Month: November 2017

staples out

Staples Out, Chill Out

A couple of days ago nurse Bonnie took out my staples. I had to lay on the bed while she took them out. No standing allowed since some people pass out. (Oh great. Isn’t that foreshadowing??) She seemed to be struggling a bit with the disposable staple removal device … I think mainly because she had baggy rubber gloves on. I was close to asking her to take them off, but she looked so determined. She took out one or two staples that didn’t hurt at all and then the digging began. Now that was not so pleasant. “Oh this one is hard to get a hold of. We’ll come back to that later.” Oh great. 

remover
This little removal tool is pretty clever! Shove it under, squeeze. It crimps the staple in the middle, causing the tucked under part to shoot up and out.

When it was all said and done, 53 staples were out and 12 steri-strips were put on. Why? Well, “just in case the incision doesn’t hold”. Oh, ok. Great.

steri-strips
The staple holes will heal along with the incision. The breast-shaped bruise is pretty impressive don’t you think?

Any special instructions about the steri-strips? (I’ve learned to ask this.) Oh yes, says Bonnie… 

  • no lifting anything over 5 lbs
  • no pushing
  • no pulling
  • no reaching over your head
  • anytime you are doing exercises, stop when it hurts – don’t push past that (read: no shampooing the top of your head)
  • no baths

Piece of cake. I’ll just go ahead and do NOTHING. 

icing the chest
This is me going slowly bonkers. Keeps the swelling (and tenderness) down though…

She didn’t say no knitting, so I knit up this cowl (thanks to Dana for the wool). 

goofy cowl shot
Again with the crazy eyes…

It’s a basic pattern except that I added in a little triangular part on the bottom edge so that the wind doesn’t whistle into my coat above the top button. I HATE that about cowls! They are just a bit too short for coats that you don’t button right up to your chin.

cowl
This is the chilly spot… 

Next up – go to see the surgeon. I plan to ask him a whole lot about the surgery itself, such as:

  • Where exactly were the lymph nodes taken from … that really swollen and painful spot or is that something else?
  • How many were taken?
  • And do you realize that the left side of my chest looks a LOT different from the right? 
  • Did the resident do one side and you did the other? 
  • And what did you do with my gorgeous nipples? I should have donated them. Or bronzed them.

Of course I will also get the first set of results from the surgery – information about the lymph nodes. Big question – was there any cancer in them? If there was, then they will likely want to take out more nodes … but not necessarily. Or they may want to radiate the lymph node area … but not necessarily. If there is no cancer (obviously a good thing), they won’t take more nodes, but it doesn’t mean I’m done with treatment. That will depend on what the breast tissue says … and that’s another 2 – 3 weeks. Could be radiation, could be chemo.

One step at a time. 

In the meantime, knit. And make a plan for physio and massage therapy. (This surgery does quite the number on your shoulders and back.) And watch a little Netflix. Recommended last night are: Ozark, Shameless and Lion. Oh and Melissa implores me to watch Coronation Street, but then I’d drive people bonkers with my British accent.

staples

Stapled

The other day Ripley starting barking, so I knew I had company. I looked out to see a van coming up the lane. A man hopped out and headed toward the front door with a large paper bag. I’m thinking “Hey someone ordered Chinese Food for me!” Nope. It was a bag of medical supplies. The packing slip said “Staple removal kit.” 

paper bag
Looks like Chinese Food…

Of course I’ve been anticipating the procedure. It’s next, after all.

First though, let me tell you just a wee bit about how I survived nurse Amanda removing my drains. It was quite easy. She cut the suture, then I braced myself by putting my hand on her shoulder and followed her instructions. “Take a deep breath in, now breathe out …..” Then I swore a lot.

Here’s one of the drains that came out:

drain
The white flat part with holes is the section of drain that was inside my chest. No wonder I’m super swollen since she pulled them out!

At any rate, I got through that. No problem.

drain hole & bruising
This shows the drain hole that is healing, but check out the pattern of bruising! Turns out that tape affects bruising a LOT! The angled bruise marks above the hole are from tape, the rectangle around the hole is also the same shape as the bandage. I think that’s all rather weird.

So now, the staples. I have 26 staples across the left, 27 staples across the right. The surgeon explained that depending on the stretch / tension in the skin he would either be doing invisible stitches or staples. I got the staples. 

26 staples
Here’s a glimpse of my left chest (can’t really say it’s a breast anymore, but with the swelling it kind of looks like one…)

What exactly does that mean about my skin? It’s tighter? I’m more apt to be an idiot and do too much each day? I would NEVER do that! Anyway, I wonder about his choice. Because the staples are very very cruel. They look cruel and feel cruel. When the pain meds wear off they tingle and sometimes burn. I can’t sleep on my side or hug anyone. I know that they are doing their job and allowing the incisions to bond together. They’re just a bit much. 

At any rate, Amanda told me the date that the next nurse would be coming to take them out (day after next…) and I asked “soooo, how exactly do you take those out”? 

I of course was imagining the various staple removers that I have used – one that looks fairly sinister, with 4 fangs that come together when the hinge is squeezed, and other that seems to rely on a measured thrust under the staple. Neither of these seemed like good options for my chest. I waited with some dread as she rooted through her kit to find hers. Finally she pulled out a slim device and showed me. 

This one is from the paper bag (yes, I had to open it, what can I say?):

She explained it in simple terms which I will do my best to pass on here:  the device bites the staple in the middle, crimping the staple and forcing the curved ends (that are nicely tucked under my skin) to pull up and out. Just like that.   

I’d rather have Chinese Food. 

 

drain pic

Drains, Draining, am Drained.

It seems that when they take a pound of flesh, they must leave a drain. I have two.

What are drains? I will tell you. Drains are the collection agency for my chest wall fluids. I find them to be somewhat fascinating. If you don’t, you may want to stop reading. 

As I was saying, drains are like highways for all that must not remain. The drains in me are soft plastic tubes that are inserted into either side of my chest wall. Of course you can’t just have a drain springing out of your chest, it must be sewn into place (yes, that’s correct, note the thread). 

drain
When Annie was helping me change my dressing she was gaping … “Mom, that’s coming right out of your chest!” 

They work similar to a sprinkler system – but reversed. Where the tube goes into the chest wall, it changes into a flattened version of itself, with holes for the pools of blood to enter. (The nurse told me this info so I must believe her … although she’s taking them out tomorrow so I can check for myself.) The fluids then travel into the tube and make their way down down down to a plastic bulb that holds up to 100 cc of fluid. 

 

full
This was taken the day after surgery, when there was a lot of fluid behind the incision. It was ready to be emptied.
clipped on
This is a more manageable volume. Simply attach to stolen hospital pants and you’re good to go!

As you can see by the above photo, the bulbs at the bottom can be pinned to your pants or shoved in an inner jacket pocket. The tubes hang around looking for things to snag on so that you can swear regularly. It’s their job. Best to tuck the drain tubes away. 

Every 24 hours (or more often if they get heavy) you have to empty the bulbs, measure the fluid and record it. I will get my drains out once they produce less than 30 cc in a 24 hour period. After draining the bulb you must squeeze all the air out of it before you re-cap it. The suction in the bulb literally pulls the fluid out of the chest wall. Cool!  

charting
I love data.

Once in a while the fluids stop moving – a clot forms at the beginning of the drain and it needs to be persuaded to move down to the bulb. So you have to hold the top of the tube still (very important) and pull the clot down to the tube. It’s a process called milking. Takes a bit of time and can cramp up the shoulder as it’s a bit awkward. 

fresh dressing
See how that blood is just sitting up there? When it’s there for a long time it needs to be pulled down. Nice chest eh? Bruised and swollen … 

The drain site is covered with gauze and taped. The nurses use 4″x4″ gauze and a swath of tape (note the above photo). They don’t seem to give a shit that it hurts like hell to pull off the bandages – especially under the armpits. I felt compelled to amend the situation and make my own mini version. 

gauze square

The drain gauze is taped neatly, overlapping a long strip of gauze that is keeping the staples and incision protected. (Staples? They’re a topic for another day.) And that’s all you need to know about drains. 

Oh, and good for you for being brave and reading the entire post. Are you a fan of Grey’s? ER? Oh ya!!! Push the epi!

post it note

Feelings of Booblessness

It’s been a whirlwind getting to this state. 

dressing
Booblessness, staples, drains & nausea (and still smiling when I’m not bossing people around…)

September 14th was a routine mammogram, November 17th bi-lateral mastectomy … and all of the requisite appointments in between. It went like this… 

Routine mammogram, mag view mammogram, family doc appt to explain biopsy, biopsy, family doc appt to explain result of biopsy, surgeon, bloodwork, MRI, surgeon, surgeon, bloodwork, surgeon, surgery, recovery. All in 2 months. 

Lots of support along the way from Paul, my family, friends and staff, with helpful tips like this…

card
(I find that it always does.)

… and of course lots of chocolate, books, wine, knitting materials and tea. People know me. 

I only had to have the right breast off – as well as a sentinal node biopsy. I wanted the left breast off as well. It wasn’t having an “Angelina Jolie”, which everyone comments on me having – from friends to nurses to the anaesthesiologist. Her surgery was entirely preventative and she had reconstruction done at the same time. I wanted to have my left breast off purely for convenience. Sounds pretty vain, wanting to part with my own flesh because I’m too lazy to make a concerted effort every day to make the vacant space on the right look like the sagging boobie on the left. Truth. I didn’t want to have to put forth the effort involved to have a prosthetic boob handy in order to avoid putting anyone in a state of discomfort. I’d rather toss on a T-shirt when I want to. And put on a SET of IDENTICAL prosthestic breasts when I feel the need. 

So … here I am now. In recovery. Staples come out on day 10. After that I’ll be wearing this beauty that my loving sis got for me. I think it will be pretty much 24/7. 

cami
This camisole is built specifically for people who have had a mastectomy – there are little slits for the fake tits to go in… but it also hugs in super tight. 

After the healing I’ll find out the results of the sentinal node biopsy. (That’s where they inject isotopes in to the nipple area just before surgery, then track the nodes that they go to and mark them with a sharpie. The surgeon removed those nodes during surgery and now they are off to the lab where they will be dissected and searched for cancer cells.) And after that, I’ll find out the results of the breast tissues. The data that comes back from the lab will inform the next steps of treatment. One step at a time. 

And in the meantime, I need to go fake boob shopping and Annie & Bree and I will be designing mastectomy tattoos … 

 

Pink m&m

Into the Pink, Literally and Figuratively

This fall, as I took a bit of my spare time to finish up some projects that were “on the needles”, my world turned pink. I had a pink “pussy” hat to finish up and a pair of pink socks 3/4 finished. Funny how the things that sit so quietly in their little bags can cause so much noise in your brain! Knitting as a metaphor. Wait for it.  

With the pussy hat – my 6th, thanks to Deborah – I had to deal with a dropped a stitch in order to get it done. Just as speed bumps can influence you to take an alternate route, so can the dropped stitch influence the knitter to avoid the project. 

Dropped stitich
You just can’t live with a dropped stitch. Total speed bump.

I actually don’t mind fixing this problem – it’s so much like magic, after all. But it takes good lighting, concentration and a steady hand and those conditions are not always available (best not to do while passenging in the car, especially when Paul is driving JK). Rather than frog it (slang for rip out the knitting, FYI), you simply go back to the column containing the dropped stitch and unravel that column all the way down to the stitch that is waiting there patiently for you to notice it. Totally rewarding. And cool. 

Picking up the stitch
Pick up one stitch at a time. Heal that sucker! (Another metaphor. Wait for it!)

Once that’s done, carry on, do some ribbing, sew it together and you have a cool pussy hat. Handy when traveling in the States.  

The pussy hat
It’s a LOT of fun!!

Second pink project was a pair of socks knit from Zauberball, one of my favourite sock yarns because of the awesome colour, quality and knitability. I had one sock entirely done and the other was ready to turn the heel, so that only took a short while and a few Netflix movies. According to this blog post I started knitting these socks 10 months ago. GAH!  (And yes, I like them short. Metaphor? Oh sheesh.)

Socks
There’s nothing like a pair of hand knit socks.

Around this same time that I was knitting up these two pink projects I went for a regular breast screening mammogram, and then a second call back (for a “mag view mammogram”) that confirmed that there was something there. That led to a biopsy and before you knew it, I was in Pink Land. Yes it’s a place. Meeting with a surgeon, booking an MRI, having the MRI, seeing my undulating boobies on a big screen, discussing surgical options, figuring out recovery times… That has all happened. Breast cancer. I can barely say it since it puts me in a club that I don’t want to be in. But I’m in it. Sigh.

I’ve decided to write here so that I have a place to communicate to those who may want to hear my voice. Here I can talk about the pinkness of it all, in my own time and with my own crapload of crazy metaphors and likely swearing. Not necessarily the details – but maybe the details. Ya, probably the details. But I don’t know. All I know is that is that I really don’t have the energy to talk to everyone about it in person. There are just too many people who will want a quick update – with or without a concerned look, supportive hug, casserole or encouraging pink card. I don’t think that I can manage all of the updating – it’s just too much to face all of the time … all of the caring is overwhelming, and I’ve only just told my family, a couple of close friends and my staff. I sound ungrateful, I know, and I do feel guilty and apologetic (as all good Canadians do). But I have to manage other shit in my life – like my family and my work and my own self.

Of course feel free to add comments here as usual. And if you want more info, reach out to my “pink crew” for any more details. They are: my sibs, mom, best Aunt Donna, other besties Kerry, Wendy, Cath, Dana, and of course Paul.

Thanks and peace out for now.

Staff photo

My staff is awesome – organized this m&m group costume with me in pink – how great is that?? Love them.