Photo: italy (capri), october 2013
Each day with recovery can be very different from the next. In the immediate days post-op, I was feeling pretty good. I’d gotten through the surgery, I was getting a lot of sleep, and I had nothing to do but rest and recover.
People would ask if I was bored or climbing the walls. The answer was always no. My only occupation at that point was to rest and follow the doctor’s orders. No bending, no bathing, no raising arms above the shoulder, no lifting more than 10 pounds, drink a lot of water, eat healthy foods, keep on the medication schedule, go for walks, do the stretches, and get sleep.
My recovery seemed to take the following path:
Rest / Clean / Change Dressings / Meds / Rest
Walk / Rest / Stretch / Nap / Repeat.
But, every once and a while, there would be a moment of change. A moment where something of note happened. A moment where I needed to decide if the change was progress or a backslide.
For a few weeks there was a near daily check in with the breast clinic nurse coordinator, or my family doctor, or my chiropractor, or my acupuncturist, and/or a check in with the ladies in the FB DIEP group who’d had this surgery before, etc.
All of the above listed have received many, many photos of my new boob and my incisions in various stages of healing. Breast cancer has turned me into some sort of Anthony Weiner-type. Emailing my privates to any and all comers. Poor-old Anthony sent his pics in the interest of being some sort of barely-controlled man-child. In my case, the pic pushing was purely in the interest of science; but it is an odd thing. I would have never imagined that I’d be so cavalier about showing off my own titty pics. But, here we are. My breast hardly feels like it belongs to my own body anymore, that’s probably why it’s so easy to flash it around.
When I wasn’t sending pictures of my body around the country, I continued in the cycle of rest, walk, stretch, recover. As the weeks wound on, some days I’d have more energy than others. I soon began to recognize a pattern. A pattern where if I had a day when I’d had energy for a longer walk, or several trips up and down the stairs, or squeezed in one extra work meeting or email, the the following day I would crash. I’d be down for the count. Either not able to shower at all, or able to only shower before dissolving into tears of exhaustion.
This was all categorized as ‘recovering as expected’. More importantly, my crash days became lesser in number than my more energized days. Steady bits of progress all the time. The Tortoise and the Hare sort of stuff.
This also applied to my physical rehab too; in a few weeks I went from barely being able to lift my left arm above my sight line, to my left and right arms being nearly equal in their range of motion.
But as I stretched more, I started to feel a pulling deep inside my body. From under my reconstructed breast through my armpit and then down to my elbow. A feeling of tightness, that turned into tenderness, that has now turned into pain and a much limited range of motion.
After being seen by a physiotherapist that specializes in treating breast cancer patients
, I was happy to learn I don’t have the more long-term condition, lymphedema (at least not at the moment) but I do have something called cording, or ‘auxiliary web syndrome’. This is a highly treatable tightening of the lymph vessels that can happen to women who’ve had mastectomies, lumpectomies or lymph node extractions.
To resolve cording, I have learned some basic lymphatic drainage, some new tissue massage, and have a few new stretches to do. Because I’m a bit like a pit-bull, I expect I should be an exemplary patient and that the PT will be able to release the cords when I see her next.
Cords may release on their own through regular stretching, but more commonly the PT works away at the cords and they eventually ‘snap’ audibly as they release. Looking forward to that sickening sounding sensation! All I know is that I don’t want this feeling for the rest of my life. I’ll be that annoying patient that asks endless questions, because I want to understand what is to be accepted and managed, and what I can overcome.
Because, I want to overcome all of this.