In the vehicle …
First, to be allowed to drive I had to be completely off Hydrocodone. Doctors nowadays are pretty strict about it. I wasn’t allowed to make a follow up appointment during which time I was still taking it for my pain. That took some finagling because I was still managing serious pain. Since I had to drive sometimes, I made sure I was in between dosages so the pain meds had worn off enough not to impede my reaction time behind the wheel. Not easy. I kept that under wraps.
My husband and friends warned me not to resume too much, too fast. By late March, spring fever had begun to torment me. It was teasing everyone! Yes, I drove the Jeep too much, too soon just to get out of the house after all winter recovering. After many years driving a 5-speed I have a habit of holding the wheel with my left hand, resting my right hand on the gear knob between shifts. It was really no surprise later one day after driving around the city running errands, I felt the strain in my chest like I’d been lifting a thirty pound bar over my head in a cardio workout. How idiotic. I regretted it, feeling all stoved up more like a ninety year old than a 58 year old me. That was an easy fix — silly woman, just don’t drive so dern much.
Second, there’s the seat belt issue. Sounds simple enough… but simply by design, it crossed on top of my chest, so snug over my clothes, and rubbed painfully no matter how I tugged on it. All through the summer months I repositioned that damn seat belt, supposedly a life-saver by restraining your chest, but so uncomfortable! Rather than not wear it at all I slipped it under my armpit. Hence I emerged from the vehicle with a sore underarm. All summer I was forced to remove the goddamn belt from its default position. And by doing so eliminated most of its protective purpose. So once I was all buckled in, started the engine I crossed my fingers and muttered a little prayer to hopefully make up for not being strapped in to save me in that awful ‘just in case’.
Car manufacturers would do really well to listen to this one complaint of millions of women. At least give us breast cancer patients some kind of option. Some relief. I can’t be the only one. I chose to use the seatbelt but I’m sure many women don’t because it’s just too damn painful. I forewarn every woman coping with a mastectomy, you’ll have to readjust the seat belt and grab a pillow too while you’re trying to get more comfortable. Because even just a jaunt to the grocery store is miserable with a seat belt across your tatas so sore you can’t tolerate the slightest rub. And yes, the biopsy site on my normal breast was still sore so DAMMIT! both sides of my chest were uncomfortable when I got behind the wheel.
Third, it was all I could do not to succumb to road rage from pent up frustration that it hurt like hell to drive very much anywhere, no matter what I did. I really gritted my teeth on railroad tracks and tried my damndest to avoid any fucking potholes, being the most difficult to ignore due to Kansas City roads after wintertime, chunks of blacktop have been shoveled away with snow. Being jostled is just par for course on some roads, but typical city driving I wasn’t forced to grit my teeth as I hung onto the steering wheel either. I often stuck a small soft pillow between the seat belt and my chest to ease that certain pain. I didn’t care who saw me with a pillow stuck on my chest. It brought some relief, being ticked off from pain wasn’t a good thing while driving. Driving has always been fun for me — all at once it was not fun but a real hassle. Grrrrrrrhh
Household chores …
Carrying a basket of laundry to the basement was exhausting. I resorted to going down the steps first with the basket on the step above, gave me an uncomfortable recollection of the discomforts of pregnancy. My husband thought so too. Nope, he wasn’t so tactful either, more like laughed haughtily at how ridiculous I looked. I vowed revenge — I began to exercise with a 3 pound bar while watching TV.
That’s when we started the sliding-the-basket-down-the-stairs-chute game. Not sure how soon, but knowing him not anxious to do chores, likely the minute I had my back turned, he discovered a full laundry basket slid very easily down the stairs and therefore he didn’t have to carry it! Leave it to my hubby to come up with a game to get through chores. So it was my turn to laugh at him, hmmm was it lazy or genius to let gravity do the work? I was impressed and amused at our solution — I said he’s ‘smarter than the average bear.’
And he proudly grinned, “it works!”
We chuckled at our new game in spite of my discomforts. We learned there’s a trick to balance the full basket so it didn’t flip over on its way down and be stuck upside down on the steps with clothes scattered everywhere — a real chore to pick them all up! And two years later we still send the full dirty clothes baskets down the basement stairs. Ain’t we smart. (Reason I married him, inventive and puts the fun in little chores.)
Back to the drudgery
I had a long list of couldn’t do’s. I couldn’t lift a heavy skillet or vacuum or scour the tub. It became my husband’s job to give our dog a bath and sweep the floor, plain ol’sucky work. Couldn’t bend over to load the dishwasher, or pull weeds from my tomatoes, tie my shoes or pick up my dog’s food bowl. I couldn’t raise my arms to brush my hair nor use both hands to dry off after a shower. By that I mean after the initial mastectomy sutures were out, gauze bandages were off, and I could wash the injection site, the whole left side of my body was so very sore and tender. I was unable to lift my arms in the shower. It was a slow, difficult struggle. Bending down caused instant stabbing pain and pressure throughout my entire left side in my chest, my ‘pecs’ cramped up. I overcame that by bending at the knees and bracing with my arms.
I gotta say a shower with hot water running over my sore body was almost Heaven — so relaxing and nice. Just to lather and wash after sponge baths was a relief. For a few awesome minutes I escaped into the hot jetstream, closed my eyes forgetting my aches. Not having a hot tub was no matter, our bathroom has a luxurious spa-like feel I thoroughly enjoy, after remodeling.
In the garden …
I am not a sitter-arounder, no couch-tater. I’m outdoors with my hands in the dirt at the first thaw of spring. Gardening, fishing, whatever yard chores or fixing up I feel needs done (it’s an obsession) my soul is outdoors. I got both my grandmas’ green thumbs so it’s in my bones. Come spring I couldn’t sit still as restless as a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.
The previous fall I had taken on the task of upgrading our landscaping using concrete blocks. I transplanted plants no longer thriving. I wanted to create a rock garden on a steep slope. Of course, after my surgery that project came to a screeching halt. For weeks I was helpless, because lifting anything was a no-no.. I had the wall three-fourths done prior to my surgery, intending to finish after hunting season in the comfort of cooler weather. Being a stubborn woman I swore to finish that wall. It was put on the back burner, all in due time.
Well, by the springtime I carefully lifted one block at a time into place, I finally could mark that job done. Ordinarily I could finish this project, wall and garden in three days. It took me two weeks, every morning and late afternoon, during the cool of the day since late spring brought summer-like heat in 2014. The wall was something I could do outdoors without hurting and I felt productive. It was a good feeling — however, my yard work ate me for lunch with weakness and being so stiff and sore I grunted and moaned with every concrete block. But don’t I look determined??
(My friends asked for proof with this photo that I was outdoors digging in the garden…)
Sweeping the small patio took forever and a day! And no way could I move my big ceramic pots into their usual sunny spot. I piddled in the yard tending to small jobs, one way I thought to build my strength. It was better than always being cooped up inside. My husband took care of mowing while I cleaned and trimmed bushes small bits at a time. A task often took me a at least two full days to do and that was okay. I wanted to put my lawn swing under the tree for shade — after I trimmed the brush, my husband hauled it off and moved my swing into place for me.
That explains some of the realities to deal with once reconstructive surgery started. It was a constant state of lowering my expectations. So why the hell doesn’t concrete and sand come in cheap five pound bags rather than forty and sixty, so a woman in such a weakened state can lift the damn thing? Good grief! Accustomed to lifting a forty pound bag of concrete and sand with one scoop of my arm — at this point it was impossible.