Dr. Deer Hunter teaches the art of breathing

I am thankful to be breathing after breast cancer – deep and strong, jelly boobs and all.

Hearing you have breast cancer is only the beginning of a journey, and as I am discovering, much like with rowing, I needed to find a breathing pattern. 

I went through the acceptance of hearing the words I never planned on hearing and developed a team of doctors who allowed me to ask questions, show doubt, be fearful and yet also helped me laugh my way through this. Of all my doctors, the one who has had to put up with me the most is one I never thought would play such a pivotal role. Now, though, my plastic surgeon is practically on speed dial.

Before meeting him for the first time, I was scared to death. I had no idea what he might say and feared he was going to start in on all of these things on my body that could be "fixed" as well as knock out two new boobs. I was happily wrong, and his knowledge was right up there with everyone else’s. He made me comfortable and assured me with my next steps. I found myself relaxed enough to fire off question after question as he patiently answered one after another. I eventually discovered that he loves to hunt and has actually driven around a deer lease in his BMW. The image of that just cracks me up. I grew up hunting in Colorado where the wildlife can run you down and do some damage, but deer here in Texas are hunted in a BMW?

During my pre-op visit with him, he took the time to go over the process and spoke clearly to me about expectations with this procedure and how long it would take. He explained how the cancer surgeon (the one with the Rusyorkex accent) would remove all of my breast tissue and cancerous crap, and then he would come in to move my pectoral muscles around, insert the expanders and get my "reconstruction" underway. I recall telling him that I would see him then. He raised an eyebrow and said, "You’re under anesthesia when I come in the room so you won't 'see' me until I check on you the following day." I laughed and said, "You're right. I guess I’ll see you then!" Neither of us had any idea of what lay ahead.

Everything that morning went off as planned – not a single issue – but it was later that same night, in surgery No. 2, that he saved my life. 

I had a problem, and just hours after arriving to my room from recovery, I was paging a nurse and calling for help. A hematoma had developed on my right side, and the swelling due to blood leaking into my right upper chest became so large I could touch it with my chin (imagine if you will the Hunchback of Notre Dame with the hump to the front right). I remember a lot of what was going on around me, and will not forget anytime soon the look on his face as he arrived in my room minutes before midnight to assess my condition and discover my swollen, “hey, this thing really hurts” chest. As he went to leave, he came over to the bed and promised that he would get me feeling better. It was at this point that I looked up and mumbled, "See I did get to see you today." (Leave it to me to be bleeding internally and still find the need to be a smart ass!) 

As an athlete, I understand oxygen use in the body and how important our red blood cells are in this exercise. I know that hemoglobin is pivotal in our need for endurance and stamina, and I know that building red blood cells can take a while. I had read how training and strength can be measured through strong, in-the-zone hemoglobin results - as a 45-year-old woman, my zone is 12 to 14.5. Since I had to let go of my adventure to go to Italy and the rowing event there, I wanted to know if my training was all that I thought it had been, so I requested the number from the nurse who drew my blood during my pre-op appointment. The next day, as I was being prepped in the staging room for my four-hour surgery, I asked the anesthesiologist what that number was. She quickly looked through the paperwork and then revealed that my number came back at 13.7. This happily confirmed what I thought – I was definitely training properly.

Sadly, less than 36 hours after emergency surgery, and due to severe blood loss, my number plummeted to 6.1. This lower number meant that I was now in full blown anemia, which as I can attest, is no fun. You have no energy, are weak, and in my case, my heart worked overtime in order to circulate the blood I had left, giving me the most intense headache. On top of this, I wanted, craved, and had to have blood. Seriously, I think I know what vampires go through. Later, as my cravings started to diminish, I utilized my Google Medical Degree and discovered that numbers that low can result in a heart attack, stroke, and in rare instances, organ failure. My training, physical fitness, and Dr. Deer Hunter worked as a threesome to keep me alive.

BloodBagBecause my heart rate remained fairly steady, I did not have to have a blood transfusion – I met the requirements for iron serum transfusions, and overall, I had six of these in about five weeks. Having a fear of needles and IVs in particular (no, cancer and multiple needle exercises have not lessened my dislike one bit), I can assure you it took my mental training to another level, and I did OK until the final appointment –the vein collapsed and I just about lost it. What kept me in line was the location where I was getting these treatments: A chemo infusion room at a local oncology center. I always felt out of place to others in the room and very self-conscience of my small need when I was surrounded by patients who were having life-saving chemo, in comparison. I recall closing my eyes and implementing my newly discovered breathing exercises in order to not scream.

My final dilemma will be awhile in easing – I now have a huge fear of hospitals. I never had this before and honestly, it does take a big toll on me when I hear the words: ‘adjustment, ‘procedure,’ or ‘surgery.’ I can only hope that my fears will eventually be conquered, but it is going to take me some time and a few ‘no-issues-whatsoever’ visits as I work to overcome this. I have to give kudos where they are due: I have had my third surgery (the Jelly Boobs are in) but this would not have happened if Dr. Deer Hunter himself hadn’t encouraged me to face the fear and breathe in deep – of course, when I finally remembered to do that I was on the operating table, “Rest Now” serum had been administered into my IV, and there was a mask with the sleepy juice pumping over my nose and mouth. 

Yes, I am thankful to be breathing in – deep and strong, jelly boobs and all.


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