Deja Vu

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The other day, I read an article about a new app produced by the Duke University Cancer Center. The app is for cancer survivors who are having a hard time coping post-treatment. It offers meditation exercises, stress relief techniques and other resources for those who are struggling mentally with the debris of post-cancer life.

Of course, I downloaded it immediately. Upon opening it, I discovered the app is part of a study the school is conducting to help provide better support resources for cancer patients.

As I scrolled through the app answering questions for the study, one of the queries really struck me: Do you find yourself reliving or going back to your treatment?

Today I had surgery again. It was a small revision procedure to fix a wonky place in my reconstruction (yeah, let me dispel any notions that reconstruction is anything akin to having a boob job).

It was my fourth surgery in a year, so it all felt very familiar–the litany of pre-op questions, the antibacterial wipe scrub-down, climbing onto the table in the freezing cold operating room with the blindingly-bright lights in my eyes. Even one of the nurses remembered me from my previous visits.

Oddly enough, today also is the one-year anniversary of my first chemo treatment. The routine of having surgery today conjured up many of the feelings I had that day a year ago. Nervousness over the procedure. Anxiety about how I’d feel after. Squeamish over the needles and blood and pain. Just like this day last year, I’m curled up under a blanket, taking meds, trying to feel better.

And here’s where that question from the app really resonates: Do you find yourself reliving or going back to your treatment?

Trying to eat today has been difficult. Not because of my surgery, but because I keep thinking about how I felt that day after chemo. Just thinking about it almost makes me nauseous. Even this past week as I took my usual walks around the neighborhood, the uneasy feeling in my stomach would return as I remembered taking walks after chemo, trying to power through the side effects of both the chemo and the steroids I took after, in an attempt to take advantage of the benefits of fresh air and exercise.

Everything seems to remind me of that time. The stifling August heat, the way the light looks in the afternoon, the scent of soap I used at the time.

Part of the Duke app study is an attempt to identify the occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in cancer survivors. This is something a lot of people don’t talk about or understand. The wreckage after cancer treatment.

Survivors are celebrated, congratulated. “You did it!” “You beat it!” “You can get back to normal now!” While everyone around you smiles and breathes a sigh of relief, you’re still a mess. Afraid of recurrence/metastasis. Dealing with the lingering effects of chemo and surgery (effects that can last for years). Coming to terms with a new, often disfigured body. Being haunted by memories and dreams of the trauma you’ve endured.

I really hope my responses to the study can help Duke gain more insight into the issues that cancer survivors face. Life after cancer is good–truly a gift. But it’s also hard. And if we can figure out new ways to help patients cope, that’s a very good thing.

 

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Recovery, Part Deux

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Very early yesterday morning, Rodney and I went to the day surgery center for my exchange procedure. After a short wait, the staff ushered me back to one of the staging rooms for all the pre-surgery prep. That includes donning some really sexy hospital shorts (which I’m grateful for since they kept me from flashing people as I walked down the hall in my gown) and getting my chest marked up by my plastic surgeon.

After getting hooked up to an IV, the very kind anesthesiology nurse walked me to the operating room–a very bright, cold place. After meeting all the nurses assisting my plastic surgeon, I climbed up onto the narrow table and a few minutes later I was out like a light.

I woke up a few hours later in the recovery room. The surgery went really well–so well, in fact, that my surgeon decided I wouldn’t need drains this time around.

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I’m pretty sore–both my chest and stomach since she did some fat grafting–but nothing like my previous surgery. I’m staying in bed mostly, but I’ve been up and moving around since I left the hospital–I even walked out of the hospital to the car. So far, this recovery is much easier, which is really nice.

Thanks to everyone who’s checked in on me–if you need me, I’ll be enjoying some Hulu in bed (you know Golden Girls is on binge mode here!).

Here We Go Again

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I’m going under the knife again.

Tomorrow morning I’m heading over to the day surgery center bright and early for my exchange operation. This is the procedure where my temporary tissue expanders are removed and replaced with the permanent* implants.

I will also have fat grafting done from my belly to help fill out my chest and make it look more normal since the implants and muscle can’t exactly replace all the tissue that was removed. Much of my adult life I’ve joked that I wanted to suck the fat from my belly and put it into my boobs–who knew all it would take was a little cancer to make it happen?! (Sorry, I’m really into the morbid jokes these days.)

I’m going to have the blasted drains again (UGH), but hopefully  I won’t have to keep them as long this time. My recovery is supposed to be much shorter, too.

I posted a question about the surgery today in a Facebook breast cancer support group I participate in, and one of the members told me this was a step toward getting back to my old self. I really hope she’s right, because my body feels very not-like me right now. The tissue expanders are uncomfortable–they feel sort of like wearing a bra that doesn’t fit quite right all day. And then there’s this concave situation I have going on in the middle of my chest that’s kind of a mess. I know that I’ll never look or feel exactly like I did before, but if I can get close, that’s good enough.