I haven't been a great contributor to this blog lately and that's mainly because I'm having a hard time putting into writing the many, many thoughts running through my head. It's been an eventful past few months!
As most of you reading this already know, I had a prophylactic (pathology was clear....hooray!) bilateral mastectomy (PBM) with first-step reconstruction on Dec. 19. Given my BRCA2+ status, this was absolutely the right choice for me and I don't regret it for one second. But man...this recovery has been TOUGH. In all honesty, a lot tougher than I expected. And I realize I am one of the "lucky" ones. All of the respect in the world for the women who have this surgery with a breast cancer diagnosis hanging over their heads and possibly with chemo/radiation to deal with on the other side. So even though my situation was more simple medically speaking, the recovery has still been long.
Before my surgery, I scoured the Internet for stories of active women who had a PBM so I could get some sense of what to expect during recovery and when I could get back to triathlon training. I found very few of those stories. So moving forward I'm going to capture my recovery and return to triathlon on this blog for any other endurance junkies who may find themselves facing this surgery in the future. Let's start with a quick look back at the last six weeks (keep in mind this is representative of my experience only....everyone heals different depending on the extent of surgery and type of reconstruction):
- Weeks 1/2: I was basically incapacitated. I needed almost constant care between my drains (had to be cleaned/emptied 3x/day), keeping track of my meds (antibiotics, pain, etc) and help with meals, showering, etc. I had four drains for one week and two drains for two weeks. The pain was pretty intense and my physical activity consisted of just a few short (15 minute or so) walks. I slept sitting up in a chair (with ottoman) propped up by pillows for the first week and then transitioned to my bed, where I still sleep propped up by a ton of pillows.
- Weeks 3/4: I became much more independent and could make most meals by myself and could shower/get dressed without much help. I started going to the gym and walking 20 minutes or so on the indoor track. I also started with simple stretching exercises to regain range of motion. I could lift my arms straight over my head by this point. I tapered my pain meds to night only and started switching out the narcotics with Advil PM.
- Week 5: I started driving at this point, although it was still somewhat uncomfortable it did help me regain some sense of normalcy. I was surprised that I was still fairly uncomfortable (tightness and constricting feeling because of these temporary expander implants that are stretching my pecs) and was still dealing with a lot of nerve pain (it feels like my skin is super sensitive, as if I have a terrible sunburn or the worst flu ever). I started walking a little longer (30 minutes or so) and even did 30 minutes on my bike on the trainer (lots of shifting around so as not to put too much pressure on my upper body).
This gets us up to date, as I am just beyond six weeks now. This past week I really tried to start being a lot more active (cooking, cleaning, organizing, etc) in preparation for returning to work. I find I can definitely do a lot more but I am still getting tired VERY easily. By 2pm I am basically done and ready for bed! Driving is getting easier and I have also started physical therapy. I'll do a separate post on this, but I would HIGHLY recommend PT for anyone who has this surgery. I was fit going into surgery, but am still going to need a lot of help getting my strength back to where it was. I've tried running in short one-minute intervals (doctor approved) and am finding it difficult and awkward. This makes me sad, but I'm determined to run 3 miles straight by the end of February!
I have such a long road ahead and face another (stage II reconstruction) surgery on March 7th. But there are days I glimpse my future and am confident I'll be back to myself and doing the things I love before I know it. Better yet, I'll be doing the things I love without the fear of breast cancer in my shadow.
Next up: a slow return to work this week. I am planning to work from home as I try to re-engage my brain in something other than cookbooks, Gone Girl (LOVED it) and Kelly & Michael (I have been seriously enjoying this show while I've been off!). I'm still noticeably slow from the effects of the anesthesia and pain meds, so hopefully my co-workers take it easy on me. I'll be back later this week with a report on how it's going!
Have a good week!