Surgery Survival 101

Hi friends! I’m alive! I started this blog while I was waiting at the airport late on Friday evening and I’m just now having the energy/time to finish it tonight ….after 9pm on Sunday (not ideal for continuity, but it will have to work). Anyway, a few weeks ago I wondered why I never got around to writing a blog about my FIRST surgery (the double mastectomy). Well, after completing my second surgery a little over a week ago……NOW I REMEMBER😊. I know my wonderful friends and family would appreciate a post surgery update. I apologize for the delay and for fun, here are the reasons for said delay….in no particular order or importance. (Disclaimer, I am NOT complaining. I am thrilled to be at the point I am in this process… just wanted to throw that out there). Anyway, here are a few reasons for the delay in blogging (which I had forgotten from the first time around):

1. Surgery is time consuming. A lot of paperwork, testing, labs, rules, reading, fasting….all the things. ALL. THE. THINGS. Plus, for this surgery (in my mind) I needed a good PET/CT scan result to even get the surgery, so part of me didn’t want to prepare too much, but rather take it day by day from an emotional standpoint. Just my preference when dealing with “Scan-Xiety”.

2. You don’t feel great after surgery. Not at all. Before both of my surgeries this year, I thought “oh I’ll blog the next day”. NOPE. I haven’t been able to move around a lot this time around. [Contrary to popular belief – (and this is my fault for not being more forthcoming) …..but my surgery was more involved than “a boob job”]. I’ll give you guys all the details on that a little later in the blog. Here’s an illustration: not mobile, and not particularly comfortable despite using 24 pillows 😉

3. It is probably NOT a great idea to blog/text/ put anything in writing while taking pain medication 😉 **Disclaimer** I realize opioids are a serious thing and should be used responsibly/under a doctor’s care. I don’t take any kind of medication without supervision from my doctors/oncologists/etc. Thus, I encourage everyone to be careful when it comes to pain medication. Fortunately for me, I don’t feel any kind of “high” or enjoy pain pills at ALL ……and I’m fairly positive that I don’t I have an addictive personality (I’m way too much of a control freak). As a result, I’m able to make a joke or two about pain meds at the moment from where I’m sitting (in the airport…..in quite a bit of pain). And I feel like that’s okay….this is my blog, so it’s narrated from my perspective. So there you go.

Anyway, I bring up the pain pills (and lack thereof at the moment) because today (Friday afternoon) I had my follow up appointment with my surgeon. Because of the appointment, I decided to deal with the pain (and go without the meds) so I could be lucid and ask the questions I wanted to ask. (Mainly, how long do I have to wear these ridiculous compression bra/corset/spanx torture devices…..I’ll explain later). It’s not everyone’s choice….trust me I’m paying for it now because I’m in allll kinds of uncomfortable at the moment. But, for the sake of lucid blogging, I’ll wait before I take anything.

It’s 10:30pm, my plane is taking off….so I’ll have to finish this blog later.

I’m back! Annnnnnd it’s Sunday. Okay, where was I? Oh yes, lucid blogging. I think I covered that sufficiently. So, where we left off on my last blog (I believe) is that I was going to get another CT Scan on the area that lit up on my PET Scan near my trachea. My dear friend Linda texted me a couple of days ago asking about that test and it made me realize I hadn’t updated the blog. Then, after talking with another dear friend (Mary) this evening…I rezalize I never even explained what kind of surgery I would be having. Woops! I’ll get to all of that. Anyway, the day before my surgery the doctors wanted to scan the area again with a second CT with contrast to get a better/more detailed anatomical picture of my trachea.

I didn’t realize before this test that your trachea actually forks into your chest. The part that lit up on my PET scan was the right “fork” of my Trachea. Illustration below courtesy of a google search. What did we do before google? The World Book? The encyclopedia? Ask your parents?? Who knows. Anyway, Keep in mind that my original (cancerous) tumor was on the left side of my chest in my left breast.

The results of the second CT scan came back and it’s still showing some kind of “stringy things” near the RIGHT fork of my trachea. They aren’t tumors/masses/or lymph nodes (all of those things would be worrisome) but there’s definitely something strange going on. After speaking with my oncologist, she said that it could be damage from a bad respiratory infection (I definitely had one of those about a month ago). So, instead of rescanning the area in 3 months as originally planned, they decided I should come back in January (in 2 months) to re-scan and keep an eye on it. The good news is that I knew the mysterious trachea issue would not keep me from having reconstruction surgery the following day. A win! It is possible that a PET scan can ‘light up’ from radiation damage. However, the doctors are pretty sure that isn’t the case with me because my radiation was on my sternum and my left side, not my right side where the scan lit up. (Which reminds me, I need to give my radiation oncologist a call tomorrow for a follow up).

On to the surgery. Because it’s a busy time of year to have surgery (who knows why….insurance maybe?). The only open slot was at 3pm on Thursday. Practically speaking, that meant I would have to fast for a LONG time unless I wanted to wake up before 5am and have breakfast. Mmmmmmm no thanks. I feel like getting up at 4:30am for a 5am breakfast and then waiting around for a 3pm surgery would have just made me more grumpy 😉 So, I tried to sleep until around 7am that morning….I was able to get some work done the first half of the day (which helped so I wouldn’t think about food)….then we went to the hospital. By the time I checked in for surgery, the prolonged fasting without water was making me a TAD hangry. I’m sharing this because I’ll likely schedule future surgeries in the MORNING going forward 😁. Just a tip for anyone reading this! My mom was with me for the surgery. Here I am below, in total denial about what is about to go down. I literally just kept thinking about taking a nap and having dinner afterwards. Self preservation…..comes in handy.

Mark and my in laws ALWAYS offer and are ready, willing, and able to be with me at a moments notice, which makes me really lucky. But, I figured I would only inconvenience one person at a time if possible. Plus, I wanted Mark to stay home with our elderly cat, Geneva. She’s fairly repulsed by anyone other than me…..but she does know Mark, so he was the best option to care for her. Per usual, she was less than thrilled with this arrangement.

If you don’t want to know the details about my surgery, I don’t have any additional (new) news at this point….so you can stop reading if you’re not into surgery details. You’re welcome! 🙂

On to the surgery (because I’ve consistently been asked the same questions…. which suggests people actually want to know details….AND that I’ve left some things out before now). I’m an open book, so here they are.

The plan for my reconstruction surgery (from the beginning) was always to remove the existing tissue expanders and put in silicone implants (the tissue expanders are basically place holders which I’ve discussed in previous blogs). It was beneficial for me to get the tissue expanders removed so I could go back to having liver MRI’s instead of CT scans of my abdomen (see previous blogs for details).

From what I understand, you basically have two options after a double mastectomy. Option (1) Implants, or a (2) a “Flap” surgery which uses your own body fat instead of an implant. Ideally, you would take the tissue from one area of the body for the “flap” surgery. So, a lot of women will get a tummy tuck in the process and take the fat from the belly area. (A win win!). Well, the “flap” wasn’t an option for me. I’ve never had children, and I was lean at the time of surgery. (After sitting on my rear end for over a week, at this point I feel like he would have had PLENTY to work with…..just saying) 😉 Anyway, I realize even saying that you “don’t have a lot of fat” sounds annoying. I get it. It sounds annoying right now while I sit in my spanx and type this…..but it is what it is- I’m not going to dance around it). I was on oral chemo for 6 months right before surgery. As a result, I was constantly sick and had lost weight. I wasn’t trying to be super lean, it just happened….and I was still working out at the time for my emotional/physical health. As a result, my only option was to do implants. BUT, the problem with my case is that my tumor was LARGE…..the size of a golf ball. So, the surgeons had to be aggressive with my double mastectomy surgery, leaving my skin paper thin and some spots that were kind of devoid of anything for lack of a better way to put it. So, in addition to implants they would need to get a little fat from somewhere and put a thin layer of fat between my skin and the implant. Make sense? Sounds easy enough right? A little lipo? No problem! Lipo was a necessity for my implants to work, so my surgeon didn’t tell me a lot about it and I’m glad he did not. So the next issue….where is the fat going to come from?

How many of you are reading right now and about to text me and say “HOLLY!!! I COULD HAVE BEEN YOUR FAT DONOR!!!) I bet there are a few because I’ve heard that SO many times. (1) None of you need to change…..and are gorgeous just like you are and (2) it doesn’t work like that (unfortunately! Wouldn’t that work out splendidly?) Anyway, for medical reasons apparently the fat needed to come from me and that was non-negotiable. My surgeon didn’t want to mess up my stomach with lipo (I didn’t either), so the next best option was to get a little fat from each side of my back. I didn’t think this would be a big deal.

If this concept is confusing (as it was for me)- go ahead and google “liposuction”- it’s QUITE violent even when there is plenty of fat to be had- so imagine having to get fat from my fairly lean back. I kind of feel bad for my surgeon to be honest. CLEARLY I was not going to be an easy afternoon case. #AlwaysExtra. However, keep in mind that the implants would not have worked (for me) without procuring some fat….so I don’t regret anything. We work with what we’ve got 🙂

Fast forward a few hours later after the surgery, my doctor told us “I had to work REALLY hard to get any fat from your back….you’re going to be in pain for awhile”. Well, technically he told my mom this, I don’t remember anything right after surgery except eating 42 graham crackers and trying to take a selfie with mom to no avail. I also remember going home wearing knee high “compression socks” to prevent blood clots which felt wrong…..SO. WRONG. I remember feeling claustrophobic with so many things squeezing me at one time. Surely I’m not the only one who felt that way post surgery? Illustration: Exhibit A.

In sum, the result from my reconstruction surgery is that my entire back looks (and feels) like I’ve been in a car accident. The doctor explained that I’ll just have some additional physical pain to deal with and my recovery time will be a little longer. I’ll reiterate that after 8 months of IV chemo- the physical pain of surgery is honestly not a huge deal by comparison- so I can’t complain. I’m happy and lucky to be here. Praise the Lord! I’m discussing my recovery time because I think a lot of people were under the impression (rightfully so) that my procedure would be like “when their friend/sister/cousin got a boob job”. Not quite. (And that’s okay, and totally understandable….but I wanted to be honest about what we are working with here).

During my follow up appointment a few days ago, my surgeon further reiterated that it was “tough getting fat from your back”. Specifically, that a lot of my tissue wasn’t fatty but rather it was “fibrous”…..I’m not sure what that means??….. but it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that I’m here and on the road to recovery! I’m still in a good bit of pain in my back…and you have to sleep on your back after a surgery like this, so I still have some hurdles to get over. BUT- they are all totally doable. I can’t wait to get back to normal life….and the gym, I miss working out. (The doctor doesn’t want me even trying Orange Theory until 6 weeks post surgery). Anyway, the next step will be checking my trachea with a CT scan with contrast in mid-January. I’m not sure if my doctors will want me to have a Liver MRI at that time, but it’s possible. I’ll keep you posted. I should wrap this blog up and get to bed. In closing, I’ll summarize my surgery tips below.

Summary of Surgery Survival Tips:

1. Schedule surgery in the morning unless fasting for long periods of time doesn’t bother you.

2. Ask questions such about what kinds of medications you’ll be given after surgery and how often you should take them. Be careful with any pain medication, be responsible, etc.

3. Buy some Colace or Miralax BEFORE surgery and assume you’ll need to take it as long as you’re on pain meds. You can thank me later for this tip.

4. Right after surgery……you will be taking the term “Netflix and Chill” to an ENTIRELY different level. Tip #1 Be prepared with at least one binge worthy series that you are looking forward to watching. This time around, it was Gossip Girl. I’m unapologetically going on record saying that I loved every bit of it. I never watched the whole thing back in the day. Mamma Susan wasn’t down with Gossip Girl and brought her iPad (smart move- that’s a tip for your caregiver…..bring an iPad).

5. Be patient with people. The general public isn’t familiar with what reconstructive surgery will entail for you, and that’s okay. (Request….if possible, it is probably a good idea to refrain from telling a woman with cancer “oh, you’re SO lucky to get NEW BOOBS!”) I don’t know why, but that statement has always rubbed me the wrong way. What can I say, I’m human. Again, this is a time to be kind and patient with people. They just want to say something positive….which is understandable.)

6. Take progress pictures…..and then put a passcode on your phone- JUST SAYING.

7. BEFORE surgery, ask what kind of “compression garments” you’ll need and how long you’ll need to wear them post surgery. Purchase said garments before surgery. I learned the hard way on this one. Illustration below of me slaying the compression garment game (kidding, I look like a deranged lumber jack)- which is fine. #OwnIt

For those planning ahead re: compression garments- here’s what I’ve tried (pic below with descriptions). No, I’m not getting paid by any of these companies…..just trying to help a sista out!

1. Regular Spanx: One word for these…..NO. Just no. I hate them and I don’t need to compress my thighs 24/7. I feel like a cased sausage. Absolutely not. With that being said, a lot of people like these for formal events…..but I can’t imagine wearing them for six weeks post surgery…..which is how long I’ll need to wear mine. Jesus take the wheel.

2. Zip up sports bra from amazon. I’ll try to find the link. This one is fairly comfortable, all things considered. My chest isn’t horribly sore…..my back is really the issue, so #2 isn’t causing me any grief other than you can see it under a lot of my clothes that don’t have a high neck.

3. Spanx “look at me leggings” I have a bunch of these thank goodness because it looks like that’s all I’ll be wearing for 6 weeks post surgery. I’ve been working from home until this point so my public “work” outfit choices will have to get creative…… or for warmer weather I’ll have to wear #4 and #6 above under my work dresses somehow……(because apparently it’s going to be 76 degrees in Baton Rouge this week). Nothing like sweating while picking out your Christmas Tree with the fam! 😉

4. A random tank- you can get these anywhere- it felt like it would qualify as “compression wear” so I got this one in several colors. The brand is “Shimera” if that helps.

5. Velcro corset given to me by my doctor. I’m just now getting to the point where I can transition from this thing to the items I purchased instead- but I had to wear this for a certain period of time post surgery….and sleeping with it was not a good time. Now I’m able to sleep without it….progress!

6. Skinny Girl Seamless Shaping Short- MUCH less offensive than the old school Spanx but they do show lines under clothing. The seamless ones are SO tight and uncomfortable….so it’s a trade off. ALSO- for the record I’m a size medium in pretty much all compression wear. I assumed I’d be a small, but that size hurt terribly to put on. Just a tip!

If you need to go in public and hide your ‘compression garments’ …here’s a pic from my follow up appointment. A vest can work wonders. Luckily it was cold outside. I have no idea what to do if it’s warm……a lose fitting dress I would presume.

8. If you will be taking an antibiotic after surgery, plan to eat a Greek yogurt with active cultures, etc. every day while you are taking the antibiotic. Antibiotics can wreck your gut health. (Tip- find one with low sugar….some are like eating a candy bar no lie). I mix a little bit of organic raw honey in mine.

9. Do not ask the nurses “did I stay anything embarrassing when I came out of surgery?”. I made this mistake and APPARENTLY when someone tried to flip me over or move me after surgery my response to the older (male) anesthesiologist was “HEY NOW WATCH IT! I’M USUALLY IN CHARGE!” Nice one Holly. Lovely. Classy. (Clearly, I should NOT have asked). The nurses assured me the REST of my comments (I cringe even wondering what else I could have said) were “very cute and funny”. #OhBoy

10. Plan to have someone stay with you after surgery. Mamma Susan was very patient with me. In fact, she (jokingly) informed me that I was a “new level” of high maintenance after a morning coffee run. I don’t deny that, but I don’t see it as high maintenance per se…..I’m just well, ‘particular’ about the way I like my coffee and when you can’t do anything for yourself after surgery, specific instructions are helpful 😉 Sidenote- how cute is my mom? Here she is below with that “high maintenance” cup of coffee 😉

11. Thank the Lord, your doctors, and your caretakers, they deserve it.

As always, thank you for all of the prayers, support, and love. Cheers to the next step.

-xo-

⭐️Holly Hollis Stars⭐️

6 thoughts on “Surgery Survival 101

  1. Holly: you are strong and can give so many ladies amazing courage. Thank you for sharing the details of it all! We are your prayer warriors with you too every step of the way.. I know you will be back in that gym soon.. 😊

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  2. I love your open book attitude. I can only imagine how many people you are helping! Shared your blog with a friend who just discovered she has breast cancer.
    Hugs and prayers!

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  3. I’m so proud of you. I love your blog. All of them. Your still in my thoughts & prayers . You have given so many hope. You are a wonder. All my love, Aunt Susan 🙏🏾❤️💜🙏🏾♥️💜🙏🏾💜♥️🙏🏾

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  4. post scriptum – Summary of Surgery Survival Tips Revisited:

    12. If a woman in a wheelchair in the hospital parking garage elevator tells you how beautiful the wife of her surgeon is, be sure to ask the what kind of pain meds she was prescribed.

    13. Make sure NO ducks are harmed in the making of the vest described above.

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  5. Holly I can’t even imagine all that you have been through! You are a courageous young lady whose blog Im sure is helping many other women. Prayers are still coming your way. Thinking of you!

    Like

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