Before I get into my recovery stories, I thought I would do a quick explanation of the type of reconstruction surgery that I had. Because of the radiation damage to my skin and chest muscle area, the only option for reconstruction on my right side was a Latissimus Dorsi Muscle Flap Transfer. In this five hour surgery, an ellipse of skin and the latissimus dorsi muscle was tunneled under my arm from my upper back to my chest wall to create a reconstructed breast. A tissue expander was added to allow for expansion and an implant in approximately three months. (Yes, another surgery). A second surgeon was in the room to swap out my tissue expander on the left side for the permanent implant.

As I prepared for the surgery, both my plastic surgeon and my primary care provider explained to me that I would have severe limitations following surgery as well as significant pain. My primary care provided held both my hands and looked me in the eye and said, “Kathy, you are going to have to take the pain meds.” This got my attention. She knows that I hate pain pills and rarely take them even after surgery. Most times I don’t even fill the prescription. So the fact that she was making such a point with me gave me some warning about what was to come.

I was fortunate to get my favorite 7:00 a.m. surgery time slot. I love this early morning slot because you have to get up and going so early that you are looking forward to napping through surgery. Plus, there is less of a chance that you will get bumped to a later time. I was surprised that I wasn’t as nervous as I was with my other surgeries. I suspect it was because they weren’t looking for cancer, they were just working toward reconstruction.

After I dressed in my designer hospital gown, I was given some warm anti-bacterial wet wipes to wash everything from my neck to my knees. The nurse warned me that I would feel sticky afterward. She wasn’t kidding. It felt like I had put tons of soap on and had forgotten to rinse off. As I sat on the bed and flapped my elbows trying to dry my underarms, the anesthesiologist came in to discuss my care during surgery. He spent quite a bit of time with me and assured me that he would do all he could to reduce any post surgery nausea.

About 15 minutes prior to my surgery, my plastic surgeon came in with his arsenal of sharpies. I stood naked with my arms spread straight out while he drew on my chest and back. It is a rather weird experience. I’m typically a modest person, so I felt uncomfortable even though I know he was going to see me without clothing in the OR. The surgeon marked the center line of my chest from my neck to my navel. Then he drew the underline and top line of my left breast and a similar line on the right. He drew more lines as I speculated on what they referenced, then he turned me around and started drawing on my back. When he sat back to study and admire his artwork, I said, “You missed a spot.” He laughed and said that it is exactly what he would say in my position. I’m deciding he has a better sense of humor than I gave him credit for.

As soon as he leaves, the OR nurses come in and tell Gene and Danielle to say their goodbyes. I never like it when the nurses say this. It sounds very pessimistic! They give me an injection that is suppose to calm me and make me not care. I’m already calm, but I’m not looking to be tough at this point, so I take the medicine. I look the nurse in the eye and say, “I’m sorry for anything I say from this point forward,” and she laughs. I hear Gene and Danielle laughing as they wheel me out of the room.

I’m wheeled to the OR and I check out the room. The operating table looks very different from other times that I’ve been in the OR. There is a form for my face to rest in. I have been told that I will spend a long time laying on my stomach as they harvest the muscle in my back, but seeing the table gives me some clue as to how they will accomplish this. I remark to the nurse that the table doesn’t look very comfortable and that is the last thing I remember. I pray that the second injection shut my mouth.