Monday, June 8, 2020

Surgery and recovery

Hi friends, I wanted to do a post to let you know where we are at with my melanoma journey. The last time I posted, I shared the news that I had been diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma when a lymph node biopsy next to the melanoma site in my neck came back positive for cancer cells.

A full-body PET CT scan then showed us that the melanoma had spread into at least three of the closest lymph nodes, as well as to my parotid gland (which produces saliva), so I was booked in for a left partial parotidectomy, a selective lymph node dissection of all the lymph nodes on the left in levels 2 to 5 of my face and neck - around 50 of them, and the removal of some of my shoulder muscle.

That surgery took place two weeks ago at North Shore Hospital.

When my surgeon first described the surgery to me, I was so overwhelmed that I thought I was going to vomit. That feeling lasted for about 24 hours, but I was covered by so much prayer that God's peace soon replaced my fear and I didn't feel anxious again, even as I was wheeled into surgery.
Paul and I having our last hug before surgery.
If you have prayed for me at any point during this time, thank you. Really, truly. Thank you. Your prayers are getting me through this.
Upon hearing I was having surgery, our wonderful church set up a meal train for my family, so that Paul wouldn't have to worry about cooking meals while I was in hospital, or for the two weeks after that either. Other friends saw the link and jumped in on the meal train, so my family has been enjoying the delicious provision of many wonderful home cooks these past weeks. We have enough leftovers and meals in the freezer now, that we probably won't have to cook for another three weeks after the meal train ends.

This has been a real blessing because my energy levels have been low since surgery and Paul has had to do everything around here. I find myself falling asleep at odd times during the day. It's all part of the healing process, I guess.

People who live too far away to cook for us have sent flowers and care packages instead, which have been so wonderful and have really boosted our spirits as a family. My kids keep saying, "Wow Mum, you're so loved!" And I've really felt that love during this time. Thank you everyone who has blessed us with gifts or messages of love.
After surgery, recovering in my ward. 
Paul's mum stayed with our family while I was in hospital, so she could homeschool the kids and Paul could visit me.

I spent four nights in hospital after the surgery, in a room I shared with three other ladies. Sharing a room provided me with something to think about besides myself, which was good as I was too tired to read or do anything else to pass the time. My legs were fitted with massaging cuffs to help prevent blood cots, so I was pretty well tied to the bed except for when I got unstrapped to visit the toilet.

I quite liked having my own massage therapist machine. I called it Sven.

The hardest thing about sharing a room was that my sleep was very interrupted. When one of the other ladies had a rough night, we were all kept awake. It was hard for me to hear other people suffer. I wanted to be able to help, but couldn't do much more than pray.

I greatly admired the nurses who were able to deal with everyone's pain in such a steadfast and compassionate manner. I did manage to fall asleep easily and often while in hospital, but my sleeps were quite short. I had two drains in my neck, which put pressure on my throat, so I found it best to sleep upright. I loved that my hospital bed had controls which allowed me to move it into a sitting position with the push of a button. I missed the bed when I came home, if nothing else from hospital.
Paul visited me in hospital every day. (I was only allowed one visitor a day because of COVID 19.) He was a good visitor, because if I looked tired, he told me to go to sleep.
Eating a superfood chia seed pudding that Paul made. 
He also brought me nourishing homemade chicken stock, superfood collagen enhanced smoothies and superfood chia seed puddings from home to help me heal. And when we realised we couldn't get them in the hospital, he also brought me liposomal vitamin C and Spatone iron supplements. I had the misfortune of getting my period on the day of surgery, so I had that to deal with on top of everything else, and my iron gets low at the best of times. (Sorry if that was TMI.) Spatone really helps boost my iron levels, and it doesn't make me nauseous like some other iron supplements do.
Here's a look at my suture lines and my puffy post-surgery face on my last day in hospital. I wasn't allowed to use shampoo or conditioner on my hair, so I had just washed it with water and that wasn't cutting the mustard. Greasy hair is the worst! I felt so gross.

My pain levels haven't been too bad. The surgical area is mostly numb, although I'm now starting to get electric shock type feelings as nerves reactivate, especially across my chest.
One of the things I was worried about, going into surgery, was whether the surgeons would have to cut my nerves to get access to the cancer. The two that were most at risk were the nerve that controls my lower lip and the accessory nerve that controls my shoulder. Thank God, neither nerve was severed, although the tumour had to be peeled off the nerve that controls my lip, so it is still in shock. When I smile broadly, my whole mouth moves to the right because my nerve doesn't pull back on the left. The surgeons are hopeful this will recover in time.

My left eye has also been weak since surgery. I'm not able to close it as tightly as the right, and it gets blurry quite often. This seems to be resolving though, as my facial swelling reduces.
Last Wednesday, I met with one of the doctors on my surgeon's team. He gave me the pathology results from my surgery. Cancer had spread into levels 2 and 3 of my neck, but not 4 and 5. This is reasonably good news, as it means we are hopefully ahead of the spread of cancer. Of course, with melanoma, there can still be stem cells floating around, so I'll need some kind of treatment going forward to deal with those.

My melanoma nurse took my stitches out at the same appointment last week, so I've been held together by steri-strips ever since. The suture line is healing really well. It's in the natural crease of my neck, so I don't think it will be very noticeable at all.
Today I washed my hair with shampoo and conditioner, and it felt amazing! It really lifted my spirits. Greasy hair was getting me down.

Tomorrow, I have a Zoom physiotherapy appointment, which I'm looking forward to as my left shoulder gets very sore if I use it and I have limited motion in my neck. Here's hoping my physiotherapist will be able to work her magic on me. I also hope I'll be able to have in-person physio appointments soon, now that we're moving to Level 1 here in New Zealand.

On Wednesday, I'll be meeting with my surgeon to discuss medical treatments going forward. While I'm there, I also hope he elects to remove my remaining drain, as it's a real bother. We've been waiting for my outputs to get below 20mls in 24 hours, but they're sitting pretty steady at about twice that amount. I know I'll be a lot more comfortable once the drain is out.

And I think that's all my news for now. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Thank you again for all your support and prayers. We are being carried along by your love and God's goodness.


  1. Thank you for sharing. Love reading your writing. You are strong and courageous. Love to you and your family from Jeypore.

    1. Thank you! My love to you and yours too. Xx

  2. Wow Emma you sure have been through huge battle but God Is at your side as you say and The Keys Of Victory are in His Mighty Faithful and Trustworthy Hands!
    Love & Blessings Surround you and Paul and Family.
    As The Lord comes to you with Healing in His Wings and His alert to call all us lot to action
    Prayers & Praises for you continue 24/7.
    Love Aunty Re

    Psalm 126:5 Nahum 1:7 John 10:28

    1. Thanks Aunty Re. I love the keys of victory image!

  3. Darling Emma your last two weeks and all the tests and waiting prior to that have been very difficult terrain to climb indeed. But you have chosen to hold on to God's faithfulness. You have a strong faith in Jesus and a beautiful trusting spirit. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. The women's group are loving the Lisa Harper bible study you chose for us. Can't wait to see you in person. The meal train has finished but the prayer train has not.


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