Friday, March 15, 2013

Two Weeks Post-Surgery Update

Hello there friends and family!  I am so sorry it has taken so long for me to post an update.  This past week and a half has been busy with appointments and other things.  But, since both kids are napping at the same time right now, I thought it would be the perfect time to post an update.

By about a week post surgery, I had all of my drains pulled out.  This provided immediate relief!  The drains were very uncomfortable and just annoying.  So, I was careful to follow the doctor's orders of doing only what I needed to do and resting the remainder of the time that first week so the drains could come out asap.  I guess it worked!  The holes in my skin where the drains came out were a little sore for a few days.  I think it didn't help that the insertion points happened to be directly under the elastic band of my bra. 

The expanders are still pretty annoying, but I am getting more used to them.  Imagine having a hard plastic object placed underneath your pectoralis muscles, which have been cut and sewn together.  The expanders are stretching the pectoralis muscles and my skin constantly.  So, when I reach for something, I really feel the stretching.  This has caused me to guard my pecs a bit.  It has been difficult to maintain good posture, as hunching over feels the most comfortable. 

I can feel the nerve endings coming back in the skin of my upper chest.  It feels similar to having chaffed skin.  So, it is very sensitive, and by the end of the night I am anxious to remove whatever shirt I was wearing that day and put on my satin jammies.  They are the most comfortable against my skin.

I am really so thankful to have had no major complications from my surgery, other than some axillary cording (or axillary web syndrome).  This can sometimes happen to patients who have either a sentinal node biopsy or an axillary node biopsy, but is more common when the latter is performed.  The trauma to (or removal of) the lymph nodes during surgery can create what feel like tiny ropes or "cords" that are just under my skin and palpable when my arm is stretched.  Research suggests that thombosed (clotted) lymph vessels are responsible for the cording. The vessels are inflamed and become thicker and shorter. The cords are painful and tight, making it difficult for me to lift my arm any higher than my shoulder or extend the elbow fully.  When at rest to my side, my arm doesn't hurt at all.  Needless to say, for the first couple of weeks after surgery, I have been mainly using my right arm to perform tasks during the day.   Not being able to raise my arm very high is especially problematic since I will need to be able to raise my arm completely above my head for my upcoming radiation therapy.  After I mentioned the cording to my oncologist at my last appointment, she referred me to a physical therapist.  So, I began physical therapy this week at exactly 2 weeks post-surgery.

During the first appointment, the therapist gathered my history and then demonstrated some exercises that I am to perform twice daily.   Performing these 5 exercises twice daily (morning and night) will be about an hour and a half of time investment each day.  And that doesn't include the neck exercises that are recommended.  But, I believe they are totally worth the time investment.  Again, I can't begin radiation until I can raise my arm over my head, so I really have to do these exercises.  Today was my second day of physical therapy.  During this morning's appointment, the therapist manually stretched my skin and massaged the cords.  We actually felt one of the cords pop.  Then, I used some of their equipment to perform some new exercises.  Although I have only been in therapy for a few days, I have already seen some progress.  She is also working on the pectoralis muscle tightness as well, helping me to open up my chest more.  I felt great leaving the appointment, although she said I would probably be in some pain later due to her manipulation.  This therapist will be working with me even throughout radiation, in order to hopefully prevent lymphedema.  I am not going to go into a lot of detail about lymphedema, other than to say it is something I definitely don't want!  :-)

Lifting restrictions:  I am realizing that I must have lifted Abbey a lot prior to surgery.  There have been so many times I have wanted to lift her, move her away from something that she shouldn't be into, or even just carry her or cuddle with her, but caught myself as I remembered my restrictions.  I have an appointment this coming Tuesday with my plastic surgeon to have my first expansion.  So, I am going to ask about how long these lifting restrictions will be in place.  Initially, they told me I couldn't lift for 3-4 weeks, and this coming Tuesday will be almost 3 weeks since my surgery.  

I am so thankful to have had Drew's parents here to help out during the weekdays.  They are definitely God-gifted with their ability to provide acts of service.  I really don't know how we would have done the past two weeks' days without them!  Especially between all of the doctor's appointments and taking care of the kids. 

Mimi (Drew's mom) and Abbey

We are also so thankful for our church community group ladies and friends who have been bringing us meals!  They are greatly appreciated.  Grocery store trips and cooking are very difficult tasks right now with my lifting restrictions and even finding time to plan meals is difficult.  We have been the recipients of so many acts of selfless love and service throughout this cancer journey.  It makes me anxious to be able to serve others soon, since I know firsthand how it feels to be loved and served this much!

Ok, enough about surgery, I am ready for another post about the fun we have been having the past couple of weeks!  Stay tuned!

Love, Heather