a surgery.

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Welp.  Here I am. I cannot believe I am actually writing my first post following my exchange surgery.  My expanders are officially a distant memory and I am spending my spring break recovering and getting used to my new, expander-free life.  I had looked forward to this surgery for so long… and now its over…it seems bizarre that I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Although everything turned out ok, the road leading up to my exchange surgery wasn’t quite as smooth as I had anticipated.  I spent all week last week preparing because I was originally scheduled to have surgery last Friday, March 28th.  However, the stomach flu had different plans for me.  I became extremely sick last Thursday and, when I called his office, Dr. Noel recommended that we postpone surgery until I felt better.  Obviously, that was the right thing to do, but at the time I was super disappointed.  I cried. Silly, I know…. but I was SOOOO ready to get rid of those expanders!!!.  So, I spent 4 days in bed and drank more water and Gatorade than any one person should in a lifetime. THANKFULLY I was better just in time to have surgery Monday morning.

So, with even more anticipation that normal, I woke up early Monday and got all ready for my operation.  Just like before my first surgery, I showered and washed with this special anti-bacterial soap that tingled like crazy.  Then, I curled my hair and put on mascara and lip gloss, even though they said not to wear makeup. =)   What can I say… I like to bend the rules a little bit.  Finally, it was 10:30am and my friend Sarah and Super Husband drove me over to the hospital.

Even though I was excited to have this surgery, I was a little more nervous going into this surgery than my last.  I know the first surgery was a much bigger deal and had a much longer recovery… but this surgery was different for me.  It marked the first major medical event in my life that I would go through without any family.  As most of you know, I am an only child and my mom passed away a couple of years ago.  Until about a year ago, my dad was my only family within about 500 miles.  Now,  my dad… well… he isn’t around anymore.  So, going into surgery alone made things feel pretty different for me this time around.

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I know I am 30 years old.  I know I have an amazingly sweet and capable husband.  I know God has blessed me with the most amazing friends on the planet.  However, there just isn’t anything that can take the place of knowing that a parent… someone who loves you more than anything… is waiting on YOU to come out of surgery.  For reasons I am still trying to figure out, this just wasn’t in the cards for me this time and knowing that made me much more anxious than I normally would have been as I headed over to the hospital.

Fortunately, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about things once I got to the hospital. As soon as I checked into the surgery waiting area, the nurses called me back to get ready.  I tell ya, that hospital always runs on time!  It’s so nice.  Once I changed into a hospital gown and verified my name and date of birth about a gazillion times, they finally let me have some company.

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Here I am with Super Husband.  He is so good.

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And, here I am with my friend Sarah…. Laura and her sweet mom were also there with me.    They were such good company and did a great job distracting me while I waited.  I am super bummed I didn’t get a picture with all of them.

Finally, Dr. Noel came to check in with me and do all his final markings.

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After we’d had a chance to talk (and Dr. Noel ASSURED me that I will someday be able to do push ups again), they gave me all kinds of medication, put me in a hair net, and I said goodbye to my people.

Before I knew it, I was back in what seemed like the same stark, white operating room thinking about the same beach that brought me peace during my last surgery.  The next thing I remember is waking up in recovery.

As I prepared for this surgery, I was told by lots of other women that this surgery was “a BREEZE” and “so much easier on your body” compared to the first surgery.  Well, let me tell you… if you are getting ready to have your exchange surgery and this is what you’ve heard… YOU HAVE HEARD CORRECTLY!!!  There is just no comparison to how you feel post mastectomy and post exchange.  When I woke up in recovery, I was in very little pain and was even able to walk and get myself dressed.  Even though it sounds weird, my chest actually felt better after surgery than it had before.  My poor chest muscles had been so sore and strained over those crazy expanders and I felt like I woke up to instant relief.  I stayed in recovery an hour or so and before I knew it, they were sending me home.  My surgery had started at 12:30pm and I was home by 5pm.  CRAZY.

The last few days since surgery have been a blur of company, percocet, naps, and Sex and the City reruns.   I don’t think I’ve ever been so busy doing absolutely nothing. Ha. Thank goodness my sweet friends have come over to see me so I don’t Pinterest myself to death.

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At this point, I am three days post exchange and the only medication I am taking is an antibiotic to prevent infection.  I am not hurting AT ALL from the surgery and haven’t needed to take any pain meds since yesterday morning.  I can’t drive and I’ve only taken a couple small trips outside the house, but for now that’s ok with me… especially since I have these back…

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THE DREADED, HORRIBLE DRAINS.

I am hoping that these beauties will be removed tomorrow during my follow-up appointment with Dr. Noel.  I know they are important for a healthy recovery… but I need them out for many reasons.  First, they are driving me crazy.  Second, the dang things hurt…. those tubes are sewn into your skin!!!! Last… and MOST important… I need to get rid of these things so I can cheer on my UK Wildcats when they play in the Final Four on Saturday!!!!!!  It’s hard to cheer when you have all these crazy bulbs hanging around and holding you down.  Say a little prayer for me…  TAKE. THEM. OUT.

I’ll keep you posted.

GO BIG BLUE!!!!!!!

Jayne

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a snow day.

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Well… I made it through a big week!

As for my main accomplishment… I survived my first week back to school!   The week actually went very well.  My coworkers were extremely nice Monday morning and I was glad to see them. My kids seemed happy to see me and we fell back into our classroom routine easily.  Contrary to what I had anticipated, I didn’t get crazy exhausted as I took on my old work schedule.  As a matter of fact, I actually felt like I had more energy than before my surgery.  Maybe it’s because I had time to rest while I was at home.  Maybe it’s because I had a break from the pressure surrounding the Common Core-Testing craze.  However, I’d like to think that some of my energy came from the weight that lifted off my shoulders the day I had my mastectomy.  I’ve mentioned before that I used to have horrible anxiety about developing breast cancer.  I feel a gazillion times lighter knowing breast cancer is not my destiny.  I have to believe that I felt so good last week because I was not wasting precious energy on senseless, powerless worry anymore.  Now my brain can fully focus on what needs to be done to help my sweet kiddos.

As I brag about how easy it was for me to make it through the week, I have to be honest…  We only had four days of school.  I woke up Friday morning to find out that there was no school. School was cancelled because of “snow”.  I was slightly shocked because when I looked out my window Friday morning,  this is what I saw:

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I didn’t quite understand why school had been cancelled.  However, as a teacher, I don’t question snow days.  I appreciate the break! So, I climbed back in bed and fell back into my post-surgery morning routine: coffee and Pinterest to the sound of the Today Show in the background.   Little did I know, my snow day was going to be very busy!

It all started when I was pinteresting and ran across some fabulous news about BRCA awareness.

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Decoding Annie Parker is a movie that tells the story of how Mary Claire King, a geneticist, and Annie Parker, a breast cancer patient, work together to discover and unravel the BRCA gene mutation and its effect on families.  I heard about this movie throughout the last year.  There were showings around the country over the summer and this fall, but I was never able to make it to one. Well, as I scoured Pinterest pins about the movie Friday morning, I read that Entertainment One purchased the rights to the movie last week.  As I understand it, the movie will be coming to theaters everywhere this summer!

I was super excited to read the announcement about Decoding Annie Parker.   I really want to see the movie and now I will have the chance.  The movie will also provide the general public a great opportunity to learn more about BRCA mutations.

Here’s the link to the preview if you’re interested:

I was so excited after I read about the movie on Friday morning that I texted my sweet friend Katie Pass, who is also BRCA2+, to tell her the news.  After we texted about the movie, she realized that I had the day off.  She asked me to join her and another BRCA+ woman for lunch at a local restaurant, The Feed Bag.  Of course, I jumped at the chance to meet another woman with experiences similar to mine.  So, I put Hoda and Kathy Lee on hold and got dressed so I could brave the “snow” and meet the girls for lunch.

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When I arrived at Lunch, Katie and her friends were already there.  Mindy, the sweet woman in the brown vest, and her son’s girlfriend, Vanessa, quickly welcomed me to the table.  I sat down and we all immediately started talking about our BRCA experiences. There is such a crazy bond between women who have the BRCA mutation in common. Something about bond makes you feel like it’s totally acceptable to spill your guts to someone who is basically a complete stranger. Ha!

I told Mindy and Vanessa all about losing my mom and how hard its been to go through my mastectomy without family around.  Katie shared about her amazing progress.  Mindy shared her  BRCA story.  She is BRCA1+ and has been through several surgeries related to her genetic diagnosis.  I don’t want to broadcast her business, but let me tell you…  Mindy is AMAZING.  She has lived through some pretty horrific experiences because of this stupid gene mutation.  She is a true fighter… and real BRCA hero.  I greatly appreciated her willingness to share her story.  I know a lot more about how to proceed and what to expect from my next surgeries.  I continue to be in awe of all the Louisville women who have come forward and offered support to me.

After we finished our lunch and bonding session, I got ready to go to Dr. Noel’s office for my 6th expansion.  I REALLY didn’t want to go.  “They” already feel so big and after each expansion I have become even more sore.  However, I knew I had to go.  The sweet appointment lady at Dr. Noel’s office called me Friday morning and explained that I needed to come in that afternoon.  Dr. Noel had told her that I should be expanded before my wisdom teeth are removed next week.  So, I left St. Matthews and made the familiar trek to 4001 Kresge Way.

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As expected, I was expanded 30 more ccs during my appointment.  Apparently, even though I am close to the size I want to be, my expanders need to be filled with additional saline so the final results following my exchange surgery look more natural.  It’s very hard to trust someone else with all this.  I know Dr. Noel is doing the right thing (obviously… he’s been practicing for a trillion years and I’ve talked to tons of  more-than-satisfied patients), but when I look at the expanders… oh man… they are just really working my nerves.  I’m ready for them to be gone.  I have one more expansion in January.  Then, I wait for my exchange surgery.  It can’t be soon enough.

When I was done with my appointment, I headed down the elevator and quickly discovered why school had been cancelled for the day.

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That would be ice covering the trees.  While I was in Dr. Noel’s office, Mother Nature had decided to show me why we’d had a snow day.  The ice was pretty worrisome… I mean… I’m a bad driver in the sunshine with dry pavement.  Trying to drive home in all the ice wasn’t exactly ideal for me.

By the time I made it home from the doctor’s office, it looked like this:

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And within just a few minutes… it looked like this:

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Now, I  lived in Illinois for many years… I know that doesn’t look like much snow compared to what others see regularly.  But, remember… there is ice under there! It was not good.  I almost had to call Super Husband to come get me on the drive home.  Good thing I didn’t.  It took him two hours two drive home from the south side of town because the roads were so hairy.

After I got home, I was pretty sore from the expansion.  I decided the best idea was to drown my soreness in some Tylenol, hot chocolate, and carmel corn.  Even though I took some medicine, I was still pretty sore.  The pain is definitely manageable though.  It certainly wasn’t enough to keep me from wanting cheeseburger pizza from BJ’s at Oxmoor Mall for supper!  We headed out a few hours later, into the snowy madness, to have dinner with my fellow pea-in-a-pod, Laura, and her husband.   We were pretty much the only people outside in all of Louisville. Ha!  The things you will do for a cheeseburger pizza…

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We made it to the mall and had a super tasty supper.  Then, we headed back into the cold and went home. I pretty much crashed as soon as I walked in the door.

I woke up this morning to cleared roads and quite a lot of soreness across my chest.  I’m hoping the soreness will dissipate before my next expansion.  I hadn’t really felt long-lasting soreness with these expanders until yesterday.  Let the countdown to my exchange surgery begin.

Enjoy the snow.

Jayne

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a return.

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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving with your loved ones!

I actually super enjoyed my holiday and ended up eating everything I wanted too!  If you hadn’t read before, I was planning to stick to mashed potatoes and applesauce because of a ridiculous wisdom tooth infection.  However,  thanks to the handy-dandy antibiotics the dentist gave me, my tooth recovered just in time for green bean casserole and chocolate chip cookies. I tried to eat as many crunchy foods as I could because I am having my wisdom teeth removed on the 13th.  The doctor said I was pushing it by waiting that long, but the only other option was this Tuesday and I’m just not ready for all that quite yet.

While my antibiotics were slowly working their magic, I traveled up to Illinois to spend Thanksgiving with the greatest in-laws ever.  If you haven’t ever been to Illinois… let me just tell you… IT IS THE FLATTEST PLACE ON EARTH.  On most days, you can literally see from one town to the next.

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I’ll be the first to admit, I love the rolling hills of Kentucky…. but there is a lot of beauty in those simple Central Illinois cornfields.  You can see for miles around.  It’s a very surreal view for my Kentucky eyes and it baffles me every time.

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Pretty, huh?

Anyway, in addition to traveling through cornfields and eating my weight in chocolate fudge, I loved spending time with my husband’s sweet family.  We had a great time visiting, playing cards, and shopping.  I even got to meet my new niece, Camilla.

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I’m telling you right now… they do not make babies cuter than this!!! She has the best cheeks.  Already looking forward to seeing her again at Christmas.

After our three-day trip, Super Husband and I drove back to Louisville so he could be at the station this morning.  We must have had a good trip.  The dogs slept the whole way home and they’ve hardly woken up at all today.

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So, now we’re home and I’m getting ready for a big week ahead.

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I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but tonight marks the end of my six-week recovery period.  I go back to work in the morning.

Thankfully, I have no restrictions as I head back to work with my little 3rd grade people. I am pretty nervous about getting back into the swing of common core and I’m not quite sure how I’ll handle all the questions from kiddos…  What kind of surgery did you have?  Why did you need surgery if you weren’t sick?  What body part did they operate on?  Hmm….  I think I may stick to changing the subject instead of trying to come up with answers.

At this point in my recovery, I feel really good during the day.  I can carry heavier things with little effort and I have pretty normal range of motion.  The biggest problem I have is pushing down on things… shifting gears in my car, opening medicine bottles… pushing anything is a struggle.  Not sure when or how my poor chest muscles are going to get used to working right again. I don’t feel super strong, but I do feel like I have the energy to do my job. At least I think I do…. I have heard from a few teachers at my school that my class may need to be whipped back into shape after being with a sub for so long.  Tomorrow will definitely be interesting.  Pray for me. Ha!

The hardest thing about going back to work tomorrow is knowing that I am moving on and that the mastectomy is over.  It’s not that I want to go back and do the surgery over again, but I definitely don’t want to forget it or leave it behind as I head back into my 3rd grade bubble.  My choice to have a preventative mastectomy was the most defining decision I have ever made for myself.  The surgery has changed me… inside and out.  I am capable of things I didn’t know I could do.  I realize that I can use negative experiences to positively affect someone else.  My priorities have changed.  I know more than ever that the most important things in life are health, family, and friends.

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I’m not quite sure how to integrate the events of the last six weeks into my normal life.  I’m nervous about how my new self will fit and work in my old routines.

I guess we’ll find out soon.

Jayne

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a list.

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Ten Reasons I am Thankful for my Mastectomy

1. I never have to wear a bra again! Yipee!

2. Thanks to reconstruction, I won’t have to worry about gravity making “things” sag down to, well, who knows what… =)

3. According to my general surgeon, my breast cancer risk has dropped from 87% down to 2%.  AMAZING.

4.  I made new friends.  I have met some true breast cancer and BRCA+ heroes throughout my surgery journey… including Katie Pass, a fabulous partner in crime who I already love to pieces.

5. I reconnected with old friends. I was so touched by the outpouring of love I received from friends I have not spoken to in years. My surgery gave me a chance to reconnect with so many people I love and miss.

6.  Surgery forced me to rest.  Like most people, I have a super busy schedule.  Having a mastectomy forced me to slow down and take care of myself physically and emotionally for 6 weeks.  Slowing down wasn’t easy (I like to be on the go!!), but it was absolutely necessary for my body and heart to start healing.

7.  My anxiety level has dropped dramatically.  Since my mom died two years ago, I constantly worried about possibly carrying the BRCA gene mutation and developing cancer.  I sprinted to the doctor over every small pain and even started having panic attacks last spring.  Now, I am free… absolutely liberated… knowing that my fear of breast cancer will never control me again.

8. Having a mastectomy helped me realize my blessings.  My in-laws, my husband, my best friends, my out-of-town family members… they spoiled me with more love and support than I thought was possible.  I know more than ever that God will always provide the perfect people to help me through hard times.

9. Preparing for my surgery led to some great guilt-free shopping trips!  I knew I would need button up shirts, jackets, and comfortable clothes that would also be suitable for company.  I didn’t have to feel a bit bad about buying new clothes when I knew I was doing it for a good reason.

and most important to me…

10. My mastectomy helped me create something positive from some super sad experiences.  My surgery allowed me give my mom’s sickness some sort of purpose… I like to think that because of her illness and desire to have genetic testing, I am able to save myself and help other people.  I am so thankful that I had a mom who thought to have genetic testing so that I do not have to go through the same pain and suffering that she did for 8 years.

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Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Jayne

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A surprise.

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Five weeks.  I am five whole weeks post mastectomy.  I can hardly belive it.  It seems like a lifetime ago that I was dealing with drains and a stupid rash from pain medication.  It seems like forever ago that I had so much trouble getting dressed and taking care of  myself.  It seems like it has been AGES since my party on the stunning 6th floor of Baptist East when my best friend, Laura, brought a bunch of people Dairy Queen blizzards to eat while they visited with me.

Yet, here I am just five short weeks later… absolutely shocked at how beautifully my body has healed in such a short amount of time.  Sure, I still have some work to do with reconstruction. However, other than when I look in the mirror, I completely forget sometimes that I’ve recently had a major surgery.  I feel wonderful, my energy level is high, and I am hardly sore at all.

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The last few days I’ve followed my normal “weekend” routine.  You know… the routine that includes running a couple of errands, visiting with friends, catching up on house work, sleeping slightly late, taking a nap or two, and watching a few (ok… maybe a ton…) of One Tree Hill episodes.  It has been wonderful.  Mitch and I even went out to have a few pictures taken today in the hopes of using one for a Christmas card photo.

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We had some better ones taken with a much better camera… this one was taken with my cell phone, so it’s not as good.

Anyway… I am so surprised at all the things I am able to do at this point after surgery.  I can’t workout yet and I’m not supposed to go back to work until after Thanksgiving, but it’s so much better than I thought it would be.  If you had asked me 2 months ago, I never would have imagined that I would feel like getting my picture taken 5 weeks post surgery.  I would have thought that picture-taking would require too much energy.  I definitely would have thought my body would look too weird to photograph.  At the very least, I would have thought that I would have to wear a scarf or thick sweater to camouflage what was missing.  I was totally wrong.

Even though I don’t look like my old self and I am still “in progress”, I am proud of how I look and feel right now. I feel so much better than I did before surgery. As crazy as it sounds,  I actually like the new version of “me” better.  I am stronger.  I am healthier.  I am more optimistic.   I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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a success.

Well.  I had such good intentions of using this blog to document my thoughts leading up to and after my mastectomy surgery. However, getting everything ready for a substitute to take over my classroom (I teach 22 adorable 3rd graders) and my crazy nerves got in the way. I honestly just got so nervous that I couldn’t even think about what was getting ready to happen.  I was also super nervous about how people would respond to a blog about something so personal.  Therefore, no blog. Now that I’m three weeks post surgery, I really regret not writing.  It would have been so nice for me to journal my progress for myself as well as others who are BRCA+.  So, I am sorry. I guess the only thing I can do is go back, try to fill in the gaps, and start writing about my experiences from here.

So, let’s rewind 3 weeks to October 18th when I followed through with the best decision I’ve ever made!  After several pre-op appointments, I arrived at the hospital at 6am.  When I arrived, several of my closest friends had come to support me before the nurses wheeled me back to the OR.  The nurses would only allow four people back at a time.  I’m pretty sure the nurses thought I was crazy, but I insisted that I see each person before they wheeled me back to surgery.  One of the nurses even called back to the operating room to tell them we were running late because of my “visitors”.  She seemed slightly put out by it all, but I didn’t care!  Here is a picture of some of the best friends on the planet showing me some love.

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You can’t really tell from the picture, but I curled my hair that morning.  If the surgeons weren’t going to let me wear makeup and I was having both my breasts completely removed, I was determined to do it with some halfway decent looking hair! Ha!

Right after my friends left, the best husband in the world came to say goodbye.

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In case you were wondering, my husband’s name is Mitch and HE HAS BEEN AMAZING throughout all of this.

Anyway, once my “visitors” finally left, they wasted no time taking me to the operating room.  They had me lay down on the table and stretch out my arms onto two smaller tables next to me.  My plastic surgeon came over and asked me where I would go to be peaceful.  Of course, I said Delray Beach (thank you, Santos family!!)… the place where I found peace about my surgery choice last August.  He said, “Well you need to go there….  Go there and you’ll be fine.”

So, I really did start trying to think about the beach.  However, the anesthesiologist worked so fast that I hardly got in a thought about a palm tree before I was out.  Oh well.   I must have had some peaceful thoughts though because, before I knew it, I woke up in recovery.

I woke up from surgery groggy.  Prior to surgery, waking up was the moment I worried about most.  How would I feel knowing my body was so different?  Would I regret my choice to have the mastectomy?  I had thought I might be sad, maybe even angry.  To my surprise, I actually felt WONDERFUL.  Sure, I was in a pain and a little loopy from meds… and I hadn’t seen my chest yet… but I DID NOT CARE.  I was so dang proud of myself for facing my fears.  I was so relieved that it was over… and I was so excited that I would never have to worry about breast cancer again.  None of the other stuff even mattered. I never even shed a tear. I didn’t stay in recovery long before I was taken up to my hospital room.

Have you ever seen Baptist East Hospital’s Park Tower!?!!?  HOLY MOLY. It is beautiful.  It was like I came out of surgery and they wheeled me right into a suite at the Marriott!  I know it had to be great because I was on a lot of pain killers and I remember every detail about the floor as they transported me.  This is a picture of what the common areas look like there.  The rooms were just as beautiful.

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I mean… I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals… this was just so nice!!!

That afternoon and night, I had a bunch of visitors…my amazing friends and family. Seriously, my friends and family are the BEST.  I also had a ridiculous number of phone calls and tons of text messages from people wishing me well.  I never went back to sleep after recovery… I was just too excited over having had the surgery and way more excited about how much support everyone was showing me. I cannot tell you how much everyone’s efforts meant to me.  I have never felt so loved. Among the many amazing things people sent me, my sweet sister-in-law and good friend went to the hospital gift shop during the surgery and surprised me with a mug once I got into my room.  It was absolutely perfect for how I have felt throughout this entire process.  Its tall… which means it can hold tons of coffee (YAY!) and has the best quote along the side.

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I really just love it… I mean, I just do not have time to worry about cancer and this stupid gene. It’s already controlled my life for too many years. Life is way too short and people are just too amazing.  Perfect cup for me.  Thank you Lindsey and Krissy!!!!

Once I was a little more with it (not much more though.. ha!) one of my best friends helped me put on a little makeup and took my picture.  Here I am about 12 hours post surgery.

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In case you were wondering….  there were NO other pictures being taken at the time….  I have no idea where I was looking.  I guess I have all of my excellent drugs to thank for that! Ha!

People stayed late with me in the hospital that night.  Mitch stayed all night and slept on some crazy pullout bed by the window in my room.  Nurses came and checked on me every hour or so.  The medications they were giving me were perfect, so I was never in much pain when I was laying down.  I slept through the night just fine without any complications.

Overall… the surgery was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  My friends and family were AWESOME.  My doctors and nurses were excellent.  And waking up from surgery was not sad… IT WAS EMPOWERING. I think back on that night and am just so tickled at how well it really went.

In my future posts, my goal is to fill in the other big events of the last three weeks and also document everything else that is continuing to happen.  Here’s to me actually following through with the updates! Thanks for reading.

Jayne

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