Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's the Deal with the Drains?

How bad can they be really?

At risk of alienating myself from patients and care-givers looking to carefully plan post-surgery recuperative care, I must say that the following illustrates how I felt when I got home from the hospital after my bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction for Stage 2 invasive breastcancer in January 2009. I was only 39 and my four children were ages 10, 7, 3 and 2.

Obviously, this is a metaphor since I’ve never had such perfectly coiffed hair or pouty bee-stung lips. I also never gave birth to eight babies. What four I did birth was done in the most inefficient manner: one at a time. However, when I got home from the hospital with four Jackson-Pratt drains hanging off me with four children waiting to hang on me some more, I could certainly empathize with *Octomom* Nadya Suleman in some minute way. Of course, my four drains came out after two weeks leaving me with just four hangers-on and she has to keep her octuplets for eighteen years so I certainly think I came out ahead even if I lost the title and she got an acreage of donated diapers.

Perhaps I am being just a bit overdramatic with this comparison. I have been known to use a little hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point in some of the writing I have done over the years to describe my exploits at parenting four high-spirited children. "Surely, the drains cannot be as bad as all that" you may be thinking. I know that I felt similarly when I was forewarned about hot flashes.
I was in my care-free days as an early thirty-something, when two children seemed like a handful and cancer was not yet in my worst nightmares, my mother-in-law would complain profusely about those damned hot-flashes brought forth by the dreaded menopause. She would then in excruciating detail, define the numerous ways she was counteracting them. I tried to be sympathetic with a nod and exclamation “Oh how terrible” and would then subtly roll my eyes thinking, “Oh right! How bad can they be?” You know what? She’s ABSOLUTELY right! Hot flashes are the devil’s curse from Eve’s wiles for which all women now all pay. I know this to be true because I continue to have them day in and day out as a side effect of my anti-estrogen post-cancer pharmacological therapy and they just plain stink. It just goes to show you to not blow off everything your wise mother-in-law tells you.

So while my interpretation here about how it feels to have four clunky tubes and drains protruding from under one's armpits may seem a little over the top, it is true. I also know that most patients don’t have a real sense of how uncomfortable and cumbersome to manage the drains can be when they are first warned about the possibility that they will have them after surgery (if they are told at all.) It’s not that plastic and breast surgeons don’t care about patients after they leave the OR, I think that it because very few of them have personally experienced what it is like to have them. That old saying about walking a mile in another’s shoes is an old saying because of the truth it beholds. I know that my doctors, who I considered the best of the best, were focused first on the matter at hand; removing the cancer and rebuilding a new and improved me. They do care about comfort in recovery but until now, the defacto solution to secure the tubing and drains for most has been the ol' safety pin.
As I prepared for my big day under the knife, my plastic surgeon told me about the commercial availability of post-surgery garments. I was handed a brochure for some I might order but I balked; they were expensive and I just couldn’t bring myself to shell out more than $50 for what seemed to be an extravagant, one-time purchase when I was already buying several button-down shirts, post-surgery bras, and pajamas on top of what promised to be crushing medical expenses for some time to come.

As fortune would have it, right before my surgery, I was blessed to receive a hand-me-down camisole that secured in the front with velcro from an angel with the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls (, a support group for young women diagnosed with breast cancer. A volunteer had made it and donated it and this woman wore it after her mastectomy that she had just a few months earlier. I had no idea what was in store for me but she said “Trust me. You will want to have this. Bring it to the hospital so you can put your drains in the pocket. The hospital won’t have anything with pockets for your drains. They will have to use (groan) safety pins.” We were in a restaurant parking lot in NW Austin and I felt as if we were conducting some covert op. She was a complete stranger but our diagnosis in common brought me this life-altering garment that I now refer to as ‘the prototype’. It served as my inspiration for an affordable and easy-to- use pocket for patients to easily and instantly stick on the garments that they either already owned or had purchased for the days following a mastectomy or breast surgery. I know that the big comfort these small pockets provided saved my sanity in a world punctured by pain pills, wound dressings, useless limbs, and the prospect of chemo and imminent hair loss. I want everyone facing such an uphill climb to have an easy and affordable way to recover to face the next summit.

It’s no small thing to start a business after recovering from a cancer diagnosis and certainly not when you have a household of four busy children to manage and a husband who travels for work. I’m the chauffeur, cook, laundry slave, dog walker, cat-box-changer, and all-around-logistics guru despite having much of my brain cells compromised by chemo and early-onset menopause. What keeps me going on this entrepreneurial adventure most days is the common refrain from breast cancer survivors who, upon learning about Pink Pockets, exclaim “Wow! What a great idea! I wish I had them when I had my surgery. The drains are the worst!” I am also especially encouraged when a past customer purchases them for another loved-one facing the same diagnosis because they know that Pink Pockets will help in their recovery. That, to me, is the ultimate testimonial.

A cancer diagnosis can spin the trajectory of one’s life in a completely different direction and I have met an amazing number of women and men like me who have been motivated to serve in this ‘space’ in either a non-profit endeavor or various others-centered projects. It is really amazing the number of ways that one can find to give back or pay-it-forward and that has been one of the best parts of my life after cancer: seeing the ingenuity and selfless efforts put forth in the hope for a cure and better treatments. One wise woman I met who started an incredible non-profit remarked that Pink Pockets are a great invention. “You will never get rich with them” she predicted and she may be right but that isn’t thepoint. While I am humbled every day about what I don’t know about starting and running a business, what I do know is this: Pink Pockets have been shipped all across the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and Trinidad and have served in a teeny, tiny way to help someone at what might likely be the worst time of their life. Perspective is everything after a cancer diagnosis. It’s not a cure. It’s not a treatment. It’s just a pocket but sometimes it is the small comforts that can make the greatest difference.

Diane, Creator of Pink Pockets
"It isn't what you have in your pocket that matters but what you have in your heart." Author Unknown

1 comment:

Joann Mannix said...

What a heartwarming post! To create this noble thing, to bring good to women during some of their hardest moments.

I can't even imagine how difficult a drain must be. Just the word "drain" and the thought of that in one's body, makes me wince.

God bless you and your beautiful endeavor. What an amazing blessing you must be to those in need.