‘Twas the Night Before Surgery // Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. My eyes were glued to my watch – T-Minus 24-hours. Each passing minute another 60-seconds closer to my prophylactic double mastectomy, my thoughts clouded with future scenarios.
“This time tomorrow…
I’ll be in surgery…I’ll be out of surgery…I’ll be in post op, God I hope I make it to post-op. Don’t think like that, McCall.”
The constant chatter in my head made the day pass painfully slow. After dinner, I nervously packed my hospital bag. The fear of the unknown and growing panic felt eerily similar to the night before I left for treatment.
What was to come? What would I feel like? Would I be alone? Why am I doing this? Am I making the right decision? Is it too late to turn around and run.
Suddenly, my scheduled anxiety attack was interrupted by a text from an unknown number:
I have been told that you have a serious freaking day tomorrow.
One breath at a time, you’re gonna make it through tomorrow.
You can do hard things, my sister.
Love and Relentless Hope,
My heart stopped and then I laughed. Someone was punking me. I called bullshit on the text and was immediately proven wrong with a Glennon soccer practice selfie.
“Holy shit,” was all I could reply – inspiring, I know. It was the most perfect distraction and inspiration.
“Just four million deep breaths, one at a time. That’s how we get through tomorrow. (And then the rest of our lives)…
You’ve got this.
WE CAN DO HARD THINGS, repeat forever.”
Between Glennon’s text and phone calls (and funny memes) from friends, I fell asleep ready to conquer the surgery, saying my Glennon mantra on repeat.
‘I can do hard things. I can do hard things. I can do hard things.’
B-Day aka Boob Day // Thursday, January 7, 2021
My mom and I arrived at Baptist hospital at 5:30am. We were led to our designated pre-op bed and began the process of undressing, gowning up and wiping off with the lovely not-so-spa like chlorhexidine wipes.
The kind, young nurse came in to begin my IV, but first handed me eight (yes, eight) large pills. Tylenol, celebrex and others that I don’t remember. As with any major surgery, I had not eaten since the evening before and I have never done well taking pills on an empty stomach. But what other choice did I have other than to choke them down. Between the horse pills and pre-surgery anxiety, I felt very queasy, but pushed it aside.
The nurse then began looking for the ‘perfect’ vein to start my IV. First problem: perfection does not exist and it came back to bite her (and me) in the ass. She pushed the needle into my right hand and began digging, yes digging, for the vein.
My stomach lurched and my vision became clouded with spots. I could hear alarms and my mother sternly telling the nurse to go get someone. Three nurses came charging into my curtained off bed, slamming my bed flat, placing heard leads over my body and shoving oxygen cannula in my nose. I later learned my blood pressure crashed to 55/39. I was not off to a soaring start.
As I slowly came to, I watched a seasoned nurse go ‘old school’ as she told me. She did not waste time searching for the perfect vein. She grabbed my left arm, flicked a vein a few times with her finger and popped the IV in with ease. There is something to say about not waiting for perfection. Lesson learned: find the veteran nurse.
The next hour was a whirl of my plastic surgeon marking my chest, anesthesiologist consents and then it was time. Tears immediately poured out and I sobbed as I hugged my mother. I was beyond terrified, but kept saying over and over “I can do hard things. I can do hard things. I will be okay. I will be okay.”
They pushed the large bed down halls and around corners and into a glaring, bright white OR room with large lights and shiny metal surfaces. My eyes darted from the nurse counting surgical instruments to the huge lights overhead to the cold table where I was to lay. The surgical staff treated me with warmth and kindness – a perfect mix of ‘tell me about your kids’ to ‘we’ve got you, you are going to be okay.’ As I laid down on the sterile metal table, a beautiful soul (aka an angel from above also known as a nurse) grabbed my hand and held it as they pushed the sleep medication into my IV.
Post Op Day 1 // Friday, January 8, 2021
As the hospital aide pushed my wheelchair down the long hospital corridor, I tried my best to hide my tears. It had barely been 24-hours since my prophylactic double mastectomy. The whirlwind of post surgery drugs, pain and cloudiness had passed – reality was officially setting in.
What have I done? Kept ringing through my head as I looked down at my swollen and foreign chest. I could feel the tidal wave of emotions rising as I painfully climbed into the car. I stared blankly out the window, a single tear rolling down my face. What have I done?
Confirming the theory that Mother’s Know Best, my smart mom insisted on renting a condo for me to rest and heal. She kept saying that my house, with two (loud) children and a 50-pound bulldog who loves to cuddle, was not conducive to healing – especially with FOUR drains coming out of my body.
We arrived at the beautiful beachfront condo and I weakly crawled into bed, grateful for the quiet and serene room – and my mother’s forethought. My mom tucked me in and walked out of the room. Within seconds of the door closing, the tears flowed.
What have I done?
It was a combination of exhaustion, pain and sadness. If I have learned anything in my ten years of eating disorder recovery and therapy, it is to feel the damn feels – no matter how bad it hurts. I also know that exhaustion adds to emotions – as does pain. So I rested. I slept. And slept. And slept some more.
Post Op-Day 2 // Saturday, January 9, 2021
I woke up and felt like a brand new wo-…I would say woman, but it was on day two I realized my breasts were gone. Literal gone girls. I knew intellectually they were removing my breast tissue to drastically reduce my chance for getting breast cancer. I also knew there would be some mental grief and sadness that accompanied the physical pain. Saturday I finally saw my missing breasts and the foreign expanders that sat where my breasts once did.
No longer round and soft, my breasts looked like square, deformed McDonald’s filet-o-fish sandwiches. While I am professional in finding humor in any situation, there is no denying the sadness I felt when staring at my reflection. Everything seemed foreign and everything hurt.
I have worked so hard to come to a place of peace with my body and breasts. It is not a perfect relationship, but it is one of love and respect. Suddenly, my breasts are gone and my body looks like a war zone. My reflection is a constant practice of reframing what I see into a vision of awe of what my body can endure and gratitude for the ability to make this option to hopefully prevent cancer.
AND…I allow myself to be mad, sad and pull the covers over my head and pout. Because…this sucks.
The next few days played out like a blurry whirlwind of draining drains and a rotation of Advil and Tylenol. My sadness came and went along with joy and gratitude. Jordan and the kids came by for little walks on the beach and (very careful) couch snuggles. The kids would leave and I retreated to my quiet room to rest.
Within the daily giggles and gratitude there was a constant – the pain. OUCH. This is not for the faint of heart. While the constant pain subsided, the ache remained. Surgery left me with four drains to prevent hematomas. My amazing nurse (aka my mom) stripped the drains twice daily, pulling the fluid, collecting it in sample cups, and measuring their output. The nursing gig isn’t for the faint of heart either.
By Day Five (Tuesday), the pain and exhaustion caught up with me. My body hurt all over and I felt claustrophobic from the limited movement, the pain and the saran wrap (aka tegaderm) bra clinging to my body, tightly holding my chest in place. The expanders also contributed to the discomfort. They feel like large, squares poking out of your body. They pop in and out like a soft piece of plastic with a hard frame. They are foreign, strange and suffocating at times. I also got the added bonus of having an allergic reaction to the tegaderm and multiple open sores caused by the drains rubbing on my sides.
Thankfully, I got two drains pulled at my first post-op appointment. While the drains felt like hot fire coming out of my body, I was SO relieved to have them gone and to have the tegaderm bra gone. Two drains down, two to go!
One Week Post Op // Thursday, January 14, 2021
It is fitting that I post this not just one week after surgery, but on the third anniversary of my best friend gaining her angel wings. There is no doubt she has been by my side every step of this journey.
I recently told my mom I am so glad GaGa did not have to live through the pandemic and my decision to undergo this surgery. But if she had I know she would understand. I will never forget what she told me when Jordan and I made the hard decision to leave Baton Rouge. Gaga and I sat on her back porch, she smoked her cigarette as I cried to her about not wanting to leave her. I knew it ripped her to pieces too, but in that moment, she sat up, took a breath (or puff) and simply said:
“McCall, you are a mother now. You have to always, always put your family first. Jordan’s job opportunity in Sea Island and this move is best for YOUR family. We will be okay.”
I have carried that with me to this day and when making this decision. My choice to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy was not an easy one. I did not do this solely for myself, but for my family. This surgery will hopefully prevent the ‘C’ word from coming back once again into our lives.
Genetic testing can give you unwanted answers AND it can give you the ability to choose LIFE. Once again, I made the decision to save my own life with the options (albeit crappy ones) laid out before me. I did not hesitate to choose mastectomy and even knowing the pain, I would choose it all over again.
Life has taught me yet again, no one or nothing can save our lives – that decision and work is ultimately left up to us. Treatment did not save me. My therapists did not save me. I took the skills and courage they instilled in me and saved myself. Over and over.
And to be perfectly frank, it is super annoying and exhausting to save yourself again and again. But such is life. I could put my head in the sand or I could make this decision, do the hard things…rinse and repeat. I will forever choose the hard things because they lead to the brutiful joys of what it truly means to live an authentic and imperfect life.
We can do hard things,