Saturday, April 27, 2019

No More Milestones

It is a little weird beginning my first post-mastectomy post where I don't have any milestones to report. I feel like I've crossed the border from being in recovery from surgery to just being out of shape. I decided to stop physical therapy after this week because it was reaching the point where the stress of taking time during the workday to have some college student watch me lift baby weights was outweighing the physical benefit of doing so. My chest strength and mobility no longer seem any worse than the rest of the body, so I'd rather focus on regaining whole-body strength at the regular gym at times that fit my schedule better.

My goal is to eventually work back up to three days a week on the bike, two days in the gym, and one day per week of parking lot skills practice. Last week I managed one day in the gym and three days on the bike. This week has only been one bike ride and no gym so far, although I'm hoping to ride today and tomorrow.

Work has been a nightmare since I came back full-time, and I expect it to remain so for at least 2-3 more weeks. I had planned to accompany Frank to the first West Virginia enduro race this weekend even though I'm not up to racing yet, but I decided to stay home because I was afraid that my workweek next week would be too much after a weekend away from home. I'm not really feeling much better staying home, though, because I'm still stressed about work, but now I'm home alone with no one to talk to or ride with.

I've been having regular sessions with massage therapist with the weird suction cup machine that feels awful but does wonders for my mobility. It's a bit hard because it costs over $100 per session after the tip, and of course, it's not covered by insurance. However, it seems to do more good than most things that insurance does cover, and I should be able to cut down on the frequency of sessions soon.

These treatments have really done a lot help me move better as well as to break up the scar tissue so that my fake boobs are becoming a lot softer and more natural looking. A big goal for me is to get my chest flexible enough to sleep on my side again comfortably.  It seems to be getting there, although it gets better or worse depending on what I've done that day. There's also a chance that the "cupping" could help me get sensation back at some point, although I'm not getting my hopes up too much for that. My plastic surgeon said that 99% of women don't so it will be a pleasant surprise if it happens for me.

Before the surgery, the thought of never having feeling in my boobs again was the most upsetting part for me because, as many really crappy aspects as there are to the experience, that's the only permanent one. Once the surgery happened, everything else that was going on distracted me from worrying about my boobs being numb as I counted down to each milestone until it was over.  Now I've officially passed all of the milestones, and I'm becoming a lot more aware of how weird and dead my chest feels when I bump into stuff. It's tough because I look and seem fine to everyone else, but several times a day I get this reminder that I'll probably never be completely fine again.

Riding is going better, although it's still slow in both pace and progress. I tell people that I'm a super extra special kind of out of shape right now. Regular out of shape is going on a ride that I expect to be easy only to find that it's hard and slow. Then I rest for a couple of days, come back and do the same ride again, and it feels a little easier. With the kind of out of shape I'm experiencing now, I often still feel worse after a couple of days of rest in between rides. It's annoying, but the only thing that I know to do is to keep coming back and doing whatever easy rides I can a regular frequency until they start feeling less terrible.

Aggressive descents are still a bit much for me right now, although my pectoral muscles are not the limiting factor the way I would have expected. It's really all of my muscles that are my limiting factor. So far I've stuck to descents that would have been under three minutes for me last year, and I'm usually 60-90 seconds slower than my PR's. My arms, abs, quads, and glutes start burning halfway through these short descents, which makes it hard to keep going fast. I guess I need to put in some time on the RipRow in addition to the regular gym to try and build up some descending-specific fitness quickly because I don't even think I could get to the bottom of Wildcat or Old Laurel without a rest break right now.

Since my body isn't up for descending the way it used to, I've been spending on more time on the flat or rolling technical trails that I've largely ignored the last couple of years. Even before my body forced me to slow and step back in my riding, I committed to riding flat pedals this season until I was as competent on flats as I was with clips. The fact that I'm slow anyway right now has made it easier to keep that commitment. It's kind of cool because I'm starting to get decent at riding flats on the terrain where they are most challenging. Last weekend, I even made it up a difficult little uphill on Chicken Peter that I'd never made before, even when I was fitter and clipped in.

Although I won't have any more recovery milestones to share in my next post, I hope that I will pass some at work so that I can be a little saner by then. It's even more likely that I will reach some more milestones on the bike considering how tiny those are for me these days. Who knows? Maybe I'll break into double-digit mileage on a ride or something.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Free To Be Me

Yesterday I passed the magic four-week mark after my implant placement surgery. I now have full license to "resume normal exercise", and tomorrow I can officially stop wearing my surgical bra. As we all know, I actually did my first very baby mountain bike ride two weeks ago, and I already wore a wireless push-up bra to work a couple of days this week because my outfit warranted it. I still *want* be wearing my surgical bra pretty much all of the time when I'm not wearing form-fitting or low-cut tops. I was never used to be one of those women who longed for the moment that I could take my bra off at the end of the day, but now anything except the surgical bra gets swapped as soon as I walk in the door.

Despite a little cheating on the rules and a lot of stressing out because the rules were stupid and sucky, yet I was afraid of the consequences of breaking them, it appears that I am no worse off for my indiscretions. At my check-up on Wednesday, my plastic surgeon seemed very happy with how everything turned out and did not accuse me of illicit mountain biking and bra wearing.

I, however, am not sold on how great my new boobs look, but it's hard to be too stoked when my chest is 90% numb, and yet I'm still very aware of the foreign objects embedded in my body. The one silver lining that I'd looked forward to as part of what eventually became a two cup size increase was having cleavage, which so far hasn't manifested. I'm supposed to start massaging them daily to help soften the scar tissue, which should help.

If I really want, in six months I can get fat liposuctioned from my hips and strategically injected into my boobs to improve the cosmetic results, but any fears about needing actual revision surgery seem unfounded. I will have to see how things go the next few months because I don't really want to do any more procedures, but also, hey, free liposuction.

So 11 weeks and 1 day after original mastectomy surgery, I'm basically done from a medical standpoint. Now I just have the rest of my life to make peace with what my body has been through. Since my last post, I started physical therapy again, and that has really helped.

Admittedly, the physical therapist's pep talks are probably the main reason for the vast improvement between my first and second post-surgery mountain bike rides. The first session back, I told the physical therapist about all of the anxieties that I was feeling after my first ride. I explained how I felt like I was okay to start riding, but that I still had a lot of fear about damaging my reconstruction.

Her reply was in line with what I suspected all along, although I had started to let doubt creep in: I shouldn't do anything that hurt, but otherwise, it was safe to start pushing myself within reasonable limits. She agreed that the rules and scare tactics were for "no pain, no gain" types, but since I'm not one of those, I needed to start trusting my body again. Then she took me into the gym and put me through a gauntlet of shoulder exercises to prove that my upper body still worked, even if it is pretty weak right now.

Since then, I've been back to my own gym a couple of times where I'm mixing her upper body routine with various leg, ab, and glute exercises. There are still a lot of things that I'm not ready to do again yet, but I can do enough stuff now to at least start rebuilding my strength and stability.

The combined lack of courage, then lack of time, caused an eight-day gap between mountain bike rides. Luckily, two physical therapy sessions and a trip to the gym in between really boosted my confidence. The second ride I was able to ride a lot more singletrack and a lot more rocks. I even rode some of the short rocky chutes on Brush Ridge, although I went slowly and actually chose a line instead of just charging. I now feel confident enough to ride any of the rocky XC trails around Rothrock, although I'm still not ready for the big descents yet.


Unrelated to my recovery but interesting nonetheless, Frank and I are "fostering to adopt" a dog this weekend. His name is Gunner and he is a 1.5-year-old blue heeler, or as my research today concluded, more specifically an Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. He doesn't have a tail, but it seems 90% likely that he was born without one, and it wasn't docked. So far, Clemmie has responded to him about as well as she responded to Dash and Tutu. She's really not a fan of us bringing other animals into the house but isn't terribly intimidated by him. Dash and Tutu, on the other hand, are terrified and will only the spare bedroom for a couple of minutes at a time. He gets overly excited when he sees the cats, although I think it's friendliness, not aggression, it definitely freaks them out. Hopefully, everyone can learn to live together happily.