’t remember one bit of that drive to my house, but I do remember coming in the house, letting the dogs out, and then using the sheet from the pediatrician’s office to take notes
- …’invasive something or other’
- …’wean from breastfeeding’
- …’stage two important’
- …’grade two’
- …’genetic testing’
…All of these random words.
I was writing them down, but not really processing them…I asked her towards the end of the conversation to repeat the type again and then I wrote down – “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.”
Then I hung up the phone and started to cry…
After hearing me, Pete walked in the door carrying Briana and I just let it out: “I have breast cancer”
He stared at me blankly, “WHAT?”
There it was, I said it, and our world came crashing down.
Late 2016/Early 2017
It took about a week to process the information. The specifics of my cancer were,
- Stage II invasive ductal carcinoma
- My cells were estrogen positive and HER2 positive
- I am negative for the BRCA genes (aka Angelina Jolie genes…woo hoo)
- During that first week and I had an MRI, Mammogram, Ultrasound, Body Scan, CT Scan, Echocardiogram and the procedure to put my port in. (A port is a way to receive IV fluids, it is placed under the skin, usually in the chest and attached to a catheter that is guided into a large vein above the right side of the heart called the superior vena cava).
I had two massive meltdowns that week
The problem with the process is that it happens incredibly fast and you have no context behind the decisions you make. When I started to think about it, I realized that I actually hadn’t been making decisions at all… I had become a bobblehead.
I wasn’t asking questions and I had stopped doing research because… Google was the devil.
I had been inactively participating in my treatment, and because of that, I felt completely out of control. I wasn’t going to the gym because of everything that was happening, I was stressed, scared, angry and every other emotion in the book, and I ended up delaying my chemo a week in order to gather more information.
In that week I learned more about my treatment plan and also about Cold Caps which are caps you wear during chemo to try and preserve your hair.
I met with my oncologist, ‘Dr. M’, and she had told me that I would not be able to do Body Combat class because of the port. The jerking motions of the punching on my left side would not be good for it…
Dr. M told me I could do spinning, swimming, or running. I HATE RUNNING! I remember that day in her office listening to my exclusions for the first time… At that moment, it was a serious blow and the news originally killed me. Body Combat is my thing. I needed it then like I do now for my sanity and to keep my life as normal as possible.
My oncologist so kindly added during a chemo visit, “You will not reach your fitness goals during this process.”
Thanks for pointing that out…
It took two good weeks for the port to heal and admittedly I HATED it during those weeks. I did eventually get used to it though.
I ended up doing 16 rounds of chemo over 5.5 months
4 doses of AC (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) every other week followed by 12 weeks of Taxol. During Taxol, I received two targeted therapies (Herceptin and Perjeta) every three weeks and the Herceptin for a year.
The only major side effects that I experienced during the first/tougher regime were exhaustion, heartburn and some nausea.
I worked my job through all of my chemo treatments except for the actual day of treatment (couldn’t be two places at once…). The side effects generally only lasted a few days, and after the first treatment, it took about 4 days before I was feeling like myself again. On the sixth day, I went to Body Combat class!
F-U Dr. M…
Tell me I can’t and I will show you how I can!
After the port healed and my head cleared from the massive information dump, I realized that I just needed to modify my workouts… Duh, Jen – just don’t do the punches with your left hand!
Armed with that information, I ended up working out all throughout chemo. I wasn’t always at full Jen speed, but that was ok. I learned during those first few weeks that exercise helped me turn the corner from the “cry-about-it stage” to the “game-on, let’s kick this thing in the ass stage.”
The first chemo regime was tough and I was only able to get to the gym once a week, but I tried to at least go for walks on the other days. When I got to the second, easier regime (which was 12 weeks long) I was able to get back up to the 3 days a week mark. I couldn’t punch with my left side because of the port and I didn’t do push-ups for the same reason, but I would hold plank instead.
I found a way to make it work…
April 4, 2017
WOO HOO the last day of chemo!!!
It felt a bit like Christmas morning that day – I was so excited… And it’s hard to explain.
Finally, after 5.5 very long months, the chemo journey had ended. I had made it and the hard part was over! Even though I was still in the middle of the journey, I was so thankful to be done with chemo. It was definitely one of the toughest battles that I have ever faced. Sometimes I sit here and can’t believe that I actually did that for 5 months.
Looking back, I also now realize how tired I was. That first weekend I had without the side effects of chemo – I certainly noticed an energy difference. It wasn’t superhero status by any means, but it was better than the previous few months.
Cancer robs you of so much
So I was hell-bent on trying to keep my life as normal as possible and limiting what cancer would take from me. I wanted to be able to take care of Briana, work, go to the gym, and I wanted to go out and do things. For the most part, I was able to do all of that, but I was certainly tired at times.
I will say the one part that no one prepares you for is how consuming it becomes.
The amount of appointments, information, scans, treatments, and other stuff is out of control… It’s non-stop. At the beginning and throughout treatment, I had something cancer-related each week and there was no end in sight. It was exhausting and overwhelming at times.
You find yourself trying to keep track of everything, researching all sorts of stuff so you know what questions to ask or what the heck drug you are taking, trying to find a way to control the anxiety that comes with all of it… All while trying to keep it together mentally and physically and maintain a relatively normal life.
The OCD person that I am found comfort in creating a routine to give myself a feeling of normalcy and control
Take chemo, for example. I literally wore the exact same outfit every week (don’t worry – I washed it in between). There is a part of me that wanted to burn the outfit, the only thing that kept me from doing so was that they were Lululemon and North face items… I actually started to wonder at one point if the nurses thought I didn’t own any other clothes.
There was also a science behind it, the way they calculate your chemo dosage is based on your weight immediately before chemo. By keeping my clothes the same, my dosage was consistent – not that an extra pound or two from a different outfit would really have mattered. Again, I am a little OCD…
My routine during chemo was very ritualistic
Drink ice cold water the entire time, yes even while wearing cold caps that were -58 degrees… “MUST stay hydrated!” I would also eat Belvita biscuits during premeds. I actually don’t know why – I think I felt that I needed to have something in my stomach. I would also play a game or text on my phone during the premeds so when the text went fuzzy I knew the Benadryl premed was kicking in and in a few seconds, I’d feel drunk…
I would continue on my phone until it became clear again, then I knew the steroid was offsetting the effects of the Benadryl – aka I rode “The Chemo Coaster” as I called it. The routine continued for the days after chemo as I would eat the exact same things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, week after week because I knew that the mild and bland diet helped to curb the stomach side effects.
My rituals ended on Thursday and would begin again on Sunday
When chemo ended and I had my first ritual free week and it was great!
So I had knocked it out of the park, from my perspective anyway. I was a cancer assassin chemo ninja! I aced the chemo part of my cancer journey. And as everyone that I had talked to said that chemo is the hard part of the journey, I was looking forward to the remainder of the saying: “Get through that and the surgery is a breeze.”
“Awesome!” I thought. Next stop was scans and the surgical consult.
The reason that I did chemo first (neoadjuvant chemo) was two-fold
First, I was breastfeeding so my boobs were full of milk and second my surgeon wanted to try and shrink the tumor in an effort to be able to do a lumpectomy instead of mastectomy. The cool part of doing chemo first is that I could feel the tumor shrink, and by the end, I could barely feel it. It also helped to know that poisoning myself weekly with toxic chemicals was actually doing something. I was in a great mental state again – finally. I was excited about my scans I felt like I was closing a huge chapter in the journey.
Late April 2017
Remember in the beginning I mentioned that life was a lot like baseball?
Well at the dawn of the 2016 baseball season I was not prepared for the curveball that my breast surgeon Dr. J was about to throw me.
When you start this journey you tend to live more in the moment than look ahead. It’s easier to just get through each day than to focus on the whole picture. But you do find yourself prepping for the next step as one stage draws to a close.
When I started chemo I knew surgery would come at the end, but I didn’t know what type
You go back and forth in your head with the pros and cons of the options… Mastectomy vs. Lumpectomy. To be honest I knew very little about what really goes into a mastectomy until I started this process. I was amazed at how naïve I was about it. I think overall – to the average, uninformed person including my pre-cancer self, the thought is… “Cool, free boobs”…
But that is VERY far from the truth.
“Free” – Nothing in life is free. Yes, insurance would cover the mastectomy and the reconstruction that followed, but the price you pay (as the patient) comes in a different form. You lose your breasts, your nipples and all sensation in that area.
“Boobs” – That description is a stretch compared with what you end up with: That translates to the appearance of Barbie (no nipples) but with rather large scars across your chest and a numbness where you once had feeling. Chances are they will look NOTHING like your originals.
That’s the short of it, that doesn’t factor in the lengthy process that it takes to get to that stage.
It takes multiple surgeons and multiple surgeries to get to your final “Foobs”, as I like to call them (Fake Boobs). Anyway, as I was going through chemo I would consider both options, but as I started to feel the tumor shrink I was leaning toward lumpectomy.
It is a far less invasive and less complex surgery, I would “potentially” still have the same looking boobs (although lumpectomies sometimes need reconstruction), and the recovery is quicker and easier. Remember I was all about trying to maintain as normal of a life as possible, so the lumpectomy was definitely favored for that reason.
In addition, the statics for reoccurrence of lumpectomy with radiation versus mastectomy are pretty much the same
So there isn’t necessarily a benefit to complete removal other than not having to do mammograms for the rest of your life and possibly skipping radiation.
When I had the MRI the week before my surgery consult and found out that only calcifications remained I thought to myself… “Sweet – lumpectomy here I come.” I became even more confident when I celebrated with the ultrasound tech and radiologist about my complete response to chemo.
Right after receiving those results I walked the paper saying “complete response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy” into Dr. J’s office and waited for her to come in.
Finally, I was going into her office and would be hearing some good news!
The last time I was there she told me I needed chemo, which was something I wasn’t expecting to hear. Pete and I sat there for a few minutes and then she came in with her nurse. She sat down and said she was super excited about my results and said let’s take a look and then she paused…
I thought to myself, “Crap why is she hesitating?” And then POW! She said, “I know you wanted a lumpectomy, but unfortunately due to the size of your breasts now (versus the milk filled ones she initially saw) there is no way I can do the lumpectomy and get the margins I need. You’ll have to do a single mastectomy.”
In my head, I said, “WTF!?!” I don’t remember what I actually said out loud, but I was back to bobblehead mode shaking my head and saying ‘yes’ and ‘OK’ to all questions asked.
We continued to chat, she said I could do a single or double mastectomy (although there was no medical reason for a double) and that she would be scheduling me for a plastic surgery consult as she only “takes things out,” she doesn’t “put them back together.”
After scheduling a consult with a plastic surgeon I walked out of the office pissed… When was I going to go there and not be blindsided by something?!?!?
I spent the week trying to decide what made sense. “Single… how does that look? One real and one fake… would that be symmetrical? How would gravity work on that over time? Would recovery be easier with one side left untouched?”
I quickly realized I couldn’t figure any of these things out on my own and went searching for advice from people who had traveled the path. Ladies who had chosen to do only one and those others who had done both. I also needed to understand more about the process in general – the recovery and final outcome.
Realistically the only person who would be able to explain that to me was the plastic surgeon… And I would have to wait until I met with him.
My appointment was a week later
I was surprisingly anxious to go which was unexpected. There was a point in the morning at work where I had to tell myself to get it together because I was letting the emotions get to me way too much.
That afternoon as I walked up the stairs and turned the corner I realized I was about to enter the prettiest doctor’s office I had ever seen. It had etched glass double doors, with modern décor and very fancy people to greet you behind the desk. This was quite the contrast to my oncologist’s office or the infusion center.
They were nice, but the place still felt like a medical facility… It just looked like the lobby of a sleek hotel. Then it dawned on me – this place is literally all about appearances so of course, the appearance needed to be perfect. While they do see people like me (cancer patients), the majority of patients are there by choice.
I also laughed as I was taken into the exam room and saw the large mirror hanging on the wall – this was also a first
The nurse told us to sit wherever we’d like to and that Dr. A would be right in… Um, you don’t need me to get topless right now…? Also a first.
A few moments later in walks Dr. A, a young handsome guy dressed in a tailored gray suit and a button-down dress shirt with the top two buttons open. He reminded me of what a pro hockey player looks like when they arrive at the arena. I again laughed to myself – this was going to be a very different experience… And at that point, my anxiety had faded.
We talked about a LOT. He was kind, but straightforward, which I appreciated. I described my fear of being out of commission for too long with a 1-year-old. I also made sure to tell him how I am not so good at sitting still… He said, “I am married to your type. I get it…” This made me smile.
I explained that I am a perfectionist. He discussed the pros and cons of the single versus the double mastectomy and I could tell after discussing the single that he was not thrilled. Reading between the lines it was like he was saying, “If you do this, you’ll never be happy because you won’t like the way it looks.” (comparing one reconstruction against one natural…)
When he started talking about the double he almost sounded excited, telling me there were a lot of options. In my head, I said, “Options… What are those?”
No doctor thus far has given me any options
To sum it up he said, “If you do the double, I can give you sisters. Nothing is ever perfect so they will never be twins, but they’ll be sisters. If you do the single, I’ll be lucky to give you third cousins.”
He became my favorite doctor at that moment. That’s still one of my favorite quotes from the entire process.
I know myself well enough to know that I would never be happy with the way the single would look. Initially, there was a part of me that wanted to hang onto the other side so I could say that I had some control and that it was still mine. Similar to the hair thing and the cold caps, but the difference here is that the hair thing was temporary – this was permanent.
My thought was that I would be constantly trying to adjust the left to look like the right, but if you do both you have a better shot at symmetry. But in reality, they will never look like normal boobs…
It’s funny – when I was breastfeeding Briana I used to tell Pete that if my boobs shriveled up when the milk went away I would get implants… Be careful what you wish for! That wasn’t exactly what I had planned and it turns out I found myself wanting the opposite, go figure.
Little did I know at that first meeting how difficult this next part would be. Dr. A and I would go on a journey that neither of us had planned or ever gone on before.
May 10, 2017
I had spent the past week going to appointments to make sure my body had rebounded from chemo. The good news is that it had. In fact, the doctor who did my physical said, “Wow you’re incredibly healthy!”
I said, “Yeah minus the whole breast cancer thing.”
After much thought and research, I decided to go with a bilateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction
I also had some lymph nodes removed. That option gave me the best chance at symmetry in the future. It also saved me from getting mammograms every 6 months and from needing radiation. It was a major surgery, but I knew I could handle it.
What I didn’t know was how extensive the reconstruction process is
There are two main types of breast reconstruction:
- Implant reconstruction
- Flap reconstruction
Implant reconstruction – Is the process of inserting an implant that’s filled with saline, silicone gel, or a combination of the two.
Autologous or “flap” reconstruction – Uses tissue transplanted from another part of your body (such as your belly, thigh, or back).
Not all reconstruction options are available for every breast cancer case. Reconstruction options are based on several factors including the size of your breasts, your body type, overall health, as well as the type of treatment you received or will be receiving in the future.
I only qualified for implant reconstruction. Therefore it was a two-part reconstruction process
Two-part reconstruction is the more common implant reconstruction due to the amount of skin and tissue removed at the time of the mastectomy surgery. During the mastectomy after the breast surgeon has removed all of the tissue from the breast, a plastic surgeon then takes over in the operating room to start the reconstruction process.
The plastic surgeon uses AlloDerm (a tissue matrix constructed by harvesting tissue from a corpse and removing all of the cells) to create a pocket in the lower part of the breast and then inserts a tissue expander. The tissue expander is then filled with saline (the amount is determined during surgery based on what the plastic surgeon thinks the skin can handle).
The tissue expander looks like an implant, but is more rigid and has a port in it. A few weeks after surgery the plastic surgeon will insert a needle into the tissue expander port and add additional saline – roughly 50 cc or more. This process slowly expands the skin around the expander to prepare for an implant.
The fills take place every week to two weeks
Timing and amount of saline injected are based on pain tolerance and how well the skin is stretching. The fills continue until the size of the tissue expander is slightly bigger than the desired implant size. Generally, it takes about 3 months to achieve the implant size, and once the implant size is achieved, a second surgery takes place where the tissue expanders are removed and the implants are put in their place.
I was a little nervous about the surgery, after all, I am only human
However, I was far less anxious than I was with chemo. While I have never had a major surgery before, it seemed far more predictable.
There were some low moments.
I’ll admit I did have a brief pity party for myself on my Birthday, which was 5 days before the surgery. But I put that behind me and had quickly moved on. Negativity would get me nowhere and while I know it’s good to “let yourself feel” and “have emotions”, I couldn’t allow myself to stay in that space for very long.
I always go back to – “It’s all about perspective.”
When I started chemo, it felt like the process was going to take an eternity.
When I got to the point that only 6 weeks remained, I remember saying to myself, “6 weeks feels so manageable compared to 5 months!”
Those last 6 weeks flew by
It’s funny how we trick ourselves into thinking a certain way to cope with things. During that situation, 6 weeks seemed manageable and like such a short period of time after all that I had already gone through. But I still had to remind myself that – I was prepping for surgery.
What was really getting to me at that time were the physical restrictions that the surgery would bring.
I can’t really say that I was too upset about losing the boobs at that point. After all, they are just body parts and my life and health are far more important. Another plus about the surgery was that they removed my port! I HATED the port.
It had been in since October and had been a pain ever since. Although I suppose I did appreciate its efficiency during chemo… It sat under my skin on my left side (my port side, ha-ha | Mike: This pun is amazing). But in spite of its usefulness… The damn port was annoying and uncomfortable!
Briana would hit it constantly, and it was sensitive. Workout tops/sports bras would irritate the port side, which had limited my activities for the past few months. Dr. M (my oncologist) was not thrilled when I told her that I wanted it out… (I had 13 Herceptin treatments remaining). I told her I’d rather get the treatments via IV and her response was less than whelming…
But we ended up coming to an understanding at which point so she agreed that the port could go!
Much to the shock of my breast surgeon (Dr. J), who was also not thrilled at the prospect of removing the port… But eventually, I got worked up enough to say, “If you don’t believe me – call Dr. M!!” And as I headed to pre-op I was in GAME ON, LET’S DO THIS mode!!! I wanted to start the final chapter in this damn journey.
The Surgery went well, there was no cancer found in my lymph nodes, and it appeared that the tissue was clear as well!
As for recovery, since I had never had surgery before my only reference for pain was childbirth (with no drugs). In comparison, this surgery was less painful but it did feel like I had done about 1000 push-ups which left a constant soreness in my chest.
What I didn’t realize was how many times you use your chest muscles throughout the day.
I couldn’t do simple tasks like button my pants or push the soap down to wash my hands. I also didn’t realize how much I would dislike sleeping elevated and on my back. That was no fun.
The pain eased over the first few days and I was ok enough to at least go for short walks. In fact, I actually walked in my first Komen Race for the Cure supported by Team Tassi (our last name) 10 days after the surgery!
That was an awesome day.
I was sore but it was an amazing experience
I also had drains sewn into my sides to help my body get rid of the fluid, which added to the irritation… I really hated those. The drains remained in place for 3 weeks, and let’s be honest – those were a VERY LONG 3 weeks.
Not being able to pick up Briana and hold her was terrible
I am also a very independent person… And me needing so much help for so many different things was difficult to accept. During the first 3 weeks, I wasn’t allowed to lift my elbow above shoulder height – which kept me from driving. I was in constant need of someone to help me do things.
At that point my mom was staying with us, so she was that person when Pete was at work. It was amazing to me how much range of motion I lost in that short time between the limited movement and the surgery itself. I started range of motion exercises a few weeks in to gain that motion back.
I remember laying in the floor and attempting to do the snow angel stretch – I could barely get my arms at a 45-degree angle from my sides! “WHAT THE HECK is going on!?!?”
At 4 weeks I was allowed to go on the elliptical
I had a specific goal in mind – I wanted to return to the sand volleyball court and rejoin my team for our summer league (Mike: I am a member of that team and we also wanted her back in a big way…).
I kept doing the stretches and slowly increased my cardio. During that time I was also getting the fills put in. Every week I would go and they would inject 50 cc of saline into each expander to stretch my skin and chest muscles. The expanders and implants are under your muscles, not over them.
At first, the expanders were no big deal, but as I got closer and closer to the final size, they would leave me pretty sore in my chest and back for about 24 hours after the appointments.
Overall the recovery was pretty routine
I did have a small pinhole that developed when a stitch popped but thankfully that healed on its own. Another great break was that I didn’t get any sort of infection during this process and my body, for the most part, adapted to the expanders.
The hardest part was mental – Being restricted and not having my exercise outlet to release the stress took its toll on me. But – at 6 weeks I did get the clearance to go back to full activity and I had gotten myself pretty much back to normal physically so I returned to Body Combat and sand volleyball!
It would only be for a short time though, as the exchange surgery to place the implants was just a few short months away.
The end was near – or so I thought
Remember that part when chemo ended and I said the hard part was over? Well, turns out the hard part was just about to begin.
Alright, Team. This concludes Part 1 of Jen’s Journey. See part 2 of Jen’s story here – and please don’t hesitate to reach out via email or in the comments section below. As I said above, Jen is a warrior and she truly bares her experience and her soul in this 2-part series.
She’ll be monitoring the comments, so if you have any questions or comments – please don’t hesitate to let us know.
If you’re looking for something less ‘out in the open’ – please send me an email and I can forward that to Jen.
Thanks for reading!