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  • Writer's pictureSusan Lorimor

Healing Takes Patience

The road to recovery may be longer than expected

My most recent surgery is teaching me a hard lesson in patience. Anyone who knows me understands that when I get my mind set on a goal, I am very determined to meet it, so much so that I grow impatient if there are delays in making it happen. So, it should come as no surprise that healing from my March 28, six-hour phase one reconstructive surgery is no different. When my plastic surgeon first told me that it would take four to eight weeks for full recovery, I was shocked. Of course, that could not be the timeline for me.

You see, I live my life not adhering to expectations. While most people's bodies respond to a drug in a certain way, or there may be an x percent chance that people may beat a particular type and stage of cancer, I know those are just guidelines for what could happen. They are expectations that someone has set. And, I don't want those expectations to be mine, because I am not those figures or statistics. My body is different than everyone else's.

When I learned of the potential side effects of the types of chemo I would receive, I knew that those were side effects that a doctor or nurse had to tell me about, and that they could happen.That didn't mean I would experience them. It is that stubborn optimism that has helped me face my challenges and move past them.

So, when I was told that it would take four to eight weeks to fully recover from this surgery, I thought to myself that surely I would be feeling better much sooner than that. My physical therapist pushed me to do strength training in the months leading up to this surgery so that I would bounce back from it sooner. I had been in the gym three times per week focusing on building up the upper body strength -- and some lower body strength -- that had diminished from chemo, radiation, surgery and inactivity during the prior year. As a result, I had gained more upper body strength in these past few months than I had before I was diagnosed with cancer. I was stronger than before.

And, while I have learned not to ignore doctors' orders, otherwise I may not heal property, I felt like I had not been the norm during chemo. Thank God, the only side effects I experienced then was a boatload of fatigue, a persistent sore throat, fingernails that pulled away from their nail beds and hair loss. It could have been a lot worse -- many people have nausea and other related symptoms. I believed that I did well because I was in great physical health and had been eating well before my diagnosis.

That said, I am continuing to learn that I am not as invincible as I had thought. One would think that the whole cancer thing would have already taught me that, and it had to a certain degree, but I thought that healing from reconstruction would be easier. During the six-hour surgery, my plastic surgeon made an incision on my abdomen from hip to hip to pull out fat and tissue that he used to rebuild my breast, which was of course removed to take out the cancer. I carry my extra weight in my abdomen, so that meant that I could not do cardio in the months leading up to my surgery, else I would lose weight and would not have what was needed for the procedure.

During surgery, my doctor also transplanted two blood vessels from my abdomen to my chest and cut a rib to get to where he needed to to connect them to the proper blood flow.

So, this was an intense surgery, and everyone heals differently from it.

At week No. three, I still cannot stand fully upright. Not only did my surgeon cut along my abdomen, but he said my abs had pulled away, or separated (called distastis recti, this can happen to people because of overuse of the muscles) and so he tightened them. I suspect this might be part of why it's taken me so long to be able to stand completely upright. My lower back begins to hurt when I try to stand too long, so, I've sat or laid on the couch a lot. Netflix and Hulu have definitely been my friends over the past few weeks.

And, I'm trying to remain patient. I am feeling much better -- the first week after the surgery, it hurt my abdomen to get up off of the couch. Now, it doesn't. My incisions are also healed, and I just get occasional fatigue. I have had to cancel some of my plans because I made them when I thought that of course, I would beat the expectations and would be able to attend a couple of meetings. That may be what hurt the most. I had to swallow my pride and realize that I can't always exceed expectations -- it can be dangerous to do so if my body is not ready for what I want it to do.

Truthfully, my recovery is progressing at the rate that it should be. So, while I am reminded that healing takes time, I am thankful of where I am today -- I have moved onto the reconstructive part of my journey, and I have not had any major complications. And, I am learning a healthy dose of patience.

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