The days leading up to my mastectomy were filled with lots preparation and anxiety. It felt like the final weeks of pregnancy where the nesting takes over and you want everything to be perfect for the new baby’s arrival, although for me, there is no squishy newborn at the end of the tunnel. I made meal-plans for Aidan and Cooper, complete with diagrams for Aidan’s “What Aidan Ate” lunch boxes, cleaned and organized drawers that have been ignored for months, laid out outfits for A & C, packed a hospital bag for me and Matthew, making sure that everything was “ready”.
The anxiety that I was feeling wasn’t about me, the physical pain I was about to experience or the loss of two pretty important body parts. It was more about what recovery would look like and how my household would run without me, the self-designated CEO of Angrist, Inc at the helm. I have complete faith in my amazing husband, but if you ask him to go find the boys’ socks, it may take him a long time to return. But, between Matt, all of the grandparents, and my amazing nanny, I had to believe that I was leaving the boys in capable hands.
Monday, October 21, Surgery Day
On Monday morning, Matt and I casually strolled up to NYU for 7:30am registration. Next, I had an 8am pre-surgery appointment with nuclear medicine. Throughout my treatment, my doctors were confident that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes, but we had no confirmation. During this appointment, the radiologist injected a radioactive dye next to my left nipple (yeah, it stung) in order to photograph the path that the dye moved through my breast until it got to my lymph nodes. It was really cool to watch on the screen as the dye moved through my body until it lit up when it hit the first node. This process identified the sentinel node, the first lymph node that would be affected by cancer.
During my mastectomy, my surgeon would remove the sentinel node and check for cancer in real-time. If there is no indication of cancer in the sentinel node, then we can be sure that the cancer did not spread to my lymph nodes. If there is evidence of cancer in the sentinel node, the surgeon would remove the next nodes along the path until there is no evidence of cancer – fascinating stuff.
After the lymph node mapping was complete, I went up to the surgical floor to wait for my surgeons. I was brought into a pre-op waiting room to change into my surgical gown, brush my teeth (yup), sign consent forms and wait. I met with both my breast and plastic surgeons, they marked and signed my chest and then I said goodbye to Matt and my parents and walked into the operating room.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the recovery room. I felt a heaviness and tightness in my chest but I wasn’t in any extraordinary pain. My arms felt very stiff at my sides. I could bend my arms at the elbow but could not lift my upper arms off of the bed. While waiting in recovery, my surgeons came in and shared the good news that everything went well and there was no evidence of cancer in my lymph nodes. Matt and I waited in the recovery room for a long time before being moved into my real hospital room.
Once I (finally) got wheeled to my hospital room, I had to stand up to walk from the recovery bed to the hospital bed. After my two c-sections, standing up for the first time was the hardest part, so I was afraid for this moment. I needed help from Matthew and the nurses to push my back forward as I swung my legs over the side of the bed. I sat on the side of the bed for a few minutes to catch my breath as I started to feel a bit faint. Finally, with support, I took the few steps to my bed. I needed even more help to sit on the hospital bed and scoot to lean back to a comfortable position.
The physical side effects of this surgery are almost the opposite of my c-sections. During my c-sections, my lower stomach was cut, basically destroying my core and abs, causing me to rely on my upper body strength to move around. Once I was able to walk, I could use my arms to balance and when I was sitting down, I could use my arms to maneuver my body until I got comfortable. With my mastectomy, I cannot rely on my upper body strength at all. My chest and arm muscles are basically useless. I basically have to pretend that my arms don’t exist as I scoot around on my hips. Getting comfortable in a hospital bed was NOT easy. The biggest challenge is trying to sit up after laying down.
That night in the hospital, Matt and I had Vezzo pizza for dinner. I was happy to have my full appetite back but Matt had to feed me each bite as I could not bring my hands to my mouth on my own. True love.
Once we got ready to go to sleep, I had a hard time staying in a comfortable position. I had to sleep on my back, in an elevated position but I kept sliding down in the bed and wasn’t able to scoot myself back up. I kept having to call for the nurse to help me get comfortable and always needed someone to help me get out of bed and come with me when I needed to use the bathroom. It was a long night.
Tuesday, October 22nd, Post-Op Day 1
Despite not getting a great night sleep, I actually woke feeling pretty rested. We spent a relaxing day in the hospital with a few visits from friends and family. Matt and I took walks around the hospital floor and didn’t really do much else. He worked and I laid in bed.
Standard protocol for this surgery is to only spend one night in the hospital, which means that we would have gone home today. This boggles my mind as I was in no state to go home. I was still feeling very uncomfortable and needed a lot of support to move around. Having the doctors constantly checking to make sure that I was healing correctly was comforting. If I had gone home after just one night, I would definitely have felt more scared and anxious. Because of Aidan and Cooper, I was adamant from the start that I wanted to spend two nights in the hospital. I wanted that extra night in the hospital to recover a bit more before returning home to two rambunctious toddlers. The extra night in the hospital was very very necessary.
Wednesday, October 23rd, Post-Op Day 2
We woke up in the hospital and gathered up our things to get ready to go home. I was discharged, we took an Uber and got settled in at home. Immediately, it felt harder being at home than being in the hospital. In the hospital, I was isolated from real life and could just rest in bed without thinking about what was going on outside of the NYU walls. There were nurses ready and willing to help me with whatever I needed and I only had to worry about myself. At home, I spent the rest of the afternoon laying in bed, but it was hard knowing that A & C were playing in the other room and I couldn’t be there playing with them. Matt and my mom were there to help me, but I wanted them to focus their energy on the boys. I still couldn’t get in and out of bed by myself so I was feeling very dependent.
Thursday, October 24th, Post-Op Day 3
Today I was determined to go for a walk. After my mom brought A & C to school, she helped me get out of bed and get dressed and we went for a walk outside. We got an iced coffee, sat outside for a few minutes, and then walked home. The whole outing took less than 30 minutes but it felt really nice to do something so normal.
Friday, October 25th, Post-Op Day 4
It has been 4 days since my surgery and already I am slowly starting to feel back to normal. I still have many physical limitations, but as each day passes I am able to do a little bit more. Today, I got out of bed by myself for the first time which is HUGE win. Now I feel comfortable to be left alone at home and know that I can start to take care of myself.
One thought on “Mastectomy, 1”
Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Although we cannot fully fathom (having not experienced it ourselves) your pain and sentiments, the description of what you went through puts a lot of perspective into mastectomy and the journey to arrive there. Your candor and so well written depiction of your treatment has touched me in ways I find hard to explain. Understanding the disease, the sequence of events to arrive where you are today were true eye openers. We read and hear about breast cancer but we do not know the nuances involved in the therapeutic process. Your documentation is amazing, as you are, and my wish to you is that you have reached the end of this path with never ever having to look back at it. Aidan, Cooper, and Matt are the luckiest to have you in their lives.
Keep smiling, the best is yet to come.