Kara McIntyre

At 39 weeks pregnant I was diagnosed with melanoma. Read my story to see how I coped with being a first time mom while also battling Stage III skin cancer.

 

Tomorrow I go back to work. As I look back on my maternity leave, I can honestly say it was the best and worst twelve weeks of my life.

To help bring you up to speed, let me rewind to my 38 week appointment on Tuesday, February 21st. My doctor and I had been watching a mole on my upper abdomen for some time. It honestly had been there for as long as I could remember. However, with each passing week it continued to look just a little bigger and a little darker - much like everything on my belly at that point in the pregnancy. My OB doctor's nephew was just diagnosed with melanoma a week earlier, though. Between that and the looks of my mole, he suddenly got much more concerned.

So, at 38 weeks pregnant I was referred to a dermatolgist to have it looked at. Luckily, they got me in that Thursday, February 23rd. Sitting there pretty much naked with my big belly resting on my thighs I thought to myself, "It's just a precaution, Kara. No big deal. They will probably say it's fine and send me on my way."

After looking me over, the Dermetolgist told me she was equally concerned and wanted to take it off. I was a little hesitant. I mean, I couldn't imagine it was a good idea to cut skin off my pregnant belly. However, apparently there is an anesthetic that's safe while pregnant, so they gave me a quick shot in my belly and shaved it off.

But if only it was that simple. Keep in mind I'm 38 weeks pregnant and filled to the brim with hormones. As I'm laying on the table completely exposed, the flood gates open and I just start crying. Sure it hurt. It actually hurt quite a bit if I'm honest, but mostly, I went from being worried to scared. This was now two doctors telling me they were concerned.

Once I finally got my hormones in check and got it together, I asked when they'd have the results back. They said the biopsy would take about a week and they'd call me with the results.

So, Monday, February 27th at 4:30 in the afternoon imagine my surprise when I see the dermatolgist show up on my caller ID. Luckily, I was able to answer it. It wasn't the nurse who said hello though, it was the dermatolgist. As I'm confirming my name and date of birth the anxiety starts to kick in! My hands start to clam up on the phone.

The dermatolgist didn't waste any time. She said they got the results back from the biopsy and it came back as melanoma. Looking back now, I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing for at least a minute. My mole measured 1.08 millimeters. At 1 or under taking it off would be all they needed to do, but the .08 was enough. I needed more treatment. I wasn't on the phone with the dermatolgist for very long. She told me she would call my OB doctor with the results, to not get on the Internet, and to call with any questions I might have.

I hung up and immediately called my husband, Tyler. I started crying and just couldn't pull myself together. I ended up leaving work a little early that day. I called my mom on the way home and cried even more. By the time I got home I had called my dad and sister and brought them up to speed. The tears just kept flowing.

Luckily, we were experiencing a warm front in February. Tyler pulled me out from the ball I had curled up into in our spare bedroom that I was hiding in and we went for a walk around our neighborhood. I continued to cry for most of it. Once we came in from our walk we decided to really pack our stuff up for the hospital - I had already been slowly packing for a few weeks. I'm like that. I like to plan and be prepared. We figured with this new development though there was a very strong possibility we would not be going home tomorrow after our 39 week check-up.

The next morning I tried to work for a few hours before our appointment. That ended up being pretty pointless. Instead, I chatted with my boss and filled him in on what was going on. I told him this was probably it, and I might not be leaving the hospital after this appointment. He was so understanding. He told me to just go ahead and call it quits for the day, but I just couldn't. I needed the distraction.

By the time our appointment rolled around, Tyler and I were a nervous wreck. We barely talked the whole ride to the hospital. Sure, we knew this day was coming. Hell, at 39 weeks we knew it was bound to happen very soon, but not really knowing and just having a hunch that today might be the day due to our new circumstances was a different feeling all together.

The hospital just so happened to be crazy busy that day. When we got there we drove around the parking lot looking for a spot for at least ten minutes. We were already a few minutes late to our appointment by then so I decided to call and let them know. The receptionist told me that unfortunately, if we were more than 15 minutes late we would have to reschedule. All I could think was, "Oh no. Of all days and and all appointments. I had to be seen today." We ended up parking across the street and running, as much as you can at 39 weeks, into the hospital and up the elevator to our doctor's office. We arrived 13 minutes past our appointment. Phew!

Once we were called back to our room and I was sitting on the table in my cotton gown and the sheet draped over my legs, that "different" feeling started to turn to more of a panicked feeling. When the doctor finally came in he just gave me a hug and said he was so sorry. I started crying again. Tyler started crying as well and stood up to hold my hand. Our doctor sat down on the stool, looked at Tyler and then back to me, and said he wanted to go ahead and induce me to get the baby out. He went on to explain that skin cancer is the one form of cancer that can grow down into the placenta and if it enters the placenta can harm the baby. At 39 weeks pregnant there was no reason to risk that and wait. Knowing this baby I had felt grow over the last several months could be in harm's way made me cry even more. But there was no time for crying. There was a game plan and the doctors were ready to roll. So Tyler and I pulled ourselves together. I put my clothes back on and opened the door. There was a wheel chair and nurse right outside of our room.

It's ironic they put me in a wheelchair to wheel me to the other side of the hospital after we had literally run through the hospital to make our appointment just 15 minutes earlier. I even said as much to the nurse hoping I could just walk, but at that point I was already admitted and it was protocol.

The OB office had already called the maternity ward to let them know we were coming, but I'm not sure anyone could prepare them for how much of a mess we were. We kept it together for most of the wheelchair ride. We kept ourselves busy texting our family and bosses letting them know our assumptions were right. We were not going home. By the time we were halfway through checking in, Tyler and I were both crying again. The nurse ended up giving me a packet of tissues to get through the registration. By the time we were putting our stuff in our new room for the next few days I'd already gone through half of the pack. I explained to the nurses that I knew this wasn't normal and we were excited to have our baby. They said they were all aware of my chart and circumstances today and no need to explain.

After I got done changing into a hospital gown and getting hooked up to all the monitors I knew there was one more person I needed to call. My Grandma. It was their first great grand baby and they had been getting so excited as my due date got closer. My Grandma picked up right away. After a few hi and how are you's I started to cry again. She suddenly became very concerned and asked if I was okay and what was going on. I finally told her we were in the hospital and her great grand baby would be here soon. Still concerned but now excited, she started asking if I was in pain and how far apart my contractions were. I told her I wasn't having any and they were inducing me because I was diagnosed with melanoma yesterday. Her excitement faded pretty quickly and she too started crying. Unfortunately, the nurses came in shortly after to get started on my induction so I had to hang up. I told her I loved her and grandpa and we would call back once the baby came.

My mom was the first person to get there. I'll never forget the look and hug she gave me. It was a mixture of excitement because I was about to deliver their first grand baby, but also devastation because her baby was just diagnosed with skin cancer. My dad, sister, brother-in-law, and Tyler's parents all showed up later that evening. After bringing everyone up to speed we decided we didn't want to talk about it anymore. We were going to focus on one thing at a time and right now that was having a baby. We also just wanted to be happy for awhile. We had waited nine months to get here and we were tired of crying. 

No need to go into too much detail about the labor, but it of course had complications too. With each contraction, the baby's heartbeat dropped into the 30's. This was way too low given it was typically at 150 beats a minute. So between each push I was put on oxygen to try to ensure the baby was still getting enough. The goal was to not have a c-section so I could start treatment soon after delivery, so the NICU set up in our room to help once the baby got here. Luckily, and much like the doctor assumed, the umbilical cord was tucked under the baby's arm. About this same time I heard the doctor say meconium and that once the baby came out they were not going to stimulate it right way. With one more big push he plops a grey, unresponsive baby on my chest. I go numb. Just as the NICU nurse take it to address the meconium, I quickly look and finally realize we had a baby boy. They were able to suction out the meconium pretty quickly. We had a beautiful baby boy the morning of March 1st.

What I would have done to be there when Tyler told our family we had a little boy and we named him Emmett Jeffry. See, we had decided not to find out the gender or tell anyone the names we picked out. We thought it would be fun to make it all a surprise.

Later that day, less than 24 hours from giving birth to Emmett, my parents inform me that a tornado hit my grandparents house in the middle of the night. Things just seem to be getting worse for my family. They were luckily okay, but their house was gone. I called my grandma shortly after that. She told me they were okay and that she had not even cried about the house. She said she cried all day the day before when I told her I had skin cancer that she had nothing left to cry. It was just a house. That in turn made me well up. I hated knowing I made my grandma cry but hated even more that after everything they had just went through she was still more concerned about me. I told her not to worry, and we would be just fine. We had a healthy great grandson for her to meet.

We spent the next couple of days at the hospital just trying to enjoy and love on our new baby boy. Sure there were a few moments that forced us into reality. Like the doctor talking to us about testing the placenta to see if it contained cancer cells, or getting paperwork on the surgeon I was referred to for further removal, and actually calling to make an appointment for my first consultation with the surgeon.

The hardest part of all of this was it was nothing like we had planned. Sure, everything you read says to not be upset if childbirth doesn't go exactly as planned. But I thought that meant don't be upset if you end up needing a c-section instead of having a vaginal birth, not that you'd give birth a week early because you have cancer. Nothing could prepare you for that. Ultimately, you just have to accept it and face it head on.

So, five days after I gave birth to Emmett, I had my first appointment with the surgeon. It might have been silly but we dressed Emmett up in a collared shirt and bow tie. It was a cute newborn outfit my sister bought Emmett and brought to the hospital. Knowing how quickly babies grow, and that I was about to have surgery and be down for awhile, I wanted to dress him up for our first and maybe last outing for awhile.

The surgeon was highly recommended. The best of the best. Maybe the pregnancy hormones were still high, but there were a lot of tears at that appointment. The rooms were small so my dad stayed in the waiting room with Emmett and my mom and Tyler went back with me.

I had undressed to just a cotton gown again and sat up on the paper-lined table. When the surgeon came in he seemed optimistic. He told me it was Stage I melanoma. Giving it a stage, even if it was just one at that point, and calling it cancer was enough to open the flood gates. I mean, I knew melanoma was cancer and I'm pretty sure I even said I had skin cancer, but to hear a doctor talk about YOUR cancer is completely different. Before it was just a word, but now it was my new reality.

The plan was to cut a wider incision on my abdomen to make sure they had clear margins and to do a lymph node dissection. He seemed confident that it most likely had not gone to my lymph nodes but with the dissection we would know for sure. We set the surgery for the following Tuesday, March 14th, just shy of two weeks after giving birth.

A few days after the surgeon appointment we got a call from my OB doctor. We immediately knew they had the results from the placenta. My hands started to sweat. He asked about me and how things were going first. This made my heart race thinking the worst news of my life was about to come. But it didn't. He told us the placenta came back normal and Emmett was just fine. I started crying just out of relief. We hung up a few minutes later and he wished me luck on my surgery.

The day of the surgery I was a nervous wreck. My parents and Tyler's mom drove over to be with us and help Tyler with Emmett. I'm so grateful that they did. I'm sure Tyler appreciated it the most. Sitting in the recovery room of the surgery center waiting for your wife to come out was probably rough, but sitting there with a newborn was probably a nightmare. It also helped me though. Having them around made me try my hardest to be strong and brave. Mostly, I didn't want them to see me cry.

Before the surgery they had to run a test to see which lymph nodes it would have spread to. With it being on my upper abdomen and a little off to the left side, they were pretty confident the radiation would travel to my left underarm lymph nodes. This process was probably the worst part and the most painful. They walked me back to a room in another wing of the hospital. I climbed up onto the table and they proceeded to tell me what was going to happen. They had to inject radiation into the spot that had been shaved off on my belly. He said it would feel like a bee sting. I'm not sure what bees sting him or if it had just been a long time since I had one, but it was incredibly painful. The tears immediately started to roll down my cheeks. Once this was injected I had to lay very still and what looked like a large car crusher was lowered on top of me. If you're a very claustrophobic person this would be an absolute nightmare for you. This whole process lasted for about an hour and a half. I cried the entire time.

Much like they thought, the radiation traveled to my left underarm, but it also traveled to my right. That meant one more incision. That meant they would cut out lymph nodes under both of my arms now instead of just one. This was another moment that was hard for me to accept. How was I to care for my two week old baby with incisions under both arms and a large one on my belly. I suddenly became pretty terrified to have this surgery and what it would be like after.

Before the surgery the surgeon came in and confirmed my fears. He took out a blue marker and drew a large dot under my right arm and two under my left. The radiation had traveled to two spots on my left arm and they were not close enough to get with one incision. He also drew a large diamond around where my mole had once been. These were all the places he planned to cut. I wanted to cry, but I forced myself to keep it together. After he left the anesthesiologist came in to talk to us. He was wonderful. He talked to us about the procedure but mostly about Emmett. I was fighting back the tears the whole time. Within a minute of him leaving a nurse came to our room to take me back. I hugged and kissed everyone goodbye.

Walking into the operating room was terrible. If I could have turned around and left I would have. It was bright with a large table in the center. There were rests off to each side for your arms and medical equipment all around it. I didn't even make it to the table before I started crying. My family was gone and it was just a bunch of strangers. I no longer needed to be brave. The nurses had me state my name and explain the procedure I was there for as I climbed onto the table. I could barely answer them I was crying so hard. Luckily, the friendly face of the anesthesiologist appeared over my head. He told not to hold it in anymore and it was a safe place to cry. He didn't ask me what kind of music I like or to count backwards from ten like in the movies. He just talked to me about Emmett until everything went black.

I woke up much like how I went under - crying. It's a strange feeling. You want to open your eyes but you can't. The more I started to come to, the more I told myself to get it together and that I was okay. The nurses asked if I was in pain and I really wasn't, but I cried all the way to my recovery room. When I got there Tyler was the only one in the room. I'm thankful for that. I cried for awhile with him. At that point, it was just too much. I had bandages under both arms and one big one across my belly. How was I going to take care of my baby? He helped me get dressed and I eventually stopped crying. Everyone else came back in after that. It was time to load up and go home.

I don't really remember the ride home, or really the rest of that day. I woke up long enough to pump and dump the milk I collected. Because of the anesthesia, I couldn't breastfeed Emmet for at least two days after the surgery. We probably should have tried a bottle before this day but we didn't. Luckily, he latched on and did great! That first day I barely even held Emmett. They would lay him on my chest for a little while once he'd fallen asleep.

Since my mom had just stayed with us the whole week after Emmett was born, Tyler's mom stayed to help for several days after the surgery. I was so grateful for this. Not only was I physically not able to really care for my baby, but I was struggling mentally too. Everyone kept telling me the worst was over and now it was just time to heal, but I didn't feel that way. The results of the biopsies were still lingering out there. Until those results came back I felt like I couldn't really move on.

On March 20th, we got those results back. We had gone to the gym that day. It was cold out but I was ready to get out of the house and go on a walk. We put Emmett in his baby carrier. Tyler had to wear him though. I was still too sore under my arms from the lymph node biopsy to wear it. I think we only made it three laps before the surgeon's office called. They wasted no time giving me the results. They got clear margins on my abdomen where the mole had once been and the lymph nodes under my right arm came back clear. However, one of the lymph nodes taken out from under my left arm came back positive with traces of cancer. I sunk to the floor. She went on to explain I now needed to go have blood work and a CT scan that week. I would need to come back in to see the surgeon the following week and they were referring me to an oncologist. The phone call only lasted a few minutes but it felt like an eternity. I was crying so hard at this point I felt like I couldn't breath. Tyler had crouched down with me, Emmett sound asleep and still strapped to his chest. I cried harder in that moment than I think I have in my entire life. I felt so defeated. What should have been the happiest time in my life was turning into a nightmare.

I called my mom, dad, and sister that night and broke the news. That in itself was hard. I've always tried to be so strong and here I was just crumbling in front of everyone. We all cried together. They all wanted to drive over and be with me but I assured them I was ok. I had been crying so much I was starting to just go numb. Tyler and I laid together on the couch for a long time that night just holding each other and snuggling Emmett. I eventually blocked out what it meant for it to be in my lymph nodes and just concentrated on the next course of treatment.

That Wednesday I went in for my CT scan and blood work. My mom drove up to be with us and surprised me by staying all night. I had to drink a contrast drink two hours before the scan to help light up my digestive system. After drinking it I had a chill throughout my body that I couldn't shake for days. The CT itself wasn't terrible until it came time for the next set of contrast. This one came in the form of an IV. The nurse warned me that it would create a warm sensation in my groin and feel liked I peed but to not worry because that's normal. I tried my hardest not to cry here. Not because I was in pain, but because I mentally couldn't wrap my head around how I got to this point. I thought, "I'm 27 years old, always tried to be healthy, recently married, and had three week old baby. How could I have skin cancer and have to go through all of this." Not wanting my mom and Tyler to see me emotional for just a CT scan I pulled myself together for the blood work and in time to meet them in the hospital lobby.

The next set of appointments was on Monday, March 27th. My mom and dad both drove up to be with us. The first one was with the surgeon. This time we all went back in the room. It was a little cramped but no one wanted left out of this appointment. He wasted no time telling me that because they found traces of cancer cells in one of my lymph nodes it was now considered Stage III. However, the good news was they found the traces through a special dye that was recently developed, so he said is was a low Stage III. They also got the results from my blood work and CT scan. They came back clear. Regardless, it meant another surgery. The standard of care in this situation was to go in and remove the rest of my lymph nodes under my left arm. However, much like any surgeon would I assume, he had to explain the risks of the surgery. In this case it was lymphedema. He explained that it's swelling of my arm. I didn't think much of that until I Googled it. Terrible idea! The pictures are just awful. The meeting was almost over when I thought to ask if he thought the hormones from the pregnancy maybe caused all of this. Sure, we just had a baby less than a month ago, but we knew down the road we'd want another one. He answered my question with statistics on survival rates for people with Stage III skin cancer. I'll never forget these words. He said, "It's not a matter of if it will come back it's a matter of if you'll be around in 5 years." I think everyone started crying at that point. Seeing my parents cry, especially my dad, was really hard. As a new parent I couldn't imagine someone telling me Emmett might not be around in five years. 

I think it was after this meeting that I went a little numb to the whole situation. I decided to just focus on one thing at a time whether that was an appointment or surgery. In this case it was my Oncologist appointment. We had an hour between appointments so I decided to nurse Emmett while we waited. Sitting in a cancer center nursing your newborn was a pretty surreal feeling. You can't help but think, "How did I get here?"

The appointment with the Oncologist was much more optimistic, which was good because I don't think we could have handled more bad news. He seemed confident they wouldn't find anything else in the other lymph nodes, but at the moment, this next surgery was standard of care and encouraged us to proceed with it. He said as long as this surgery turns out how he thinks, there probably won't be a need for further treatment.

I think everyone but me left that appointment more upbeat. Yes, it was good news that it was just traces of cancer cells in one lymph node. Not needing further treatment past this surgery, again, more good news. But I walked away from both of these appointments with all I can describe as a black hole. I didn't feel like that when they called it Stage I, but Stage III took on a whole new meaning for me. In my head I thought, "Stage I isn't terrible. I can come back from this." But Stage III was serious. I honestly didn't know if and how I'd snap back from this. Stage III meant another surgery, more time I would be unable to care for my baby, more pain, and another uncertainty of is this really it or is it worse than you thought again.

I quickly learned there was no time to dwell on the what ifs. Caring for a newborn who wants to eat every few hours doesn't leave you much time to feel sorry for yourself. Luckily, I had my sister's baby shower that following weekend and right before my next surgery. (Did I mention she was pregnant too? She's due just a few months after us.) I knew I wanted the surgery as soon as possible, but I also didn't want to have it before her shower. I think if I would have had to miss her shower because of everything, that would have been the final thing to tip me over the ledge mentally. However, her shower came and went without a hitch. My sister, and mom to be, looked beautiful and of course little Emmett was a hit with all the ladies.

We decided to stay until Monday at my parent's house (where the baby shower took place). We didn't really want to go home. Going home meant we just had to sit around and wait for the next day, surgery number two, to get here.

The night before my second surgery I had my cheering squad back. My mom and dad and Tyler's mom all came back up to be with us the day of the surgery. This second surgery was a little more aggressive so I had to stay overnight. This would also be my first night away from Emmett. It made me sick to think about it as I packed my overnight bag. I wasn't ready to leave him. He had started to learn Tyler's and I's voice so I wanted Tyler to stay home with him and be there to comfort him in the middle of the night. My mom planned to stay at the hospital with me after the surgery so I wasn't alone. Now that I'm a mother I get that urge to want to be there and comfort your child. It's why I wanted Tyler to be with Emmett. If I couldn't be there at least he would.

I was a nervous wreck again the day of the surgery. On the way to the hospital I was mentally going over everything I packed and Emmett needed to simply think of anything other than the surgery. When we got there a man in a baseball cap stood up to great us. I didn't even recognize him at first. My pastor from my childhood church came up. We had just went as a whole family (even my dad who never went) the Sunday before the surgery and he said a long prayer for me before his sermon, but I would have never imagined he'd make the two plus hour trip up to be with us before we went back. It meant the world to me!

They called me back to the recovery room pretty quickly this time. I wasn't ready. I wanted to sit and visit, but I knew that was not why he was there. I went back and prepped for surgery - IV, hospital gown, etc. It felt like I was back there forever by myself. I'm sure it wasn't very long but seconds felt like minutes at that point. They were precious seconds I could be spending with my family instead of sitting there alone.

Everyone finally came in to see me and all of a sudden the minutes felt like seconds. My pastor knelt down beside me and we all bowed our head as he prayed for a safe surgery. I was so deep in thought in my head I'm not even sure I heard the whole prayer. After it was over I had to say my goodbyes again as it was time to head back.

It was the same operating room as the first surgery. It was like deja vu. The only difference was my anesthesiologist. I was a little bummed about this. I really wanted the one I had last time, but I knew even though this was a new one he was probably still just as good. I was asked to state my name, birth, and the procedure I was in for. Much like the first surgery I didn't make it very far before I started crying. I think because I knew what to expect I cried even harder. This anesthesiologist didn't talk to me about my son. He just tried to have me calm down but I couldn't until everything eventually went black.

When I woke up from the second surgery it was much worse than the first. I was what I'm sure was considered hysterical. I was crying so hard it was hard to breath. They finally had to give me anti-anxiety medicine to calm me down. I was told to take deep breaths and I really did try, but I couldn't. This time I woke up scared and in pain. It took me much longer to wake up. I don't think I was even fully with it yet when they wheeled me to the room I would be staying in. When I got there my heart rate monitor kept beeping like it was yelling at me to breath. The nurses kept telling me to take deep breaths until it stopped beeping. This essentially happened well into the evening for various reasons.

When my family finally came in I was so relieved. I didn't want to be alone anymore. I think if I heard a familiar voice when I came too I wouldn't have been so hysterical.

I was bandaged pretty well under my arm. To the point where my arm stuck out a couple of inches. On top of that I also had a compression wrap all the way around my chest. To a new mom who had been nursing every few hours this was painful in itself. Much like the first surgery, I couldn't nurse for a few days after so I was constantly taking my wrap off to pump and dump the milk. After working so hard to try to build up a supply, this was gut-wrenching. Luckily, during this whole process, I had a wonderful friend who also recently had a baby. She probably gave us over 100 ounces when it was all said and done. We were so grateful for that. There's no way I would have been able to continue breastfeeding Emmett through all of it without her support and help.

In addition to pumping every few hours, I also had to empty a drain which was inserted into my side during surgery to help ensure fluid didn't build up near the incision. In the beginning it was tinted pretty red from the blood, but it eventually turned a yellow color. In the beginning it wasn't too painful to empty. I think because I was still pretty numb. The nurses had to empty it for me and then  teach my mom and husband how to empty it. I could barely move my arm let alone try to empty a tube coming out the side of me.

Overall, the first day after the surgery was a bit of a blur. There was one point when I noticed just how painful my incision and arm was. I realized, unlike the maternity ward, I had to ask for pain medicine here. I quickly told them I wanted to just take it around the clock. Waiting for the pain medicine to kick in after it had worn off was excruciating. It was much easier to just stay ahead of it all. 

My family stayed as long as possible that night. It was my first night away from Emmett and even though I knew I couldn't do anything (I couldn't even get out of bed without paging a nurse), I hated to see them go. As we started to say our goodbyes Emmett started to cry. It's like he knew his mom wasn't going home with him. Hearing him cry as they were walking out was terrible. It made me cry.

The next morning my dad, Tyler and his mom, and Emmett all came back. They even brought me blueberry donuts and strawberry milk. These were the two things I seemed to still be craving even after Emmett made his arrival. The gesture made me want to cry again.

Leaving the hospital that day was terrifying. Even more so than when we left with Emmett just a month earlier. There I had a nurse helping me change my drain tube, feed me pain medicine, check my bandages, and just be there in case something happened. At home, we were on our own. Someone had to take care of me and someone had to take care of our still pretty newborn son. There were times I couldn't remember if I was due for a pain pill, if it had been 4 hours and we needed to drain my tube, or if Emmett was due to eat. There were so many schedules to keep track of. We finally had to get a notepad out and write them down as we went.

Luckily, my mom stayed with us for the rest of the week. She actually stayed with us until we went back to the surgeon the following Monday, and Tyler's mom stayed until Friday. We were so grateful for their help. They all took turns helping both me and Emmett. I couldn't lift him at all and I could only hold him sitting down. It's like I had this dead weight of a limb hanging to my side. It was there but I couldn't really feel much from the elbow up and I had no mobility in it at all. Any and all movement hurt. Tasks as simple as getting up off the couch would shoot pains into my armpit. It's amazing how much you realize actually use your arm when you no longer can.

It wasn't until two days after the surgery that I wanted to tackle the shower. This was the moment I realized just how painful the incision and area around it was. Before this, I hadn't really moved it. I had to sleep at an incline to help the drain so we slept on the couch for almost a week. The shower, or I guess I should say bath, really brought to light how much pain I was in.

Tyler came upstairs with me and tried to help me get undress. My pants were the easy part. As I tried to navigate my shirt over my head I yelled out in pain. It felt like someone was diving a knife under my arm and twisting it. My mom came upstairs to help around this time. My cries must have reached downstairs and she came up to help. Once my shirt was off we attempted to remove some of the gauze and bandages as instructed. This was worse yet. I think taking the pressure off sent waves of pain through my underarm. The pain was so intense it brought me to my knees and it felt like I couldn't breath, probably also because I was crying so hard at this point. Seeing how much pain I was in my mom and Tyler suggested I just sit in the bathtub and forget the shower. We strapped the drain to a lanyard around my neck and I crawled in with my right arm pressing my left arm against my body. This left my mom and Tyler to bathe me. At that point, tears of pain and humiliation started to mix together. I didn't try to tackle a shower for a few more days after that.

The entire month of April went way too fast, and to a fault, I wished each week away in hopes the next would be better. The first couple of weeks I was in so much pain we just laid around the house and watched a lot of Netflix. As time progressed the pain started to become more manageable. I would occasionally get a twinge of pain that would take my breath away and stop me in my tracks. Not wanting to be on pain medicine anymore for the sake of my breastfeeding baby, I decided I needed to learn to suck up the pain and handle it. Some moments this was easier said than done, but I was afraid Emmett was going to be affected by all the pain medicine soon. Between his birth and then the two surgeries, I had pretty much been on pain medicine since he was born.

Then there was the drain. That terrible drain. Even after I started feeling better I was still so limited because I had this tube coming out the side of my body. I was constantly worried our dogs would jump on me and rip it out. Emmett was starting to find his hands and somehow grabbed it a few times when nursing. Draining it had at least started to get better, though. In the beginning I swear I could feel the liquid suck out of my body when we emptied the tube and pressure in the bulb. There was also the constant fear of dropping the bulb, which we accidentally did one night when emptying it. Oh that was bad! The bulb bounced and the tube felt like it was ripping out my side. We were so careful after that. Several times we just emptied sitting on the floor.

I had to have the drain in for five weeks after my surgery. The surgeon informed me the more I tried to do the more it would output. He encouraged me to take it easy and do as little as possible. Unfortunately, life with a newborn doesn't exactly let you do that. Tyler went back to work around the middle/end of April, so taking it easy by myself was nearly impossible. My mom had to eventually come up and help me for several days before I was able to get the output low enough. Part of me loved having her there and the other part hated it. Taking it easy meant sitting around the house all day. I loved so much having her around to keep me company. It got pretty lonely at times. I started to feel like all I did was sleep and watch tv. But at the same time, I was finally feeling ok. I wasn't having shooting pain and I could move my arm around pretty easily. I mean, I did still have my moments where I would move just right or too much and my incision site or the place the tube was coming out would hurt, but for the most part I was finally feeling normal. All except for the tube coming out the side of my body. I didn't want to be laid up on the couch not taking care of my baby. However, the more I tried to do, the more fluid came out. So, much like after the surgery, I held Emmett while eating or once my mom got him to sleep. While I was so grateful for this help, I hated that here I was nine weeks after giving birth to him and I still was unable to really care for him. At the end of the day though, I knew this was the only way I was probably going to get my drain taken out. So, I sucked it up and pushed my pride aside and let my mom take care of everything again.

I didn't get the drain taken out until May 8th. This was just a little over two weeks before I had to return to work. The day the drain came out was miserable. I had no idea how they planned to remove it, but the way they did was definitely not what I expected.

When we got there I asked if they planned to numb the area first. I thought they would surely do something. But the nurse informed me that they didn't. She said it wasn't that bad and numbing it would actually be more painful. I have to wonder if she's ever had a tube in her side to make this call. She laid an extra piece of paper underneath me to I'm sure catch anything that might come out with the tube. She cut away the couple of stitches holding it to my skin. My hands were sweating so bad as I gripped the edge of the table. My husband just placed his on top of mine I'm sure knowing it needed to grip the edge. I think he knew as well that this wasn't going to be easy. She then asked asked me to take a deep breath and then another. As I was exhaling my second one she pulled it out. I could literally feel the tissue rip away as it came out of my body. At that moment I really thought I was either going to vomit or pass out from the pain. On top of that it smelled so bad. I'm not even sure I can think of something to compare that smell too...maybe sour? It was like the area was starting to rot.

I also expected the drain to look much like what was hanging out of my body, but it didn't. Instead of one tube it split off into a V. The tube was flatter and I personally thought it looked bigger around, too. Looking back I'm not sure if it was, or if I convinced myself it was to make me feel better about being in so much pain. Once the tube was out they placed some gauze on it and pulled the edge of my bra over it to hold it in place. I had been using band-aids were the tube came out of my body to try to keep the tube from pulling so much with movement. Unfortunately, after five weeks of wearing a band-aid in the same spot I was getting a pretty bad rash. They didn't want me to use any there anymore so I was to just tuck the gauze under my bra.

On the way home we stopped at cvs for more gauze and ginger ale. The vomiting sensation has not dissipated yet. Luckily, Tyler was able to take the day off and stay home with me. We had to bottle feed Emmett and I had to pump again. I was in too much pain to nurse him. I ended up taking a left over pain pill from the surgery and sleeping the rest of the afternoon.

Just because the drain was out didn't mean I was in the clear. I was instructed to stay down for at least one more week to be sure I didn't fill up with fluid now that the drain was out. My surgeon finally released me on May 15th. This left me just one week and one day left of my maternity leave. One week and one day of feeling like I was actually on maternity leave and not fighting cancer.

Now that you know my story I think I should tell you how I feel. I feel robbed. My maternity leave was spent prepping for surgeries, recovering, waiting on results, running tests, and bed rest. I slowly wished each week away. Not because I wanted to, but because I wanted to feel better and knew only time would do that, or because we were anxiously awaiting the latest results. But now I look at my almost 3 month old baby and hate that I selfishly wished away my time with him because of everything that happened. That tiny newborn baby boy we brought home from the hospital is gone and replaced with a smiling, kicking, strong little boy.

I look back and wonder if I would have done it all the same. Hearing you have cancer all you want to do it get it out of your body as quickly as possible. But I wonder now if I should have given myself a little more time to just be a family those first few weeks we came home from the hospital. Instead, I had us rushing our newborn to one doctor's appointment after another and requesting my surgeries happen as soon as possible.

On the other hand, I think having this tiny baby and new family I wanted to grow with, also gave me the strength to keep pushing forward. I had to be strong for Emmett. He needed me. I had to be strong for Tyler. With just less than a year of marriage under our belt our time together was far from over. I had to be strong for my sister. With her baby due in just a few months we still had so much we wanted to experience together. Last but certainly not least, I had to be strong for my own mom and dad. As a mom now, I know first hand how much you love your child and how much you suffer just thinking they might be in pain let alone seeing them in it.

The love and support everyone showed me and my family those couple of months meant the world to me. I had people reach out and say they were praying for me even though I had not talked to them in years. It was probably the scariest few months I've ever experienced and hope I never have to experience. With the bad comes good, though. Because of everything I went through I feel like I have an even deeper love for my parents and sister. When I said 'I do' to my husband I didn't think I could love and respect someone more than in that moment, but I don't think that's true anymore. We have gone through more in our first year of marriage than most do in a lifetime and because of it we are even stronger. It also brought me back to God. I hate this is what had to happen to do it, but I'm glad I am.

As I write this today I can say I'm cancer free. I have several scars to remind me of my journey but that's ok. It reminds me to not take anything for granted. I know it could haven been much worse. So I will continue to go to the cancer center for physical therapy to improve the mobility of my left arm. I will continue to be checked every three months by the Dermetolgist and Oncologist. I will continue to fight every day and not let my inabilities get me down. I will continue to live my life and be happy with my new little family I was blessed with, because I know there are a lot of people out there that don't after they've been diagnosed with cancer.

Having cancer will not define me, but I will wear my scars with pride and continue to tell my story. Because cancer is not just for the old or parentless. It can sink its claws into anyone. It's our job to pay attention to our bodies, listen to our doctors, and follow their instinct when they know something just isn't right. You never know. It could save your life.

Sat, 2017-06-17