On Oct 8th 2020, 4 weeks and 4 days before celebrating my 17th year of being cancer-free, I underwent a “Mandibulectomy Free Flap Jawbone Replacement” surgery. It was a 12-hour surgery and 3 separate teams of surgeons operated on me simultaneously.
Preparing and planning for any surgery is quite the task. Though for me, it was the first time I had to prepare and plan ahead for my two young children and husband during my hospitalization. This would be the first time I would be away from my children since they were born.
My husband and I were fortunate to have a few weeks to create a new plan for the period of time I would be away. We implemented the following plan to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, an enjoyable daily routine for our children.
1. Maintaining a Regular Schedule with Charts.
I made 3 charts to provide a general outline of: 1) Morning Routine for children and my usual laundry list of “to dos” for my husband. 2) Weekly chart detailing daily school schedules and activities. 3) Bedtime Routines.
2. Daily Count Down Treasure Hunt!
Thanks to the Dollar store and Costco I made small gift bags filled with their favorite sweets, dollar store puzzles, bubbles, chalk, balloons and either a new inexpensive gadget or small toy. Each gift bag had a corresponding number on a little piece of paper to place on their count-down chart. The children had something fun to look forward to every morning and were able to count down the days till my return.
3. Video Recordings.
I recorded silly jokes that they could view after dinner every night and bedtime stories to enjoy with their Dad until I came home to provide some type of regular interaction with me while I was away.
4. Open and Honest Communication.
We openly communicated with our children explaining why I needed the surgery and answered their questions. We also assured them that even though I would be in the hospital, they were going to have so much fun with their Dad until I returned home.
5. Maintaining a sense of normalcy and security.
We both felt this was are essential. We asked our close friends to set up weekly playdates after school. There is nothing better for children than being able to laugh and play with their favorite pals!
6. Create new sleeping arrangements!
Depending on the age of your children consider changing it up! For our children, we decided that they would have a fun sleepover by rotating nights in each other’s room until I returned!!! If your children are older, consider camping inside together with cozy blowup mattresses and sleeping bags! Bedtime routine did not change, but now it would be more fun!
7. Care for your caregiver.
My husband works and was about to become a single [superhero] dad for nearly a month. Therefore, before I had my surgery, I made him an appointment to see the chiropractor and enjoy a deep tissue massage. While I was in the hospital, I set up a weekly cleaning service to tidy up our home. A simple handwritten note or text saying, “Thank you. I appreciate your help. I love you.” means a lot! Small gestures of gratitude and support are always appreciated.
8. Do not be reluctant to ask for help when needed and streamline communication.
We are fortunate to have a wonderful family and great friends that were ready to help. My husband told them if he needed anything he would be in touch. We also told family and friends that my husband would update them with a group email or text nightly. It streamlined updates and ensured everyone was on the same page. It also ensured that both my husband and RN’s on the hospital floor were not being deluged by multiple phone calls.
9. Returning home:
Integrate and be as a family. When I returned home my children were very worried about me and concerned that I was in pain. We sat on the sofa and allowed them to ask questions. Since I cannot talk, my husband answered their questions. They gently touched my new scars and examined my new wounds. Throughout the day they asked more questions. By dinner time, they could see that I was okay and in the process of healing. Allow your children time to adjust, inquire, and get settled.
Celebrate your return and reunion with your loved ones! Depending on your surgery and physical restrictions, turn on the music, play board games and let your children dance! Every day focus on regaining your health and enjoy time with the ones you love.