While the Mr. and I were on vacation at the Oregon coast, we did a little shopping at the outlet mall in Seaside. We had a nice bottle of wine from my boss, which we had been saving for our anniversary trip, and I wanted to find some stemless wine-glasses. We were on our way to the kitchen shop, and happened to look in the windows at the Dress Barn on our way. I’ve never been in a Dress Barn. I have no idea why that is, they have one in practically every outlet mall I’ve ever been to. Never saw anything to draw me in, I guess. But something we saw in the window at Seaside caught our collective eye, and we decided to check it out.
I’m rather conservative when it comes to choosing clothes for myself, so I tend to ask the Mr. for his input along the way, and sometimes I just go with what he picks, unless I really REALLY don’t like it.
On this trip, I found two skirts that I was comfortable with (muted colors and patterns), and the Mr. picked one with not outrageous colors, but very vivid colors on a white background. Also, it was a LOT of fabric. A lot. As in full circle skirt, and from my waist to well past my toes. I could have worn the waistband around my chest, and still been well covered. Now I like a longer hem on a skirt, as it covers my chubby knees and my pale shins, and I can wear them without stockings or hose. But this was a bit much. Very long, and as I said, a lot of volume. I was inclined to veto the skirt, as I find I look better in fitted garments rather than in flowy. But the Mr. loved it. “That’s not a skirt for work. That’s a party skirt,” he declared. With that, I could suddenly envision myself floating through a summer evening at a backyard barbeque, a festive and fresh hostess. And so I agreed it was on the list of items to take home.
About two weeks later, it’s Father’s Day. As usual, I’m frantically finishing up my potluck items (tomato-basil-mozzarella salad dressed with a little balsamic, and a rather fabulous coconut cake), having completely given up on any idea of fixing my hair or my daughter’s. Barely giving myself time to get cleaned up, much less plan for trying on and changing outfits, I grab the too long skirt (Father’s Day is a backyard barbeque after all), and pull it on, old man style, right up under my chest, so I won’t trip on the hem. It’s still to my ankles. Oh, well, no time to try on anything else, so I go with it. Grab my favorite go-to black Mossimo tshirt with the keyhole back, and call it good. I wear my shirt untucked, so no one can see how high I’ve pulled the waistband. Only my husband and daughter know.
Once we have arrived to my sister-in-law’s, and safely delivered our contributions to their respective tables (my cake looks glorious on its white pedestal in the middle of the dessert table, like the belle of the ball) without my tripping over the hem of my skirt (a true miracle), I don’t think any more about what I’m wearing or how (i.e., Grandpa style) for the rest of the afternoon. Which I should have thought was significant, but didn’t. My husband did, however, which I should have also thought significant. I guess I complain a lot more than I realized, and he also noticed more than I expected.
If you have been following this journey for a while, you are well aware by now that I have had a lot of surgeries (well, maybe not a LOT), and hence a lot of scars. I had the mastectomy scar where they took my right breast. Now I have new scars at the mastectomy site where they built a new boob, and a large scar from hip to hip where they took belly tissue to build the new boob. I also have scar tissue under the “natural” breast where another surgeon reduced the breast to better match the “fake” breast. All of these scars tend to leave me rather uncomfortable in all of my clothes after a while. My bras (going braless isn’t really comfortable, either, by the way); the waistband on every pair of pants or shorts I own; my underwear; and even the waistband on some of my skirts. Waistbands usually sit right on my belly scar. Right ON it. Not a problem when I first put my clothes on, but after a few hours I start thinking about how much I want to get home so I can take off whatever I’m wearing, as most things irritate my scars, even though some of them are a year or more old.
Like I said, I guess Ken must have noticed my lack of complaining, as he commented that I should write a post about survivorship and a too long skirt, and how it would be good to define the benefits of owning a skirt that was too long. At first I was like “Huh?” Then he pointed out that a too long skirt, one that has to be pulled up so high, as in above an easily irritated scar, is a good thing to have, and that this would be good information to share out to the blog, in case other women are going through a similar experience.
So here we are.
I have another, shorter skirt (knee length or a little longer) which is sort of stretched out at the waist (I used to weigh quite a bit more, when I was doing active chemo and for a while after). It’s purple and white, it has silvery spangles all around the hem, and it’s cotton. I have been wearing it a lot in the evenings, since it’s been so hot here. It feels cool, and it doesn’t rest right at my scar. It’s usually slipping down to my hips, which can be a problem when I stand up. If I’m not paying attention, my rear-end will be hanging out the back of the skirt, and truly, no one wants to see that.
I hadn’t thought about it until just now, but I have been pulling that one up a little higher, above my belly, as well. I don’t wear that one out in public (much), as in addition to the stretched out waistband, it also has a big blue blotch on it where I spilled ink all over myself last summer, and some of the spangles are coming loose. But it’s my favorite thing to wear around the house to feed the rabbits, or do laundry, or watch television at night with my husband, so I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon, as funky and scruffy as it is getting to look.
Because at the moment, I’m pretty funky and scruffy, too.
Survivorship and the Beach
It was our wedding anniversary trip, and Ken and I were wrapping up our weekend at Cannon Beach. We had been planning this trip for a year, and talking about it for about 6 weeks, starting conversations with “When we go on our trip, we should…”. And I for one have been thinking about it pretty obsessively for about the last 10 days or so
It’s been such a long time since I’ve been here – maybe since 7th grade. I LOVE the beach, and I think everyone I know gets dreamy eyed when you mention Cannon Beach, Oregon, in particular. I know I do.
We went for our walk on the beach the last night at low tide. I am disappointed to report that it doesn’t smell the same as I remember from my youth. I suppose it’s because of my sinus issues. Bleah. Wisdom is lovely, but getting older sort of bites in a lot of ways. My sense of smell is off, so of course is my sense of taste, so food is not the experience it once was, with the occasional notable exception, such as our dinner the first night, simple fish and chips at the Driftwood, but oh, my! I don’t know what magic their chef works, but that fish positively melts on your tongue. But I digress…
Not surprisingly, after a full day I was tired and quite ready to leave LONG before Ken was finished taking pictures. Let’s get one thing straight right now – that man is never actually “finished” with taking pictures. But that’s part of who he is, and I love him, so what can I do.
The next morning, our last morning at the beach on this trip, we got up EARLY to walk down to the beach again for the lower low tide, so we could get closer to Haystack Rock, and I could find more shells washed up on the beach to collect for our daughter. When we went to bed the night before, I think I secretly hoped that Ken would change his mind about getting up at O’Dark-thirty. I mean, he has enough photos, right? (See paragraph above. Ha!) And I can get shells for the kid in a souvenir shop that will be perfect, intact, and CLEAN.
The alarm didn’t go off as planned, but as there are sky-lights in the ceiling of our little cabin, we’ve been waking up by 4:30 or 5:00am every day anyway. So at 5:26, our eyes popped open, legs stuffed into pants, feet into shoes, and we were off without even brushing our teeth.
Totally. Worth it.
Loads of shells for the kiddo (not all survived the journey), loads MORE photos, another 2 miles or more walking on the beach, and I had my FitBit light show soon after breakfast (10,000 steps, and before 10:00am).
But the real news, the really BIG deal for me. Walking on the beach, with the wind and the surf and the sand, I. Felt. Amazing. I was walking along, at a pretty fast pace, feeling quite a lot like my old self that morning. So good I could almost run in my joy. Better than I have since I began this friggin’ “Cancer Journey.” One year ago, I couldn’t walk 8 blocks without needing a break, without feeling literally as old as dirt, feeling so tired I wanted to cry. And here I was, on the beach, feeling young and LOVING life.
We have officially hit a milestone.
November 30, 2014
What a difference a day, or even a few hours, can make.
Last night I was just about at the end of my rope with the drainage from my left boob. It seemed like for days all I did was change the dressing, worry about changing my dressing, or washing clothing because my dressing failed to catch all the drainage. Then it seemed like I had another drainage site open up on the underside of my boob, and stuff was starting to drip out of that site, too. WTF!
This morning I go to take a shower, and gunk is coming out all over the place. I get out of the shower, and hold some gauze over both sites while I get a robe on. I see that the site on the underside of my boob actually has a huge freaking clot trying to work its way out, so I grab some more gauze and try to palpate around the site, and pull out one, two giant clumps of jellied, old blood. Looks to be about 2 ounces, perhaps. I don’t know what to do. Do I pack both sites, just the top, just the bottom, what the hell? I slap a surgical pad over both and call the after-hours line – again. He says do what you’ve been doing – for both sites – then call the clinic in the morning.
I go back to pack both sites, and I notice that the original site has closed up. Yay. The new site is still draining, so I do my best to pack it, and cover it all again with surgical dressing.
Tonight, I go to change the dressing, and it’s a lot less fluid, and the gauze wicking is sort of mauve, and so is the drainage on the surgical dressing. I think maybe things are improving. Yay, again.
The thing I’m not so happy about is the fact that the new site is big enough I can stuff the wicking in with my fingers. Ugh.
Good news again – it seems like I can’t get very much wicking into the new site. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t really stay, or at least I don’t feel like it does. I guess we’ll see what they say at the clinic when I call again tomorrow.
Monday, December 01, 2014
Called the clinic this morning, spoke to Ellen in Dr. Said’s office. She told me that Dr. Said’s magic potion for promoting wound healing is protein, protein, protein, and vitamins, especially vitamin C, A, and Zinc. Otherwise, she said keep doing what I’m doing, including packing the gauze tape in the new wound, and they will see me in the clinic at my follow-up appointment.
I feel pretty comfortable with how things are progressing – yesterday was obviously the “getting worse before it gets a crap ton better” stage. The drainage smells better, and the color is lighter, sort of a pinkish tan instead of the gruesome purple-black jelly I’d gotten used to. It’s still “ew” but taken in perspective, I’ll take this week’s “ew” over last weeks “ew.”
Plus I’m back to changing the dressing twice a day, instead of 4-5 times a day, and changing my clothes three times regardless because the dressing couldn’t keep up with the drainage. And now it seems as if I can shortly put this messy chapter behind me.
I’m hopeful, at any rate.
My reconstruction, Phase II surgery, was pretty non-traumatic, compared to the Phase I surgery. Phase II was a little fat grafting, and a tiny bit of reduction, so no drains necessary.
What I didn’t know, is that approximately 10% of patients have drainage issues in what is known as the T junction. The sort of lollipop shaped incision that encompasses the areola in a circle, and a straight line or lollipop stick that goes down the middle of the breast under the areola. This part of the incision, under the areola, sometimes separates a little, and blood and fluid drain out. Not uncommon, but not so common that the possibility was included in my aftercare packet. When it first started happening to me, it was like a clot or a scab had fallen out, not really bleeding, but it smudged up my clothes. Still, I freaked out and called the resident on call, since it was after clinic hours, and left word for him or her to call me back. Reading my aftercare packet again in the 4 minutes it took to for him (for it was a him), I noticed the literature does say some oozing or drainage may occur. So I felt a little silly by the time the resident called back, but told him what I was seeing anyway. He asked me the standard questions to determine if any infection was present – temperature of 100 or more, does the tissue seem hot, is the tissue red at all – then told me to cover it with a dressing to keep it from ruining my clothes, otherwise there was nothing to worry about. Okay, fine. So I taped a maxi pad to my chest (it’s in the literature, I’m not kidding) since I didn’t have any surgical gauze, and went back to watching “Castle” with my husband.
Everything is all fine and well, until the next night. Whoa! What the hell is this? We’ve gone from a slight ooze to a full-on drip. The fluid is so dark, it almost looks purple. Hmm. Consulting my aftercare packet again, I see a phrase that goes something like “during the healing process, bruises may liquefy, and the fluid may seek a way out through the surgical site” or something to that effect. Still, I called the resident on call, for it was again after clinic hours. We again went through infection detection questions – no fever, redness, etc. Then he told me that sometimes, not often, but maybe about 10% of patients, something comes loose, and while it’s nothing to worry about, he suggested I wear a bra to support the breast, in order to ease the tension on the surgical site, and call the clinic in the morning, to find out if they’d like to see me before my regularly scheduled appointment on Thursday.
So I again was mostly reassured, and went to bed able to sleep that night, not worrying about major surgical malfunctions.
The next morning I called my clinic, and spoke to my surgeon’s primary nurse. I told her what was happening, and what the previous night’s on-call resident had to say about the tension on my incision, and how something may have come loose. She poured scorn on that idea, and told me how she felt this was all normal. She told me to continue keeping the dressing on the site, and they would see me at my regularly scheduled appointment, which was the next day anyway.
At the appointment with the surgeon, her primary resident, and a student, they packed gauze strip wound dressing into the hole in my breast, and taught my husband how to do it at home. No big deal, he’s used to getting the gross aftercare jobs whenever I have surgery, so obviously he’s the man for the job.
Well, Thursday night we removed the dressing and tape from the site, and pulled the packing gauze out of the wound. I’m not looking – because there’s $hit coming out of a big, gaping hole in my boob! Yuck!
First we tried standing in the bathroom to change the dressing. That didn’t work, so we decided that the best thing to do was for me to lay down, as I had done at the doctor’s office. No dice, we still couldn’t find where the gauze strip packing was supposed to go in (the doctor made it look SO easy). So we gave up that night, just covered it with surgical dressing, and went to bed. My husband was ready to try again in the morning, but I vetoed that idea. He was so tentative when he’d tried it the first night that I didn’t allow him to try again.
Back to the doctor we go the following week, and we have to make our confession – or I did, anyway – that we never did do the packing of the wound as we had been instructed. I was adamant that if anyone was going to do the packing, it was going to be me. I don’t often dig my heels in, but when I do, you’d best just stand aside and let me have my way. Fortunately, Ken is a bright man, and apparently so are my doctor and the doctor’s resident. So Dr. Colohan’s clinic nurse came in to give me the tutorial on packing a wound, and a new bottle of gauze strip tape. After the first few days, I have to say I’m getting better at it. The first couple of times, I think it took five attempts to reach success, and I still don’t believe I was packing as much tape into the wound.
Now, several days later, I’m packing like a champ. And packing more and more into the wound, it seems. And still soaking the maxi pads I’ve been taping to my chest. Plus it smells like old blood, and I’m passing clots. Ugh. I was joking with Ken last night, and said it’s like my boob is having a period. He laughed out loud, and said “If you haven’t used it already, that’s a great title for a blog post.” Which I didn’t use, but still, here we are talking about it.
Last night I had said that at least I wasn’t having cramps with my boob-period, but this morning I’m getting these twinges, that I am assuming are the clots passing, so in a way my boob is having cramps to go along with its period. And it’s the Mother of all periods, because it’s a rather heavy flow, and it never seems to end. And it’s all normal. Awesome.
I was doing some research last night, and based on what I’m reading about other patient’s experience, it seems like it gets worse before it gets a lot better, which is where I seem to be. And totally normal for the exudate (ha! That’s a medical type word, it means the stuff that comes out of a wound) to smell kind of yucky. Not completely foul, as that along with a higher than normal temperature and redness of the breast, means infection. But it’s totally normal for a wound to smell rusty, musty, or like old blood, which is how mine smells. Ew. As unpleasant as that sounds, I found that rather reassuring. I was worried that something was going horribly wrong, but it turns out this is all normal, and possibly even a sign that soon things will get better.
Lord, have mercy, I certainly hope that is true.