Saturday, December 11, 2004
If I Knew Then What I Know Now

The healing process has been full of ups and downs, though mostly ups. There are many things I wish I had known prior to this experience. With that in mind, I thought I would discuss how I am feeling and what I have learned so that anyone else about to have this type of surgery may be better informed.

The most uncomfortable time is at night. I can never seem to find a truly comfortable position. I started out sleeping on a big comfy chair with my feet up. This was fine at first, but as I sat in this chair during the day, it began to get uncomfortable to be in the chair too much. I tried the couch, but it was too soft and since I can't pull myself up with my arms I felt trapped (though my abs are getting very strong!) since I couldn't get off the couch unassisted. It was uncomfortable to lay completely flat in a bed and I had the same problem with feeling trapped. My sister finally had the brilliant idea to strategically place some huge, firm pillows on her guest bed and that has been the best option. I do slide down a bit at night and wake up in uncomfortable positions, but I have learned how to properly get up and move back into position. I typically only wake twice through the night now. I'm a little stiff in the morning, but I manage to come around soon enough.

Comfort has been an issue with clothing as well. Outer garments need to be front closure as I can't take things over my head and then get my arms in. I just can't have that type of motion in my arms. A zipper is best, but buttons work too. I came home from the hospital with a surgical bra and it was uncomfortable to say the least. When I went back for post op, I was given a prescription for a post mastectomy garment; however, there has been a delay for insurance clearance. This process has frustrated me more than anything. I have tried to wear other things; however, it is just not the same. If I knew I needed this, I would have started the process prior to surgery. If I knew this was going to be such a problem, I would have opted to pay for it myself and get a second one when the insurance clearance comes. There is no reason that physical discomfort that can be avoided is even an issue.

Of course I feel like I am whining, but the surgical bra actually caused physical damage to my body for having worn it so long. I tried going without it and wearing a stretchy tank top instead, but besides it being nearly impossible to put on, it didn't provide any support. The support, I have found, does help ease the pain. The plastic surgeon suggested a sports bra and I finally found one with front closure. It has been a good alternative. I also finally ordered the post mastectomy garment straight from the manufacturer and even with express ship, it won't get here until Monday (11 days post surgery). A lesson learned.

At this point in my recovery, here are the things I can't do for myself:
(thank God for sisters!)

  • Open prescription bottles, unscrew water bottles, lift a full mug of coffee
  • Wash my arms and under them, put my own socks on, tie my own shoes
  • Pick things up off the ground, scratch my back, scrunch my sleeves up
  • Lock on the car seat belt, close the car door (no reaching and pulling)

Here are the things I can do:

  • Wash my face, take a gentle shower, dress myself (with the exception of the items above)
  • Use the computer, use the remote control, talk on the phone if I use the speaker function
  • Write notes, open mail, read magazines and books
  • Most normal functions as long as I move slowly and as long as I don't try to carry, lift, or pull anything

So, for someone who is used to working many hours at one job, teaching college courses on the side, volunteering time, helping out with family needs, and trying to have a social life in there too, the frustration level is growing with my impatience. For someone who has taken a non-busy schedule view at the precious gift of life, I am grateful for each sunrise I see, each cool breeze across my face, and each smile I pass. If nothing else, cancer seems to put things into perspective.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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