The aftermast

Warning: Slightly ooky post follows, to explain the nuts-and-bolts and set up the dialogue with Widget that follows.  But this is my reality today.  And maybe it will help another mom explain it to her kid someday.  I wish it weren’t necessary.  I wish no one else had to go through this.

So the aftermath of a mastectomy is not nearly as gory as I expected.  It’s hard, sure, but the aftermath of any surgery or hospital stay is, right?  The hardest part about this I think is managing my drains.  After the bulk of the surgery, as they were closing me up, the surgeons inserted drains at the end of each suture.  So I have one under my left armpit (simple mastectomy), and two under my right armpit (modified radical mastectomy, which means they took the lymph nodes out as well).  Each is basically three feet of tubing attached to a little bulb, which I pin to my shirt.  The bulb is squeezed a bit so that the fluid on my chest flows down the drains and into the bulb instead of building up on/in my chest where it shouldn’t be.  Then we (and by we, I mean WonderDaddy) empty the drains every few hours.  When they’re almost empty for a whole day, the surgeon will take them out.  But this might take a while.  So this is the hardest part.  It just feels uncomfortable and makes dressing awkward.

I’ve tried to hide the tubing and the drains from my little ones.  Widget in particular is a sharp and empathetic 3 year old, and I have been telling him “Mommy’s just tired,” since I returned, but he knows better.  Yesterday he hopped up on the bed and wanted to hear a story about what happened when “Mommy, Daddy go to the hospital.”  So I told him, relating it to the story of Huckle and Dr. Lion in one of his Richard Scarrey books. 

Today he peeked under the blanket and saw some of the tubing hanging out while I was asleep.  He woke me up and asked about it, matter-of-factly, so I answered him, hoping that if I just gently told him the truth it wouldn’t be a big deal for him, and he wouldn’t get scared.

Widget: Mommy, what’s that?
Me: It’s a tube.
Widget: What’s it go to?
Me: It goes to this little bulb right here.  (He had already seen that by the time I woke up fully and realized what was going on.)
Widget: What’s it do?
Me: It takes away some stuff Mommy doesn’t need anymore.
Widget: – silence –
Me: Like ear wax.  You know how ear wax comes out of your ear and you don’t need it anymore, so we take it away?  Well, Mommy has some stuff coming off her that she doesn’t need anymore, so this takes it away.
Widget: Like ear wax?
Me: Yup.

Kind of.  I mean, if ear wax were bloody and full of fluids that I don’t even recognize.  But it was a good enough answer for him, and he settled in to watch a little Arthur with me, thumb in mouth and hand on mine. 

I love this kid.


44 Responses to The aftermast

  1. sarah says:

    the tubes were hands down the part that i hated the worst. they were just uncomfortable. grrr!

    widget rocks. i love his brave curiosity and the way kids take it all in. well done WhyMommy.

    and hoooooorah for Canape 🙂

  2. tori says:

    I love the honesty you used in explaining things. Kids need to know, but need an age apropriate explanation. You did both! Good for you and I hope you are doing great!

  3. Angela says:

    When I had my hysterectomy, I had similar ooky conversations with my girls over the removal of necessary parts and the aftermath of healing. At the time, I wondered if my honesty was a good thing, but like you, I found that being simple and direct about things made them much less scary…rather commonplace, actually. Such a great post….

  4. Jenn from NMD says:

    Your explaination was wonderful. You are an amazingly awesome woman and Mother. Continued prayers for a speedy recovery.

  5. Mummycha says:

    That’s a cute post!
    I hope you are recovering well!

  6. Carrie says:

    It makes all the sense in the world.

    Keep resting and recovering!

  7. SuzyQatHome says:

    I love that you explained things in a way that he can understand without being scared. I’ve always thought that you can’t fool young children as they still trust their instincts and emotions – and it is twice as scary for them if you don’t tell them anything.

    We had the “where do babies come from” discussion at just about Widget’s age while looking at Gamma’s baby book. Be prepared – I certainly wasn’t! 🙂

    Kudos to WonderDaddy for playing doctor for you! I’m very impressed (but then, I still throw up every time my kids do, so maybe I’m just a big baby)!

    Sending love and prayers for recovery.

  8. Leann I Am says:

    What a great way to explain it without scaring him! Great job!

  9. Debbie says:

    My mom had a single mastectomy with tramflap reconstruction and a reduction on the other breast all in the same operation. She also had the drains and it was very awkward for her. I was there with her for weeks after the operation, so I have seen a bit of what you are going through. Very tough to be explaining it to a three year old, you explained it well.

    I wonder (as I’ve only been reading your blog since maybe day 20 of your countdown) – are you always this brave? Do you always exude confidence and serenity like this? I feel it in every word I read here. And I get the sense that you don’t need anyone to tell you that you are going to be okay – because you already have a deep sense of well being. I am inspired.

  10. Susan says:

    What a wonderful explanation–and what a sweet boy you have.

  11. MammaLoves says:

    I think that was the perfect answer. Honest, appropriate answers to the questions they ask always seem to satisfy their curiosity and make it all less scary.

    At least that’s what I told myself after having to explain to my five year old the purpose of a tampon. Sheesh I wish I could have some privacy in the bathroom every once in a while.

    Here’s wishing for reduced drainage.

  12. giftofgreen says:

    MMMMmmmmm! (cheek pinches, cheek pinches, cheek pinches – now I know why grandmothers and aunties used to (still?) do that – kids are just. so. scrumptious!)

    (and xxoos to Wonder Daddy too!)

  13. whymommy says:

    Mamma, you crack me up! I haven’t had that conversation yet. And glad of it!

    I feel like such a goob for telling him that it’s like ear wax. But someday he’ll understand, and I hope he understands why I made that analogy.

  14. ~JJ! says:

    God, you’re so cool.
    How did you even come up with that so quickly.

    Your kids are so lucky to have you. They are already so centered and understanding.

    Can I be adopted?

    Here’s to hoping that fluid depletes soon!

    Cheers sister.

    MammaLoves: can you come over and explain tampons to my daughter…? She’s mortified. She caught me this week…Gah! Of course, I had NO explanation.

  15. Joanna says:

    Interesting, WM. I never knew that there was the ‘tube’ aspect of it. It has to be uncomfortable, if not painful? I hope it’s not painful for you. And a stellar answer to your little guy. Excellent analogy. Very good way to explain it. Thank you. And continued vibes of healing…

  16. Whymommy, that was the most perfect and age-appropriate explanation. It is so important to be as honest as we possibly can with our children, in a way that they can relate to, and won’t frighten them.

    One of the wisest child educators, Fred Rogers, wrote a song that often pops into my mind during just such difficult conversations. Forgive the long comment, but I’m going to give you the lyrics!!


    I Like To Be Told

    I like to be told
    When you’re going away,
    When you’re going to come back,
    And how long you will stay.
    How long you will stay.
    I like to be told.

    I like to be told
    If it’s going to hurt.
    If it’s going to be hard,
    If it’s not going to hurt.
    I like to be told.
    I like to be told.

    It helps me to get ready for all those things,
    All those things that are new.
    I trust you more and more
    Each time that I’m
    Finding those things to be true, true.

    I like to be told
    ‘Cause I’m trying to grow,
    And I’m trying to learn,
    And I’m trying to know.
    I like to be told.
    I like to be told.


    You’re doing a wonderful job of kickin’ that cancer, and of mothering those two beautiful little boys.

    love to you, as always–

    xoxo CGF

  17. spacemom says:

    perfect answer. All you need to do is explain in simple direct answers!

    I am sorry you have to deal with the tubes. I hadn’t realized you needed them… I know my dad had them after his by-pass but I never thought about the need here…

    Get rest!

  18. Meredith says:

    I only recently discovered your blog and I’m so glad that the surgery was a success! I think your explanation of the tubes is great. Not sure I could have come up with something that good upon just waking up.

  19. Stimey says:

    Mmmmm. Ooky. That’s a great analogy you made though, especially when called out right upon waking up. Good for you!

  20. mumof4 says:

    That was such a good way to tell him. And I shall remember it the next time I see ear wax!! I hope the pain management is going well. A bit of Arthur is good for us all now and then 🙂 Stay strong and get some rest.

  21. whymommy says:

    CGF, what a perfect reminder. I haven’t thought of that song since I was a kid. Although we did find this one today, browsing

    It made me smile from ear to ear.

    “It’s such a good feeling, to know you’re alive….”

  22. hotfessional says:

    Sweetheart, you did so excellent.

    I haven’t been able to check in recently, but I have been thinking about you and I’m so happy you’re doing so well. Because, you ARE. You had major surgery and yet, you’re teaching your children, and loving your family, and blogging! for crying out loud.

    All of my good wishes and prayers are following you around. Drains be damned.

  23. diva65(Lauren) says:

    Think you said exactly the right thing. You should call yourself Supermommy not whymommy!

  24. Dawn says:

    When I had my surgery, I came home with a Foley catheter– and I tried to hide the bag under the couch. Of course, at some point I had to get off of the couch, and the kids handled it a lot better than I ever imagined. Of course, my 3 year old was completely grossed out that I was carrying my pee around.

    So glad you’re feeling better.

  25. Marie T says:

    Can I give him a gold star because he is so understanding and caring. Give that boy some big hugs!

  26. BetteJo says:

    I never would have been quick enough to come up with something like earwax!
    Totally good enough for a little one, glad your instincts are right on – even post-surgery and post-sleep!

  27. kgirl says:

    I think they handle things so much better than we think they will. After my c-section I realized that, if I don’t seem scared or upset, she won’t either, even if she doesn’t really get it.

  28. Simple, relatable answers work best I think. It’s amazing what a three year old can understand and accept when its explained well.

    Sending hugs and good wishes to all of you!

  29. elizabeth says:

    what a great way to explain such a complicated issue. good job mommy!

  30. Imstell says:

    I have to agree with everyone! What a great explanation! I found that kids are just so accepting of everything from a bald head to drains to no boobs where there once were two just so long as our attitude when talking about them is calm and positive. Oh to be as resilient as a child again!

    And I HATED the drains more than anything else too.

  31. annette says:

    Smart analogy! Kids like to understand what’s happening around them. You made it less scary and that’s all he needed right now. I hope the post-op continues to go well.

  32. Bubba's Sis says:

    You did great! When my mom had her first breast cancer 25 years ago, she didn’t explain much of anything to us kids. My brother was pretty young – I was 12, and could have stood to know more about what was going on, but back then you just didn’t talk about it. I’m all about awareness now, and you sharing your experience is awesome and courageous! I’m praying for you every day!

  33. Monica says:

    I just found your site today. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. You did an amazingly excellent job explaining that to your preschooler. You’re such a brave mommy!

  34. That was beautiful!

    Those drains are piece of cake compared to the big picture. Hang in there, it shouldn’t be long now ….


  35. Jen says:

    Dude, brilliant. Widget is so lucky to have such a great mommy!

  36. mamatulip says:

    That’s an absolutely AWESOME way to describe it to Widget.

  37. pilgrim mom says:

    Yay Whymommy! So glad to catch up on my blog reading and find that you have made it through surgery with (if I may borrow from Monty Python) “just a flesh wound”. Go, go, go!

  38. magpie says:

    Earwax! You rock.

    I got two emails last night who was looking for information on IBC – she’d seen my PSA post about it last summer. I wrote back and directed her to your info page…I hope she finds what she needs. And I wanted to let you know that your PSA campaign is still reaching people.

  39. Maggie says:

    *Such* a good mama. Such a good mama.

  40. MP Jamison says:

    You made me laugh and cry in this post…I loved your inspired answer for your son.

    I did drains for 3 weeks post mastectomy and truly it was most annoying aspect of the whole event. Like many things, by the time you learn to manage them well they are gone.

    I spent the evening with Ginny Mason of IBC Research Foundation last night…were your ears burning? We both sent you positive energy and prayers for a speedy and successful recovery and a long cancer free life.

  41. Jacquie says:

    Smart boy, smart mommy! Lucky boys!

    Keep on truckin WM you are doing fabulous!

  42. Ally says:

    Oh, that was such a great answer. And just the amount of information that he needed. Good work!

  43. NoRegrets says:

    It’s great when you can find such a good way to relate the situation to something he knows… Hope it gets better quickly.

  44. Suzie says:

    That’s fantastic! I had four drains in and it was tough to manage. My kids asked once, but the younger two got that it was something to help mom out. For the oldest (7) we told him the real deal, but I would have loved to have had the whole ear wax thing for the little guys. Glad to hear that they yanked out the one that was hurting. 🙂

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