My Double Mastectomy Part III: More Surgeries


It has been nearly three full months since my last surgery. Wednesday I was unceremoniously deemed healed and all restrictions lifted! Woohoo! It honestly feels a bit surreal. I don’t ever have to see my surgeon again? I can lift that bag? I can run? I can finally scoop Ezra up into my lap? Wow. I have been consciously avoiding these physical actions for the last six months. It’s going to take some practice to remove that mental wall I’ve built against actually doing things with my arm and chest muscles, but I have a feeling those bricks will crumble quickly. I am more than ready to reclaim the kind of woman I was before my surgeries - playful and active. My boys whooped in delight when they found out that I could ride all the slides with them at Roaring Springs yesterday. (We had a blast, by the way.)

The last six months have been a wild unexpected ride. I think I’m still processing what went down. I had cancer and by the grace of God beat it before I knew it even existed. I feel so overwhelming lucky that I am not a typical cancer patient, that I get to thrive this summer instead of fighting for my life. But at the same time, I went through a lot! In fact, during each of my last three or four visits to the surgeon’s office, as soon as I stepped onto the elevator I wanted nothing more than to melt into the floor. I felt nervous. And my blood pressure proved it! I could barely speak coherent sentences with the doctor during my last visit and when I saw my face in the mirror it was bright red. Haha. Dr. P must think I’m a nutcase! I feel so embarrassed. But the stress is real. 

Anyway, let’s wrap up this story, shall we?

March 10 

I made a phone call to my surgeon’s office with some concerns about my left breast incision not healing and continuing to bleed. I followed directions to keep both incisions clean with iodine and religiously covered my left nipple with a gigantic bandaid. My bathroom countertop was piled high with antibiotics and drug store first aid. I was pretty sure I was going to lose at least part of my left nipple. I ultimately did. 

March 17

Bron and I drove to Meridian for my post surgical drain removal with Nicole. I realized then just how sick I had been! I was feeling a hundred times better. It’s crazy what our minds and bodies do in an effort to survive.

It also felt a bit awkward to live with a lopsided chest, but it was actually virtually unnoticeable underneath a sweater. I surprised myself with the realization that if worse came to worse, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I wound up being flat chested. 

March 23 

I felt great! I had been done taking antibiotics for a week and my right breast was looking healthy. I went into the doctor’s office for a pre op check. The good news was that my right breast looked ready for a new implant. The bad news was that I needed to have an in office surgical procedure to clean up my left breast incision  that was not healing correctly and showing signs of necrosis. So after a copious amount of iodine, a scalpel, and some stitches, I was on my way home. 

March 28 

March 28th was the day I had surgery to replace the right implant. My left breast nipple was still trying to heal. When I took off the bandage, it bled through the hospital gown til we got it covered again. Despite that, I was a happy camper that morning, drugged up well. Bron and I had some good laughs as they prepped me for surgery. I told him I needed a theme song as they wheeled me off. He came up with Metallica. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, never mind that noise you heard…” 

I awoke from surgery with a wound vacuum attached to both breasts. It was a brutal and painful few days afterwards. I remember being late with my Tylenol and ibuprofen regimen one evening. I was in so much pain I couldn’t even pull my own sweatpants off for bed! Fortunately, Bron came to my rescue. 

As someone wheeled me out from surgery that morning, I remember seeing a gorgeous girl dressed in black yoga pants and a white sweater. I thought to myself, “Ugh. Who is that high maintenance beauty?” It was my sister, Lauren!

Bron flew my sister out to take care of me for the week. It was the sweetest surprise! And the best medicine. We talked and laughed and watched comedies. Lauren made something painful and heavy feel much brighter and lighter. The boys loved having her in our home as well. In fact, they mistook Lauren for me multiple times! We are like twins, four years apart. I love you so much, Lauren!!!

This was also the week I decided to put Ezra into daycare full time for the months of April and May. I just could not keep up with him! Ezra wound up loving it. And better yet, he started speaking. A win-win! 

April 5 

My neighbor Lindy drove to Meridian with me for my drain removal. I knew I’d be too tired to drive both ways on my own. It was fun to have the company; Lindy talked my ear off! We also ate the most delicious brussel sprouts and tacos while in town. Strange combo, I know. But tasty!

April 12 

The day I got my wound vacuum removed! It took me all of a nap after initially getting home from the hospital to stick a pair of googly eyes on the vacuum and name it Constance. In reality, it was like wearing a little purse around the clock. It clicked and whirred as I moved around, but especially when I laid down to sleep. The first week was okay, but by the second week the vacuum started to feel cumbersome. 

I couldn’t shower. Instead, I opted to fill the bathtub up about foot and then unraveled the tube so I could climb in while the vacuum sat on the dry floor. I bathed and shaved without getting my dressings and tape wet. Then I hopped out and leaned over the tub to wash my hair. It was quite an inconvenient routine to stay clean!

So it was a good day when I got to say goodbye to Constance. But really, I would rather deal with a wound vacuum than mess with iodine and bandages twice a day; that felt a bit more stressful trying to keep my incisions clean and healing when they were struggling. 

April 19 

A week later I sent a photo of my right breast in to the clinic. It didn’t seem to be healing well. I had been using steri strips on my incision, but the edges just didn’t seem to be coming together. In fact, it looked as if I had a tiny hole near the top! I anticipated I’d be told to come into the office and they would cut and sew it up like the left breast. Instead, I was told that I was having surgery TOMORROW! The surgeon did not want to risk another infection and was pretty sure I’d need to exchange my implant to a smaller one. Was the nightmare ever going to end? I suddenly felt so upset that I couldn’t even eat my favorite strawberries. 

Bron handled it worse. He became a big protective bear. He actually talked to the surgeon for nearly an hour while I was out of the house that evening telling him how to do his job! I felt so embarrassed. I was the one having surgery tomorrow! Not him. And I kiiiinda needed this surgeon to like me at least a little bit. This was not the type of support I needed from my husband in that moment. 

Our friends Mark and Bryce came over that evening to chat after the kids went to bed. Never in my life had I seen Bron so absolutely discouraged. Tears were shed. Blessings given. 

March and April were probably some of the roughest and most stressful for Bron of his life. Not only was he dealing with me and all my surgeries and limitations, but he also started a new job in January as the general manager of a feed mill and everything seemed to be falling apart. There was a fire at work, train derailments, equipment failures, hiring and firing of employees, and the list goes on.

Long story short: Bron survived. And all the things are finally falling into place. Yay!

April 20 

Bron and I drove to Boise for surgery that morning. It was an awful ride over; Bron was still upset. In fact, when the nurse called me back to prepare for surgery, she asked if I’d like to leave him in the waiting room until I got my IV placed. Uh, yes please! That’s a great idea. I knew his red headed anger was simply a sign of his unwavering love and concern for me, but gee whiz, Bron could sweat it out for a few minutes. I laughed when another nurse commented, “Your husband is scary!”

We talked at length with Doctor P about my surgery plan. Upon physical inspection of my right breast, it looked as if he might be able to simply cut away the necrotic tissue and sew it back up. The skin was still soft and pliable. That was plan A. But if he was not able to do that, plan B was to exchange the breast implant with a smaller one. I opted to have the left one exchanged too for symmetry.

Fortunately, surgery went well and I got the best case scenario: plan A. Hooray! Doctor P sent me home with yet another wound vacuum attached to just my right breast incision for two weeks and no drains. Hello again, Constance!

^^Life went on as usual.  We celebrated Easter. I sold a litter of puppies. I went on lots of walks to enjoy the sunshine. On this particular day, Conrad and I went down to the creek where he jumped in.^^

May 3 

Two weeks later I had a follow up appointment with Doctor P. He removed the wound vacuum himself. Everything was looking good but wasn’t quite all healed up. Nurse Cori applied some steri strips with glue across my incision and I was sent on my way. 

May 10

The steri strips were removed. My incision looked great! I was told not to go swimming or soak for another week or so, but other than that I was home free! Happy day!

May 31 

How many pictures of a boob can a girl send across the internet? Quite a few! Haha. I had noticed some new purple coloring around my right breast the night before as I readied for bed. It didn’t feel like an infection. It wasn’t warm, but something had changed. My best guess was that it was a bruise? I wasn’t sure what I’d done that would cause that. I did carry Conrad’s hoverboard across the pasture from the neighbor’s house. So just to be on the safe side, I sent a picture to the office. The nurse called me back and said Doctor P wanted to start me on antibiotics right away and that he wanted to see me in the morning. 

June 1 

We drove over to Meridian first thing in the morning. Doctor P really didn’t have a clear explanation. I swear, I was born to challenge that man! We took some pictures and outlined the purple area with a sharpie in case it spread.

Fortunately, over the last month and a half the purple coloring has subsided on its own. Who knows?! I’m just grateful nothing more dramatic happened.

So here I am. I’ve come full circle. I have new boobs. I like them! They’re perky and full and symmetrical. But they’re also heavy and occasionally still feel a little tender. I can also feel the plastic as there is only skin covering my implants. I have some prominent rippling. However, the rippling is unnoticeable when the girls are supported by a bra or swimming suit. I have the option of one more surgery to graft fat over the rippling but I’m actually surprised by how *not* self conscious I have been this summer. So we will see what I want to do in the future. For now, I’m kind of proud of these new boobs! I earned them after all.

Where was God in all this? Well, He was right there beside me every step of the way. A few days before my very first surgery back in February I remember reading in Matthew 25 about the parable of the goats and the sheep. It hit me hard!

“Insasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

I thought, “Yeah! I can totally level up.” 

Little did I realize that I was about to be among the least, the one who needed help. 

So many friends and neighbors checked in at the most opportune times. They brought gifts and food and sent messages. My friend Angie was able to watch Conrad countless times after school so I could go to all my appointments. One woman in our last ward texted out of the blue one day to ask if I needed anything. Well, yes, actually. I was going to have surgery again. She had no idea what was going on until I told her. Countless women acted as angels on earth towards me and our family. It was as if my Heavenly Father was saying, “I still see you. I know what you’re going through and it’s going to be all right.” I’ll never really know why I went through all that I did, but that’s okay. I think we live in an imperfect world and these kinds of things are just a part of living a full life! 

I am now a part of an unspoken club; a club for cancer survivors and women with mastectomies—which is more common than I ever realized! It’s the worst club, but it definitely has the best members. I hope I can pass the compassion and love I felt over the last few months along to some other woman in the future.

^^A picture I sent in to the office to help balance out the ugly boob images. Haha.^^

My Double Mastectomy Part II: An Infection


Just when I thought that my left breast was the trouble maker with cancer, my right breast decided to get in on the fun and tried to kill me with an infection! Ten weeks, five surgeries (4 with general anesthesia), 28 days with a wound vacuum, and 36 total days of antibiotics later, there’s a light at the end of this healing tunnel. I can FINALLY say I have two healthy “breasts” again. It’s such a relief. 

But let’s back this train up and talk about the original mastectomy and what recovery felt like before I forget the experience - aka block the painful parts from my memory.

The day after surgery I felt like my chest had been hit by a Mack truck. Deep in my chest I felt a constant dull burning ache. And yet, I felt numb too. I suddenly had no feeling in the skin across my breasts. I could feel pressure but no pain; only a deep burning sensation along my sternum and some very tender places around the outer edges of my new implants. Also, soreness. Oh, how soreness - particularly under my arms - has become a constant companion these last months. 

After my double mastectomy surgery, I was wrapped in gauze and thick tape underneath a pink adjustable Velcro bra. On my wrist I wore proof of a strong nerve block. Between this nerve block and a round the clock regimen of Tylenol and ibuprofen, I could walk and stand and help myself to food in the kitchen.  A few days later, I could even lean over the bathtub to wash my own hair. Recovery was less brutal than I expected! Pain that hovered between 4 and 5 on a scale of 1-10 was just the name of the game, right? I could totally do this.

My mom came to visit and helped that whole first week. She cooked meals and cleaned the house and read endless stories to Ezra. Bron was also my caregiver. He brought me water and medicine in bed those first couple nights. He helped me gingerly dress. But most importantly, he helped strip and measure my JP drains twice daily.

That first set of drains was the most painful. Not only did they begin to itch and pull at the insertion site, but one drain must have sat right on a nerve. Every once in a while I would move in the wrong direction, wince, and stomp my feet as razor sharp pain escalated and subsided. Ugh. I never want to feel that again!

Friday March 3:

On the Friday after surgery, March 3rd, Bron drove with me over to my surgeon’s office in Meridian to get the JP drains removed by a nurse as per standard procedure.  Nurse Corrie carefully removed my drains before opening my bra to check on the girls. I hadn’t checked on them since Wednesday. 

“Are you sure your pain is a four?” she questioned. Spreading outward from my right nipple was a bright red infection that was warm to the touch. 

“No fevers?”


No one was in the office that day; the surgeon was on a plane headed out of town.  So the nurse hurriedly took a picture and contacted the surgeon. Doctor P replied with instructions to start a heavy dose of Bactrim. Then Nurse Corrie outlined the red area with a sharpie. I was instructed to watch and make sure that the infection did not spread beyond the sharpie line and call immediately if I developed a fever. 

Nurse Corrie then handed me some protein shakes with instructions to eat plenty of protein and yogurt or items with probiotics. Then Bron and I headed to the over crowded main entrance of the hospital to pick up the antibiotics and we drove home. 

Monday March 6

Early Monday morning I received a follow up call from Doctor P’s nurse to see how I was doing. My pain was well controlled and the infection had not spread further. I insisted I felt good and intended to go on a walk outside that day. The nurse requested I send a picture of my infected breast to the office email. 

I sent a picture over and hopped in the shower. Nurse Danielle called back almost immediately. Of course, I missed her call. So the nurse called Bron’s phone and told him the news. As I dried off and readied for the day, I returned Danielle’s call.

The nurse explained that the nurse practitioner and on call surgeon had looked over my pictures. They wanted me to present at the hospital right away to begin IV antibiotics. 

“How long will I be there?” I asked. 

“One night. Maybe two.”


I was shocked. That was not the way I had envisioned my day going! Bron called me in a panic, already in his truck on his way home from Burley to take me to the St. Luke’s hospital in Meridian.

I quickly packed an overnight bag and explained the situation to Merri Sue, my mother in law. She had come over Sunday evening to help with my post surgery recovery though I had seriously considered telling her I was fine and didn’t need any more help. I am so glad she came to visit! It was such a comfort knowing I was leaving my boys in capable loving hands.

When Bron and I arrived at the hospital, I approached the front desk as directed.

“I’m here to be admitted,” I explained. 

The receptionist looked for my name but couldn’t find anything for that day. “It says you have a procedure tomorrow,” she sighed. 

“A procedure?” I questioned. “I’m not supposed to have surgery. I’m here for IV antibiotics.” 

With no further information, the receptionist sent us to the surgery floor - the same place I’d just had my double mastectomy 10 days or so prior. I began wringing my hands in nervousness. Bron quickly became agitated. He started yelling at the staff for answers. I was a bit embarrassed but recognized his anger simply as love for me.

A few minutes later, someone led us back onto the elevator and up to the fourth floor. There at the desk were my admittance papers. They had not expected us yet! We had beat the communication about my need for antibiotics to the hospital.

A kind nurse led me to a clean room where I kicked off my shoes and was given a hospital gown to wear. 

It wasn’t long before the room was full of staff: nurses, the surgeon’s nurse practitioner Nicole, and the on call plastic surgeon Dr. S. 

Bron was barely keeping his anger from boiling over as he grilled the team for answers. He was rightfully upset about the lack of communication, especially when it was explained that I would need to have surgery to remove my right implant.

“Calm down,” the surgeon told Bron. I almost scoffed. He just told Bron to calm down?  Does this guy have any kids?  He just blew his bedside manner bluff. Fortunately, Bron kept it together and didn’t come unglued. 

I took a deep breath to steady my emotions. The last thing I wanted was another surgery. Surgery is scary and painful!

The surgeon reassured us that the infection was simply statistical; it happens from time to time, though being young and healthy I was the last person they thought they’d see for it. Nicole calmly explained that removing the infected implant is standard procedure. Because there’s no blood flow to the implant, the infection will never resolve itself - with or without antibiotics - until the implant is removed.

I sighed and sadly accepted their plan. Then an IV was started in my right arm for an antibiotic regimen of cefapime and vancomycin.

^^The pictures and flowers Conrad made me that sat on my bedside table.^^

Tuesday March 7

It was hard to sleep that night at all. Between my nerves and the nursing staff checking in often, five o’clock came fast. My kind nurse helped me sponge bathe with some cloths before I was wheeled down to the surgical floor. I met the plastic surgeon on call again. We were really doing this!  Ugh. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole, but I knew I had to be brave and do it if I wanted to be healthy again.

Surgery is the weirdest thing.  Each time I remember being wheeled to the operating room and climbing onto the surgical table. There’s a pink Velcro bra already in place for me and bright lights ready to be turned on. The staff asks if I’d like a pillow under my knees as they begin strapping my limbs to the table. Then an oxygen mask is put over my nose and mouth. I breathe just a handful of times - in and out slowly - before I close my eyes and succumb to blackness. No consciousness whatsoever. 

Then suddenly, I can hear! I struggle to open my eyes. My legs and arms feel very heavy. I can’t really move them. All at once I recall where I am and why I’m there. How long have I been under? What happened?  Someone please tell me some good news. 

On this day, I didn’t want to feel or look at my flat lopsided chest; it would just upset me. I didn’t want to know. Then the pain hit, but the nurse on duty was already on top of it.  My mind and body were in a fog. At least I wasn’t nauseous or dizzy, I silently rejoiced! Third surgery of my lifetime was a charm. The anesthesiologist got his medicinal concoction on point! I hoped it was written down for next time. 

I watched the clock as I opened and closed my eyes. I took a few sips of water. Ate a pudding cup. Moved my legs to a more comfortable position. An hour or more passed until I was fully awake. Someone came to wheel me and the entire bed up to my room on the fourth floor.

Bron was there in the room waiting for me. It was good to see him and I felt my anxious emotions subside. 

When I settled into my hospital bed and everyone had left us alone, Bron sat down next to me. I took a peek at my chest. My right breast resembled a shriveled raisin, the skin tucked into itself against my chest with a row of stitches down the front. 

I couldn’t help the hot tears that came then. My body was so ugly; it was deformed and bruised and battered. What would happen next? How long would I be this way? Bron held me for a few minutes as I cried. The situation just stunk. It was without a doubt the right thing to have a double mastectomy. I had cancer! But I wasn’t expecting complications.  Finally, I wiped my tears away and changed the subject. I was going to be okay, I determined. This was just a hiccup.

Bron and I spent the rest of the day together at the hospital. I ordered hospital food, including smoothies and fruit plates to eat on repeat. We watched a movie on the laptop. I kicked off my socks and covers for a few hours; it felt so hot!  In reality, though I never ran a fever, I’m pretty sure that’s when my infection finally took a turn for the better. Bron and I strolled around the fourth floor together with my IV drip in tow to stretch our legs, though I felt a little light headed. I was happy to have the company. So many patients on the floor looked lonely. 

Wednesday March 8

By Wednesday morning, the IV drip had been moved from my right arm to my left. However, every time I bent my elbow it would kink the line to the antibiotics and set off an alarm. I had already unplugged the obnoxious O2 meter from my finger. I couldn’t possibly sleep with it. The machine beeped every time my heart rate dipped below 50 beats per minute… just as I would drift into a dream. I knew that low heart rate was normal for me; I was definitely NOT dying.  Discarding the machine was worth the risk of being chastised.

Bron arrived mid morning feeling refreshed. He had spent the night at a hotel and felt like a new person. We hopped right back into our routine of watching a movie, eating hospital food, and walking the halls. I took a nap and talked on the phone, waiting for my last few doses of antibiotics to be administered and for my surgeon Doctor P to pop in as he was back from vacation.

Doctor P waltzed through the door in the early afternoon with some humor and some good news. 

“It looks like a raisin,” I commented about my right breast. 

“More like a cinnamon roll,” he quickly responded, which made me laugh.

The good news was that I would not have to live lopsided for very long. Instead of waiting three months to replace the implant, Doctor P felt confident he could do it in three weeks as long as the infection looked like it had cleared up.

So after three days and two nights in the hospital, I finally busted out of there and went home with hope and a plan for a full recovery. 

To be continued…

^^My bathroom countertop was cluttered with medicine and bandages and iodine.^^

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