Some days I feel like I’m part “Tim Burton movie” and part “Dirty Jobs.”
Once I was cleared to take a shower, and had the mobility to actually enjoy a shower, I’ve been sure to take one every single day. It’s been nice to have at least one part of my routine back in my life. But, prior to my surgery, my shower was just a quick part of the day; it was a hurry hurry hurry and get everyone ready for the morning rush. Now, I have some time. I take the time to stare at my mastectomy scars and recovering breasts prior to getting into the shower.
But, a few times over the past three weeks, I’ve gotten ready to take a shower, stood in by the bathroom mirror and stared at my stitched up chest, and then, it has hit me: a faint, yet unfamiliar, funk entered its way into my nose. Being that I was in the bathroom, I kind of just ignored it.
Today, it happened again. At first, honestly, I thought it was an occupational hazard of not really being able to twist at the waist, pull my arm behind me, and… well … you know. (note: this is precisely why I highly recommend “flushable wipes” as a great gift for your post-mastectomy friend). But, I’m a clean freak, so I knew that couldn’t have been the case.
Though the faint smell still lingered in the air, I continued checking out the progress of my recovery in the well-lit bathroom mirror: the bruised areas have turned from blue to yellow, dry patches have developed on my skin from wearing my compression bra, scarring on my chest was beginning to turn from black to red, and I have indentations on my skin from the gauze pads that soak up drainage coming out of the four holes in my side.
Ever since the nurse removed the plastic coverings that protected my chest scars, I’ve been more and more brave about examining them closely. This time, I focused my eyes on the scars closest to my armpits. I looked intently at the dried blood, the careful stitching by the plastic surgeon (or, as my wise crackin’ surgeon brother says, “It probably was just a resident who did it; no plastic surgeon is gonna waste time stitching you up”), and the discoloration of my skin.
That’s when I noticed it.
As I turned my eyes closer to the scars just under my armpits, my nose caught the faint smell. “Oh, seriously?” I thought, feeling like a teenage boy whose body had just begun to secrete teenage-boy-funky-smell-hormones. “I shower every single day! How could I possibly smell like this?”
I’ve followed the same 7-minute routine for the past 20 years. Wet hair, shampoo and condition, soap body, rinse hair, wash and rinse face, rinse hair and body.
I step out of the tub, grab a towel, wrap it under my arms and around my chest (still holding it up because I lack the sensation of knowing how tight the towel is around my chest), and I feel an itch in the 1/2 inch space below my armpit. As I begin to develop nerves and feeling again around the wide perimeter of my chest, my skin twinges and itches at the most random times.
That’s when I felt it.
“Oh my gosh!,” I muttered aloud. I reached up into the 1/2 inch warmth of my armpit. As I pulled my hand away, a filmy, thick line of soap glazed my fingertips.
I shake my head. “I haven’t been rinsing.” Stunned.
Now, prior to my mastectomy, two key things would have happened:
- I would have, at some point in my shower, comfortably reached my arms up and rinsed.
- I would have felt the thick coating of soap well before my shower ended.
I guess until I regain feeling in the areas below my arms and down my sides, I’ll have to be more mindful in the shower.
Thing #147 that I will not take for granted after my recovery.
I’ve been keeping a photo journal of my pre-surgery, recovery and progress. While I’ve been putting my business up here for all the world to read for the past year, I’m still entirely shy about actually posting any of the photos of my recovery (good, Liza. Good.). Though, when I timidly offered to show my sister-in-law, Jenny, my post-mastectomy breasts, her response was, “Hellz yea! I was wondering when you were gonna show me!”
Though very few people would show the same enthusiasm as Jenny, I wanted to show readers what I was talking about with the shape of my breasts. Thanks to the photo talents of my very tired and irritated 7-year old assistant, here is a photo of me at Day 24 — don’t worry! I have clothes on!! (in case you were hesitant about scrolling down!):
- No compression bra on — this is me as my reconstruction sits
- the breast on the right side of the photo (my left breast) is the one that seems to be the more natural one. It is round, sits at the right level.
- the breast on the left side of the photo (my right breast) has some indentation and rises higher due to my chest muscle being stronger on that side. Where the crease is in the middle of my breast is actually because I have an indentation. This could be due to scar tissue during the mastectomy or just how the breast tissue needed to be removed. As the plastic surgeon says, “I can only work with what I was given.”
With a bra on, and certainly with clothes on, you can’t really tell that my right breast has some issues. And, with my compression bra, I look like I have Uni-Boob anyways!
Other than the physical appearance (and the quickly resolved armpit funk), I’m feeling much better. The main thing now is intense muscle soreness and chest tension. At the end of the day, I can barely move my upper body, my shoulders are somewhere touching my earlobes, and my chest muscles feel like they are being pulled like taffy. But, I’m very thankful to not be in the same agonizing pain I I was in even just a week ago! Now, the focus is on giving my muscles, tissue, and skin time to heal in a gentle way. My arm reach and strength are slowly returning (I actually drained a pot of pasta that had a box of Kraft macaroni by myself!), and it’s really just giving my body time to regain some flexibility.
Thanks for continuing to support me in this journey. My blog stats are still way up, which, I think means people are still interested in reading — thank you!
I’m really looking forward to training for a 1/2 Marathon in May. I won’t be able to start any exercise until late January, so definitely feel free to join in even if you’re thinking you’re too out of shape or you don’t have enough time!
If I can do it, you can definitely do it!
And, wouldn’t that just be an incredible feeling?
Peace, love, and feeling better,