The Big Day Pt. 2

I wake up after being in surgery for 71/2 hours and find Jack, Pat and my sister-in-law Teresa standing over me. The surgery had gone much longer than expected because Dr. Parikh  had been called into an emergency surgery right before my surgery, so instead of working on me simultaneously, Dr. Cash performed the bilateral Mastectomy and Dr. Parikh arrived later to do his thing and place the implants.

My family looked awful. It had been a very long stressful day for them. I on the other hand felt great! It was the most sleep that I’d had since my diagnosis. I laid there and waited for the pain to wash over me. There was none. How could that be? The epidural had done it’s job! In fact I felt so good that I just started talking and talking …. My sister-in-law, who had generously offered to spend the night with me, turned to Jack and teasingly said “Does she always talk this much? I may rethink my offer to stay!” At one point I even raised my arms and started to flap them up and down. “Look Jack, they said that I wouldn’t be able to raise my arms!”  Well you should have seen the look of horror on everyone’s face  as Jack rushed to me and pulled my arms back down and said “Honey they said you shouldn’t raise your arms.”  Whoops. Must have been the meds!

I am shortly transferred to a room in the hospital where I will spend the night. Believe it or not I am starved (one of my healing statements.)  All that I am craving is an English muffin and a cup of tea. Well the kitchen is closed  and can you believe there isn’t an English muffin to be had in the entire hospital. I was brought a dry piece of burnt toast and a lukewarm cup  of tea. Not quite what I had in mind.

Jack and Pat were dead on there feet so I sent them home and Teresa got me all settled in for the night.

The nurse on duty kept coming in to check my vitals and to see if I had been able to go to the bathroom. I hadn’t . She informed me that if I wasn’t able to go soon, she would have to place a catheter. I have a fear of catheters. That also was in one of my healing statements. I can feel my eyes well up.

A definitive “No” comes from Teresa from the corner of the room. My nurse and I both surprised turn to look at her. She knows how I feel about the catheter situation. “this woman has not had anything to eat or drink since 9:00 last night. You have to give her a chance. My two nurses were in a stare down. “Are you a nurse ?” she asked Teresa. She confirmed that not only was she a nurse but she taught nursing at a local College. With that the nurse sailed out of the room stating that she would be back later to check on me. After that, other than to check my vitals, she gave Teresa and I wide berth.

“Ok drink Jo” Teresa commanded as she refilled my cup. I drank so much that I began to feel like an Olympic swimmer immersed in a pool. I am waterlogged but eventually my body figures out what it is supposed to do. When I come out of the bathroom Teresa is clapping for me and I give her a high five! Small victories
Now in all fairness, I know what a tough, demanding job nursing is and that my nurse was doing what she was trained to do. This is an example of having someone advocate for you when you are unable to.

Thank you Teresa for your generosity. I love you and I will be eternally grateful.

When I awoke in the morning there were 4 English muffins in front of me. Everyone that came into my room wanted to make sure that I got my English muffins!

I still hadn’t looked down at my chest. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t really wrapped my head around what had just happened to me. There would be time for that later. I was just trying to make it through today.

I was released from the hospital in the afternoon . Even when I was getting dressed to come home I was careful not to look down. I was wearing a large white corset like bra and I had four drains, two on each side. My Christmas ornaments were back. Yuck!

As soon as I got home I went to bed. It’s amazing how exhausted I was from just getting dressed and riding home. My surgeon told my that sleep was the most important thing right now to heal.

A visiting nurse came in everyday for the first week to change my bandages and check my drains I still had to empty them and chart the discharge.

On the third day the pain came. The effects of the epidural has worn off. I have been given some heavy duty pain medication but honestly what seemed to help me the most were the muscle relaxants prescribed by Dr. Parikh. It is the healing and stretching of the muscles that cause most of the pain. Taking them at bedtime allowed me to get to sleep. I have always been a side sleeper but that is not allowed. You must sleep on your back so Jack would prop me up with all sorts of pillows, 2 under my head, 1 under my legs and 2 smaller pillows under my arms. He would then put pillows on either side of me so that I wouldn’t roll over during the night. You could barely see me under my mountain of pillows!

The next few weeks were a blur but this is where “My CIRCLE OF ANGELS”  kicked in. They brought me food, flowers, books, chick flicks to watch and all sorts of lovely and thoughtful gifts. One of my friends even cleaned my house every week for me. Another would wash and blow dry my hair because she knew one of my biggest fears was that Jack would have to do my hair. The man has never held a blow dryer in his hands in his life! One friend gave me a journal which I wasn’t sure I would use but boy as soon as I started writing, I realized that I had a lot to say. Those journal entries became the basis for this blog.

But the greatest gift my friends gave me was their time. There was always someone with me, I was rarely alone. They would take me to my doctor’s appointments, lunch and short walks. Sometimes they would just sit with me and let me vent and give me a shoulder to cry on. Eventually they made me smile and even laugh again! Thank you my beautiful, loving and generous Angels. You picked me up while my wings were broken and held me aloft until I could fly on my own again.

One day when I was finally alone, I worked up the courage to take off my bandages and take a good look  at myself in the mirror. Of course I was swollen and bruised but these things on my chest looked ugly and alien to me. It was as though I was looking at someone else’s body. The implants were rock hard like baseballs under my skin ( they do soften with time.)  Dr. Parikh was able to save the nipple on my right breast but not on my left because of the location of the cancer. My chest feels as though I have an ace bandage wrapped as tightly as you can imagine around me. How can something be so numb and hurt so much at the same time?

I burst into tears, crawled into bed and cried for several hours. I’m glad I was alone. I cried a lot those first weeks. I never realized how much I loved my breasts and how much I would miss them. It is not like having an appendix removed. Women identify themselves a lot by their breasts. Some people have said to me “Well they are only fatty tissue.” I disagree they are much , much more.

What I realize now was that I was grieving the loss of my breasts. There are actually 5 stages of grief. Denial, Anger,Bargaining , Depression and finally Acceptance. Looking back I definitely experienced each on of these changes. I wish I had understood at the time that this is a normal response to loss. Having said that there is no one right response . Your feelings will be as unique as you are. There is no rule book to follow. Grief hurts but it should not be ignored or suppressed because it also heals us.

After my surgery I mentally gave myself a year to heal . I thought that this was a reasonable expectation . Does that mean that exactly one year after surgery my healing was complete? Absolutely not, but I know that I am moving in the right direction. Healing emotionally has taken much longer. My best advice is to be as kind ,caring and patient with yourself as you would be with your best friend if she had the same diagnosis. You deserve nothing less.

Finally, there is acceptance. I remember the day that I looked in the mirror and thought ” Well kid this is your new reality. You are forever changed.”  You begin to have more good days than bad days. You create a new normal and begin to have a renewed faith in the future.

It has now been almost 2 years since my bilateral mastectomy and I recently told my Husband that I like my body again. I have forgiven it for what I consider was a betrayal. The implants have softened and conformed to my body and I am pleased with the results.  I am determined to not only be a survivor but a healthy survivor. The only way I know how to do this is to keep moving forward and live my life to the fullest.

Well that’s my story. I want to thank you for taking the time to read it. I hope that you have found it helpful and informative. If you have, please share it with others that are on this breast cancer journey. Most of all this is a message of hope. For although  I have been diagnosed three times  I am still here living, loving and laughing. I feel so blessed. Life is good even when it is hard. We can’t always choose what life hands us but we can choose how we deal with it. I plan on ” Rockin” this survivor thing!

I would finally like to give a shout out to my Oncologist, Dr. Debra Katz. Thank you for always listening to me. For always looking me straight in the eye and explaining everything to me . Even when I would come to see you with my head abuzz with what I had read on line the night before, you would still always listen to me and then patiently explain why or why not that would work. But most all thank you for always treating me like a person and not just a patient. I will be forever grateful.

I will continue to post on this blog more information, tips and thoughts that have helped me and continue to help me navigate this cancer journey. I hope you will continue join me .

Thank you,

Joanne Leary-Beaudry

6 comments On The Big Day Pt. 2

  • Hey Jo,
    Once I started I could not stop reading…I can hear your voice and understand why
    you were given the gift of story telling, always remembering such details. I love
    being able to share in this journey start to finish and cry and laugh with you from
    afar… I continue to be amazed and proud of the Beautiful Angelic Soul that you are..
    and always have been!
    So Thankful that you are in my life and in my Heart… Soul
    Sister…aka Sugar!! And Love that you Fight Like a Girl!! Scratching & Clawing as needed.
    Love you

  • It takes great strength to write about this journey, I admirer your compassion to support other woman faced with this battle. May we all work together to aid in breast cancer research, enhance support services and in finding a cure! All my love to you, Teresa

  • Oh Joanne, you have relayed a beautiful story of your Journey. I’m so glad we had time to chat this evening after the golf tournament. I’m having a bit of trouble seeing to type this through the tears. They are not sad tears but tears of support and understanding of your feelings. I hope we have a chance to talk again and share more. Thanks for sharing your Journey.

  • Hi Joanne!!! It was such a joy meeting you the other day at the support group and I think about you often. I’m pretty sure you were the first one I told my husband about when I got home. Being diagnosed for the second time and thinking “Wow…this is unbelievable!” I said “Can you believe I met a woman who is a 3 time survivor??” You have amazing strength and if I had met you under different circumstances…the way your smile lights up the room one would never know the journey you have traveled. You are such an inspiration!

    • Hi Sonja,
      Thank you so much for your comment. It meant so much to me. When I started this blog , I thought if I could help one other woman navigate their own journey through Breast Cancer , then this would be worth it. I also enjoyed meeting you . I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to be at group this week but I was going
      on vacation and had so much to do to get ready but I will be at the next meeting. Meanwhile if you have any questions, you can contact me at 413 210-2310 or I know you are in the mist of making some big decisions and if you would like someone to bounce ideas off of please feel
      free to call. I know firsthand what a scary time this is for you. Joanne

  • Joanne…. all I can say is I love you. I just read your blog from the beginning and was beyond moved. You are definitely a beautiful, brave woman and I am proud to call you my friend.

    It was great to see you yesterday…. having just glanced at the blog a couple of days ago and not read the entire blog until today. WOW. You’ve been through so much, TOO MUCH, but you still light up a room with your smile and laughter ….. just like you did yesterday when I saw you when I brought my mom in for her appointment.

    Okay …. Tell Jack I love him too, and I love all your doctors as well.

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