My lung surgery had several stages. The short haul, which consisted of my initial biopsy and my lobectomy, and the long haul, which was the recovery from the surgery. It overlapped with the start of my chemotherapy.
The Short Haul
I was semi-awake during my biopsy. My recovery from it was relatively quick, although the pain lingered a bit. It felt like a scrape, but inside my chest. I felt it when I took a deep breath. After about 4 days, the feeling went away.
Once I knew I was going to have a lobectomy, I “trained for it” to get my lung capacity up. I went on long walks every other day and tried to dance around as much as possible. I walked 5 miles the day before my lobectomy, unsure if I’d ever walk that far again.
As I was reading up to prepare for my surgery, I read that many people with lung cancer can never do cancer walkathons and 5K races that breast cancer and other survivors frequently do. I challenged myself to get back in shape, if I could, to honor those who wouldn’t be able to walk with me.
I opted for a lobectomy rather than a wedge resection. That was a difficult choice to make in consultation with my doctors. As I was getting my pre-surgery consult, my doctors told me it would take 6 months or more to recover and that there may be lingering pain. They were right on all counts. Surgery was the most challenging part of my experience so far.
During surgery, I was intubated and placed on a ventilator. When I woke up, my nurses asked me if I remembered anything to make sure I was OK and to process any traumatic dreams if I’d had any. I told them that I hadn’t dreamed at all and that I hadn’t even been scared because my husband had been standing there almost the whole time, wearing his favorite black cargo shorts and one of his beloved black Clemson polo shirts. I told them that he tried to be quiet, but he was cracking jokes the whole time. I told them that when I got a little scared, he cracked more jokes.
They told me that no one had yet been in the room. So when I think of ventilators, as COVID-19 has made us all do from time to time, I now think of a love that surpasses fear.
The next day, my surgeons said that I had clean margins after the surgery, which was a good thing. But I did have a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and had to stay a day longer. They also wanted me to be relatively pain-free so that I could breathe easily so I wouldn’t get pneumonia. It was important for me to be ahead of the pain so I could breathe easily. It was also important that I get up and walk. I made myself do it to clear my lungs, and even though I had to stop to vomit several times from the medicines, I kept going. I had friends and family cheering me on, vomit and all!
The Long Haul
Two days after I got home, I experienced a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in my lung. Luckily, I recognized the symptoms: Everything was spinning, and it was hard to breathe. I was rushed to the ER. The tone in the ER went from serious to somber and I began to panic. But my father turned on the TV and told me to look at Serena Williams, to watch her directly. He told me that she had an embolism and look at her now. She was at the top of her game. Don’t worry about what is going on here in this ER, he told me. Just watch her. That’s where you will be again one day, too -- at the top of your game.
My surgical pain lingered for 2 years. I experienced two cracked fillings from the intubation tubes. I was able to get the cracks filled eventually. I found relief with medication, exercise, and extra cushioning on my bed and chairs. Stay on top of the pain with both your oncology and palliative care teams. Don’t let it get ahead of you -- for the short and long haul.
Photo Credit: Jackyenjoyphotography / Moment via Getty Images
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