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Dr. Spann graciously agreed to take a photo with me on my last surgery. He’s been such an integral part of my life the past 9 months…I had to have a photo op!
A little over a week ago, May 29th to be exact, I had an additional surgery as part of my reconstruction process. I had much contemplation about the main reason for this particular procedure. It was nipple reconstruction. I liked having the clean “no see-through” look in my shirts. It was great! However, I knew in the long run that I would likely be very pleased with my final results once this phase was complete in a couple of months. Although I don’t have any sensation, I was still going to be sedated. Needless to say, this part of the surgery went off without a hitch. On my follow-up visit, Dr. Spann told me I could have the tattooing done in about 6 weeks from a cosmetic tattoo artist (yet another part I’m not particularly looking forward to).
Another portion of my surgery was having a little bit of liposuction done to remove some extra tissue that was now appearing under my arms…to the sides of my breasts. I wasn’t 100% comfortable with my new “full” size, so we opted to have some of this excess removed. I didn’t want too much taken out in case I regretted my decision later. I’m still trying to decide if this is the final size I want to be. It’s definitely been a change from where I came from. Also, some lipo was done on my hips as well for some contouring purposes and tweaking some puckered scars. I do have to say…pain from the lipo was absolutely no fun!! I had pain and bruising in my upper and lower back. It was quite different from typical back pain that I see my chiropractor for. The good news is that it didn’t last much beyond a week. Some strong pain meds helped in those first few days!
Finally, as recommended from Dr. Hagans, my breast specialist, Dr. Spann removed some small areas of fat necrosis from both breasts. Tissue hardness had formed on each side since my initial surgery. It wasn’t really bothering me, but they both recommended removing it. This was a pretty seamless process. No new scars and not much pain after surgery.
My outpatient surgery was originally suppose to have one more thing done that I couldn’t wait for. My plastic surgeon had suspected that I had fat necrosis forming on the left side of my abdomen. For lack of a better word, a rather large bulge has formed. It’s different from my prior belly pooch. It’s extremely hard and very painful at times. When I stand during worship at church or I am on my feet for any length of time, it causes quite a bit of discomfort. The plan was to remove the fat necrosis and stitch me back up. Well…after looking at me right before surgery, Dr. Spann thought my “bulge” looked quite a bit bigger than the last time he saw me and thought it could be a hernia. He didn’t feel it was safe to operate on this part until I had a CT scan done to confirm one way or another.
Other than that snag, surgery went well. It lasted between an hour and a half and two hours. I remember waking up in the recovery room with that “foggy feeling” that you have when coming to from the wonderful world of anesthesia. I remember asking the nurse if I could have some pain medication. She told me she was giving me something in my IV right then. It seemed like only seconds later when I told her I was sorry but that I wondered if she could give me something more for pain. I swallowed a pill thinking, “I sure hope this works fast!” Troy told me it seemed like it took 2 hours after I was in recovery before he was able to see me. I couldn’t tell you. My memory is always so vague these days. I went home with an abdominal binder that I needed to wear for at least the next week.
My mom had an appointment with Dr. Spann the very next day regarding her revised reconstruction. She had her bilateral mastectomy a year ago and had tissue expander/implant exchange surgery in February. It was what we considered a botched job. With all of her issues, I really wanted to be there when he discussed her options with her. He was surprised to see me at her appointment and told me I should be resting at home but understood that I wanted to be with my mom. Her first surgery with him is scheduled for July 22nd. It may take a series of surgeries to get things at a pleasing result, but we are confident he is going to do a great job. I can’t begin to express how blessed I am to have had such an incredible plastic surgeon the first time around. I’ve heard and seen first-hand so many terrible stories.
Since I was in Little Rock with my mom anyway, Dr. Spann’s office scheduled me to have my CT scan right away at Baptist Hospital as soon as we were finished with mom’s appointment. I drank the huge container of flavored Crystal Light and had my scan an hour later. Troy joined us at the hospital as I had my CT done. I told him it wasn’t necessary, but he really wanted to be there with me. He went back to work right afterwards. In case anyone doesn’t know, I love him! We finally ate lunch about 3 pm that day. We were all exhausted (including my sweet daddy who has been in his own round-the-clock pain) and enjoyed our meal at Longhorn Steakhouse.
One of Dr. Spann’s nurses called me the next day and told me they had the results back from my test. She said it wasn’t a hernia, but it was more of abdominal muscle weakness. I thought this was probably good news that I didn’t have a hernia. On Tuesday of this week, I had my follow-up appointment where this was the main topic I wanted to discuss. Unfortunately, he told me that a hernia would have actually been easier to fix than this muscle weakness. He said the safest thing to do would be to do nothing. In some cases, exercise and losing weight seems to help this bulge go away eventually. However, if I really want it fixed, he wants to wait in case we do any additional revisions on the breasts. He said our best option would be to wait until September or October. The process for the surgery is outpatient but would require a 2-month healing time before I could lift literally anything heavier than a gallon of milk. He would use an abdominal wall surgical mesh (the gross part is that it would be from pig skin). Ugh. This definitely dampened my spirits. I had just started exercising again about 6-8 weeks ago, but the pain from this bulge started hurting so badly that I stopped until after my surgery. And now I’m being told that exercise is what I need to do to possibly help it. It might not help, but then again it might. All I could think about is the pain I have currently when I don’t exercise and how it’s so much worse when I do exercise. It was a pity party in the making. I cried a couple of times in my car that day. I wasn’t a happy camper and was certainly not looking forward to exercising in that much pain (you know…other than the “I can’t exercise normally pain”).
I’ve refrained from showing any of my surgical scars on here, but below is a portion of my “bulge.” I know the scars aren’t pretty, but they definitely remind me of where I’ve been. (If anyone is ever reading this who is having diep flap surgery, breast reconstruction, or if you are just one of my girlfriends and you want to see any of my photos, I don’t have much embarrassment at this point in life. I would be glad to share them with you. Just shoot me an email.)
But guess what? I decided I needed to start working on my digital scrapbook. After all, my journey through this elective surgery and now reconstruction is really pretty close to being over. With the exception of possible little revisions, tattooing is all I have left when it comes to the breasts. I sat at my computer the other day, literally for a couple of hours, just trying to think of what I wanted the cover of my album to look like. As God was speaking to me through His scripture and my self-loathing pity party I had earlier in the day, He reminded me (YET AGAIN) of all I’ve been through and how HE ALONE has been my source of strength. I don’t have cancer. I don’t have an incurable disease. I didn’t have to go through what my mom has had to go through. Although this pain can get pretty rough on some days, I don’t have to go through chronic pain like some of the people closest to me. (You know who you are.) I can’t help be but forever grateful to my heavenly Father of reminding me how blessed I truly am. And so…in fact, aptly so, the cover of my scrapbook will be named “The Struggle is Part of the Journey.”
I think Paul says it so well in this familiar passage in 1 Timothy. Chapter 4.
10 This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.
On Monday, I had a visit with Dr. Hagans. He greeted me, as always, with a sweet hug. This was my 3-month checkup from the last time I was in to see him (just a month out from my initial surgery). He said everything looked great. He did notice a little fat necrosis in each breast. That means simply some of the cells within a localized area can form an interruption of the blood supply to that particular part of the body. He wants Dr. Spann to remove some of that out from each breast. This necrosis can be a fairly common thing.
On April 29th, I will be having surgery to form the nipples. He said it will be about a week recovery. I am choosing to be fully knocked out and not under local anesthetic. I was a little nervous the last time I was in the operating room. I was wide away and started feeling some anxiety come over me close to the completion of the procedure. They took my vitals afterward and my blood pressure was definitely up. I made it, though! This time should be easier…just sleeping in Neverland while he does his thing! Zzzz.
During this surgery, i will also have some fat necrosis from the left side of my tummy removed. There has been quite a bit of inflammation on that side which can sometimes be painful. So…with the removal of the necrosis from both the tummy and the breasts, I am definitely going to have general anesthesia. He said the whole thing should take an hour or so. It is done as an outpatient procedure, and I will go home shortly after the knock-out drugs are out of my system.
On Thursday, April 18th (Trent’s 12th birthday), it will be exactly 4 months since my initial surgery. I still don’t remember a lot during that period of time, and I’m pretty sure that some of my brain cells were accidentally removed as well! I can’t seem to remember details very much. I don’t know if that’s the medication I’m on or if it’s just that I’m getting old. Either way, almost 120 days out…I can’t begin to express how blessed I am. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to journal my experience in hope that someday this might help someone else going through similar circumstances.
Here’s the picture I took the day I visited with Dr. Hagans last week. Every time I see that place, I’m reminded how God has been my provider and comforter every step along the way.
“Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.” – Psalm 119:50 (NLT)
“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” – 2 Cor. 9:8
Today, as I spent some time pondering all that God has done for me the past couple of years, I was reminded simply that He must be my portion…no matter what it is. Three months ago, today, surgeons operated on me for more than 9 hours. I am so encouraged as I reflect back during the “waiting period” for this elective surgery and all that He taught me. He continues to use this season of healing in my life to bring me closer to Him. I am so fortunate to know my Savior on an intimate level. While I don’t have it all together — not by a long shot — I am grateful for the place He has brought me to.
I am battling what seems like an insurmountable feat — to try and lose upwards of 40 pounds that have been packed on the past several months in addition to the 30 pounds I was already needing to lose. His word spoke to me in a real and tangible way when it comes to portion control. I am learning that the Lord must be my portion…even in the legitimate aspect of weight loss. My deepest desires for food must be satisfied and replaced with an even more intimate relationship with Him. I long to crave my Savior more than anything else this world has to offer.
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore, I have hope in Him.”
February is often considered a month of LOVE. I admit, I love it when my husband spoils me with chocolate covered strawberries — a Valentine tradition in our home — except I haven’t quite figured out why this year was skipped. I did receive two beautiful charms for my Pandora bracelet. Maybe it’s because that will last longer than chocolate when it’s in my house!
On this journey of having a prophylactic mastectomy with immediate reconstruction via DIEP flap, the word LOVE has extended itself in all new ways. In the most recent days my body continues to heal, but my overall countenance has not been consistent with the way I had been both pre-op and post-op. It’s been a frustration of mine that these depression-type indicators have once again entered the emotional side of me. I’m grateful that I know the truth of what my Savior thinks about me no matter what thought processes have entered my mind. I claim His promise in 2 Corinthians 10:5 — to take every thought captive and to teach those thoughts to obey Christ. Wow!! Can I say that I never thought of it that way…teaching those thoughts to obey Him! Some days I may not seem as lovable to my family, but they love me through it all. Whether it’s snuggle-time with Trent, a good-night kiss from my extremely thoughtful 15-year-old, Hunter — or my husband just saying nothing when I know he wants to!!
Where I am today…
On Monday, February 18th, I went in for a small procedure. There was about an 4 x 1.5 inch area on my stomach incision, just to the right of my belly button. It was not healing the way it was suppose to through conventional methods, so Dr. Spann agreed it was time to put it back together. I would explain the technical terms, but I don’t understand them myself. I was under local anesthesia and awake the whole time in the operating room. Looking around, it was quite a different experience being in that cold white room. Any other surgeries I had previous to this one, I was either barely awake to count backwards, or I was already knocked completely out before entering the room. It was an odd feeling as the two nurses were talking to me as they prepped me. I did add a little humor to their day though. One had asked me if I was going to do the nipple reconstruction and tattooing. I told them I thought so, but I had a very strange dream about it a few weeks before. In the nighttime disillusionment of my mind, my plastic surgeon told me I just needed to twist really, really hard to form the nipple back. He said to just keep twisting and twisting. Whoa…that was not what I was expecting! I still don’t quite know what to expect, but I’m pretty certain that’s not exactly the way it will happen! The nurses contained their laughter, thankfully, before Dr. Spann came in to the OR. He numbed me up a few times in the areas that had regained some feeling. It only took about 20 minutes to complete. He spoke to me much of the time while he was working. I had to ask him to give me more anesthetic a couple of times. I remembered opening my eyes once and seeing a knife come down. I realized right then that I was better off keeping my eyes closed! I went home within 30 minutes after the procedure and already my new scar was looking significantly better.
Last week was a struggle for me emotionally and mentally. I knew then that my mind was not letting me be the Candice that is what I call “normal” and “lovable”. I went to see my dear friend Patty, who is also my nurse practitioner. She listened as I sat there and cried in one of her clinic rooms. I shared with her that I’m back to having some major ups and then bottoming out. It’s like my serotonin and/or Vitamin D levels are out of whack. She had some blood drawn from the lab so we could see what’s going on. In the meantime, we are decreasing one of my meds that has caused me to gain a lot of weight in a very short period of time. We are hoping to get the right combination so I can be the “normal” me…if there is such thing as normal! I’m grateful that my mind and spirit understands this process…at least to some degree. It helps me to cope and know that I’m not crazy (well, my husband may have a different opinion)!!
Although I have been having war with this mind of mine, I started last Wednesday using the LoseIt! app once again. I came to the realization that if God could bring me through an elective mastectomy, I KNOW He can help me on my weight loss journey. The amount of weight I need to lose almost seems like an impossibility, but I am learning to remind myself that He is in control of even these things. He cares about everything that goes on — all the happy times in life and even in the things we battle and struggle with. I’ve learned these are most cherished times for me — those of refining me into…okay, I’m going to say it…the beautiful woman of God He wants me to be.
I had the brave idea one day last week that I was going to try to do a sit-up. Trent was sort of put-off by me trying to do such a feat. I ensured him that if it hurt too much, I would stop. I ended up laughing at myself for thinking this was even a possibility. Even though they didn’t cut into my stomach muscles, I had no strength to pull myself up. It was the strangest feeling! The past 2 days I have met a dear friend at the high school track to start walking. It’s indeed a struggle. We meet around 5 am and are currently walking 1 mile. For us, this is a lot to start with…especially considering the trauma my body has been through. I hope to add a few days a week at home doing some Pilates or something (whatever I can find that won’t harm my stomach healing process).
I write this on the eve of my mom’s tissue expander and implant exchange. Tomorrow she becomes one step closer to her finished reconstruction. She’s had an incredibly long journey, and it’s not over just yet. She had her mastectomy almost a year ago, and because of infections and other issues, she is just now to this point in the process. She will stay overnight in a local hotel and see her doctor the next day for a follow-up to make sure she’s doing well enough to go home. It’s my prayer that her pain is minimal and that she will be happy with her results. Her emotions are a bit different from mine. She had a lot of breast and scar tissue that had to be removed during her mastectomy. As a result, she only has the option of using the biggest implants they make. She can’t have implants on top of her old tissue since it is was removed. Her final size will be significantly smaller than what she was prior to her mastectomy. She desires to lose a lot of weight after she heals up, but weight has always been a battle for my sweet momma. I’m praying now that there will be beneficial things she can do to shed some of her excess pounds. I plan on being by her side tomorrow as she is operated on again. I’m so blessed to have my mom — the one God gave me — as my best friend.
As I end this post, I want to say again how blessed I am. There is definitely some refining going on in my life, but I’m thankful for LOVE…in every sense of the word. It looks like different things to different people, but the LOVE that truly transforms is one which comes from having a growing relationship with Jesus.