About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Surgery, part two

Coming out of general anesthesia is a haze. I can't be chronological about it. Rather, it is a series of impressions, senses and mental images. Confused and scattered. I had the sensation of being jostled around, moved, packed in. My first impression was pain. Thankfully, I was given something for that fairly quickly. The nurse mentioned something about how it hurt when she had it done, except that she had expanders. A breast cancer survivor? The sound of someone throwing up near me in the recovery room. Thirst, but not as bad as after my cesarean. A digital clock on the wall that read military time. It said 18 something. That is the 6 o'clock hour, right? It had been all day. My surgeon's face looming over me telling me it was over, that she had talked to my family. That I wouldn't remember this, but she had to take some extra stitches on one side. What is a few more stitches, I thought. Whatever. The original nurse leaves, a male nurse comes to take her place. I guess it was break time for her. The person next to me is still throwing up. I'm glad I'm not. Can I have some ice, please? The nurse came and fed me a cube and it was delicious. I'm waiting in a hazy doze. The original nurse comes back and makes a call 'upstairs' to see if my room is ready. After a few more minutes, I'm being moved. Can I take my ice cup? I'll even hold it.

As I'm wheeled out, I see Eric and my parents in the hall. I lift my hand up to give them a wave. What do you say? Eric told me right away that I looked good. Gee, thanks. :-) They are told to meet us up on the 5th floor in my room.

The room itself was tiny, and I was sharing it with another patient. The staff got me all situated and my parents and Eric squeezed into the corner. I felt a little bit like a bug under glass. Eric seemed to want to talk, but I just didn't have the capacity to do it. It is hard to know how to act in these situations. It was good to know that they were all there, though. I was thrilled to have a small pitcher of cold water waiting for me, along with 2 juice boxes. I got started on those right away.

Several hospital staff came in and out in those first few minutes to get me settled and introduce me to themselves. They put a sign up over my head warning everyone away from taking blood or blood pressure on my left arm. That is going to be with me for the rest of my life. With no lymph nodes on the left side, I'm at risk for swelling. It's a condition known as lymphedema.

The charge nurse came in and asked me if I wanted anything to eat. Sure. "What do you want?" she asked. How am I supposed to make a decision like that? Is there a menu? Do I have choices? I can barely form words, yet I'm supposed to come up with an idea? She suggested a sandwich, so I agreed. She brought me a turkey sandwich wrapped in plastic. I wasn't up to eating quite
yet, but would try later.

I could tell Eric was a little uncomfortable. I don't blame him. There was nowhere for him to sit, and what do you say, anyway? I told him that it would be okay for him to go home and be with the kids and his mom.

Soon after he left, I got incredibly hot. I asked mom and dad to take the blankets off my legs, but it didn't help. I kept sweating. They got a washcloth wet in the bathroom and put it on my head. It helped a little, but the hot sensation just wouldn't pass. Around this time, a dinner tray was brought and put next to me. It had some turkey with a thick gravy on top. I knew I needed some protein, so I scraped off the gravy and took a bite of the meat. I could barely choke it down. There was a pear on the tray, and that was good. It was cold, and tasted delicious. I tried a second bite of meat and a wave a nausea overtook me. Oh gosh, was I going to throw up now too? (My roomie had been having a bad reaction to her anesthesia). I grabbed a styrofoam cup and held it ready to catch anything. We told the nurses and they gave me some anti-nausea medication. That was better than the barf tray I was expecting. Needless to say, "dinner" was over.

After that, mom and dad did their best to help cool me down. They alternated cool washcloths on my head. They both stood over me fanning me with folded up paper and a notebook. Anything to help me. It started to work. Mom sat by me with the wet cloth and stroked my face and head. That felt so good to be babied like that by my mom. I calmed down, cooled down, and felt like I could sleep.

It was around 8 p.m. and I felt the pain creeping up again. There was a dry-erase board that had my care instructions on it. It said, "Ask for help" and "pain management." So I buzzed the nurse and asked for pain meds. Much like the dinner question, she asked me what I wanted. Well, golly gee. What are my choices? It was basically IV or pill. I wanted something fast acting, so I chose the IV. As she gave it to me, she said the IV meds (morphine) would last 1-2 hours. The meds in pill form would last 3-4 hours. I made a mental note to ask for pills next time. Mom helped me get to the bathroom before they left. It was awkward in the small room, being attached to the IV and an oxygen line. When I got back into bed, the nurse saw I hadn't eaten much. She suggested some sherbert. That sounded good. And it was. Mom would have stayed the night, but I felt like I was okay. I was just going to sleep anyway. As mom and dad left, mom said she would be back down early the next day.

A hospital is a 24/7 kind of place. There really isn't a "night" and "day." So I slept on and off. It was noisy. My roommate had a knee replacement and was on an epidural. Every couple of hours, a crew of people would come in to wake her up and move her position in bed. Which meant I got woken up every couple of hours too. On top of that, a lady would come in to take vital signs every few hours as well. I slept until about 11 and woke up. I thought I would ask for pain meds at midnight, but fell back asleep. There was a shift change right before I fell asleep, and my nurse introduced me to the night nurse. As she left, the first nurse squeezed my hand and told me that she would pray for me. I really appreciated that!

I woke up around 4 a.m. and knew I was going to need to go to the bathroom again soon. But I hadn't had any pain meds since 8 p.m., and that was the morphine that didn't last as long. So I knew it would be very difficult to get up without getting some pain meds in me first. I buzzed the nurse and asked the person who answered. When no one came by 4:30, I was wondering what was going on. The nurse finally came, but she came in to check on my drains. I asked her about the pain meds and she gave them to me right away, but suggested I eat some saltine crackers first.

About 30 minutes later, I asked for help to the bathroom. It was awkward again, but not as hard as it had been the first time. When I got back to bed, I just zoned out for awhile. My roommate made the first contact between us. We never saw each others faces, the curtain was always drawn. She asked me what I was in for. I dropped the cancer bomb yet again. She was very nice and I appreciated her kind words.

They brought a breakfast tray around 7:30 a.m. I was hungry, so anything would have tasted good. It was a pretty high-carb meal of French toast and Cheerios. The only protein was the milk for the cereal. No matter-I gobbled it up. The coffee helped my head too. I am kind of suprised by the lack of healthy food in the hospital, though. I heard the meal service person ask my roommate what she wanted the next day for breakfast. Her choices were: waffles; pancakes; or French toast. What about eggs?? Anyway, I was glad that I wouldn't be in too long for that reason alone.

My surgeon had procedures scheduled that day at Kaiser's Otay Mesa facility, so her assistant came to check on me. He asked me if I was ready to go home. I guess so. He took a peek at my stitches. I looked away. Not ready to go there, yet. He said everything looked really good. The main thing he wanted me to be aware of was that I wasn't to take any "extra" Tylenol, since my pain meds had a big dose of acetaminophen. When I was ready to exercise again, he said a recumbent bike would be the least jarring.

The nurse sent my mom down to the pharmacy to get my pain medication, and she took out my IV. It felt good to be "unhooked." When mom got back, she helped me to get dressed. When I saw myself in the mirror with the post-surgical camisole, with drains and tubes coming out, I asked her to get a picture. I couldn't help but think how "Borg-like" I looked. I told her to get a picture, and here it is. I laughed as I thought of a fitting caption for it, "Resistance is futile!"

I've got three drains, 2 on the left and one on the right. Each is attached to a long tube that is coming out of my side. (Ick) I've got these little velcro pouches that connect onto the camisole to hold the drain itself. They need to be measured and emptied out about 3 times a day. The nurse made sure mom and I were able to do it before we left. With all of the gauze padding, it felt like I was wearing a bulletproof vest or a life preserver.

The nurse wheeled me down and mom picked me up in the front and we left. I have a little heart shaped pillow that I wear underneath the seat belt so it doesn't rub on my chest. Mom was really careful to drive slow. The ride didn't hurt. It was weird to be out of the hospital and see the rest of the world carrying on as if nothing had happened. Yet my life had permanently changed. Now I was on my way home to try and figure out how to live it.


  1. Glad to know you are home already! Crazy how fast you go home after major surgery now, isn't it? But....more restful, less infectious....it makes sense. But so strange to come home after such life-altering events and see everything the same except you.

    I'm glad you have so much family to help you. May you heal well and quickly. I am thinking of you!

  2. Power-FULL, as usual. You look chipper in the picture; reassuring.

    Oh! After my abdominal surgery (incision from below sternum to belly button), I was suffocatingly hot, too. Apparently, those who'd had similar surgeries were also horribly hot so the hospital (Alvarado) had a giant electric fan for each patient! It sat on a chair at the end of the bed and blew us silly. I was still so hot I laid there butt-naked and didn't even care. Now, of course, I am mortified! But, I've never figured out that post-surgical sweat lodge feeling.

    May each day bring more healing and less pain.

    *tender hug*

  3. The Drains are annoying, but if the draining slows down by Wednesday, you'll be able to remove them. I hope that will happen for you. You look great in the "tubal" picture.

    Ice chips are the BEST after surgery. My first time under, I was that one who got sick! I'm glad you didn't have to deal with that too.

    Your family sounds so wonderful. I'm so glad you have such support.

    The meds are strong, but don't forget your body just went through a major surgery. The "blow to the chest" feeling will last awhile and the tubes hurting will get better once they're removed. So, don't worry about the meds. You need the rest right now.

    Life does go on! It does seem surreal when something so amazing can happen to you and yet, nobody would even know, unless you drop the C Bomb on them.

    You're doing great! Nicole