Double Mastectomy

I dreaded my surgery from the day of my diagnosis— Surgery scares me in general and the thought of losing such a huge part of me seemed really daunting. To me the worst part of surgery is that hour or so you spend waiting to be rolled back. I get so anxious! My therapist gave me the advice to try a sensory exercise to bring me back to the present moment so my sister brought some of my baby nephew’s play-dough and I swear it helped calm me down. She also told me to take slow breaths, close my eyes, and imagine myself in my favorite place. These tactics helped me! Before I knew it my anesthesiologists came in to start my nerve block and I don’t remember anything after that.

I woke up and wasn’t in any pain at all because of the nerve block. I had a morphine pump for 24 hours in case the pain started to set in but I didn’t start to use it until it was almost time to give it up. After that I used Hydrocodone and Valium to manage soreness. The pain that set in felt a lot like cramping muscles and it was pretty intense but not unbearable. I stayed in the hospital for two nights and it was nice to have a bed that acted as a recliner!

A few days after I went home I got a MyChart from my surgeon letting me know that the pathology was back and the chemo had done its job! It shrunk my 2.5cm tumor down to 3mm. It was all removed in surgery and my margins were clear. I was officially cancer free! I was so worried about how I would feel after losing my breasts but knowing that the cancer that had been ruling my life for that past 4 months was GONE far outweighed any sense of loss.

As my recovery continued I felt pretty good during the days but I had a lot of trouble sleeping at night. I used the Valium to help but after a while the Valium gave me nightmares and sleep paralysis. It was awful. That was a lot worse than pain and sleep deprivation so I quit taking the medicine at night! I haven’t slept well and for the first 2 weeks of recovery the worst part of the day was sitting up in the morning. I needed Xavier to lift me. It was so painful.

The most frustrating part of my mastectomy recovery was wearing my drains for 4 straight weeks! They are such a pain. I alternated between 2 big sack dresses every time I left the house so that you couldn’t see my drain belt. If you’re getting a mastectomy in the summer my best piece of advice is to buy a few big sack dresses before the surgery so that you can go out and feel somewhat “normal.”

It has been 4.5 weeks since my surgery and I still have trouble sleeping on my back but I’m not in much pain anymore. My surgeon has me doing some stretches and in 1.5 more weeks I can finally start exercising again! I’ll have my tissue expanders for about 3 months and slowly fill them up until it’s time to exchange them for implants.

Overall, recovery has been slow and frustrating but not as difficult as I anticipated. If you’re getting ready to have a double mastectomy don’t panic! It’s probably not as daunting as you might think. Just buy yourself some sack dresses and be patient with yourself.

hilary schleier