After my unilateral mastectomy (one breast removed) last week I went home with a big dressing on my chest and underarm, two drain tubes, and two pages of post-op instructions from my surgeon. I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the instructions for activities of daily living!
My biggest laugh came from the idea of resuming regular activities such as household chores…the joke is that I don’t really do much of that normally. It is really easy to return to regular activities when that only involves watching tv, playing Pokemon, and using the computer.
A couple things I really liked from the instructions are;
“The psychological recovery can be much harder, and you will get mentally better faster once you realize you are not ‘sick’.” This one was not really funny but definitely true. I don’t know if I am psychologically recovered or not, but other than some discomfort which seemed to be more due to the tape on the dressing and the drain tubes than the surgery itself, I am definitely not sick from the surgery.
“If there is a drain in place, you must avoid excessive use of the affected arm as it can result in increased fluid production and prolonged drainage. (i.e. don’t mow the lawn or wallpaper the bathroom).” This was primarily funny because of the unlikeliness of me exercising excessively, mowing the lawn, and definitely not wallpapering any room in the house.
One week later I have no more dressings, just the skin damage the tape does to me, no more drains, a line of paper tape over the incision site, a multicoloured bruise, and a new asymmetrical look. Today I have an appointment to go over the pathology report and then I’m going out with a good friend.
I had my first meeting with the surgeon on Halloween day. At that point I was expecting to hear about surgery and then follow-up. Tom and I went together and were rather nervous. I had heard awesome things about the doctor, and that she was very direct.
When she came in she sat on the stool beside the examination table, I was in the chair by the end. She introduced herself and then said, “For you, a picture will be wort 1000 words!” She proceeded to explain my cancer and MRI results by drawing a diagram on the paper that covers the table. She also had a book for me and turned down 6 pages for things she thought I would want more information about, and used the book to help things make sense.
When I walked in, I knew that there was carcinoma, some contained in a duct, and some that was invading into nearby tissue. The new news was that the whole breast was involved and that in its current state surgery was not possible. There were also three lymph nodes involved and two spots on my liver (though she said they were probably cysts). I felt like I had been kicked or something.
My heart really sank when she said I would need chemo! She went through things in great detail and I understand why the chemo is necessary, shrinking things to the stage at which surgery would be possible. So, surgery wise, I will eventually have a modified radical mastectomy. “A modified radical mastectomy removes lymph nodes in the underarm area in addition to the entire breast and nipple.” For more info.
Along with this surgery information she called the chemotherapy oncologist I would be seeing to find out what other tests she would need done. Hence the lymph node biopsy, CT scan, Bone Scan. For more info. And thus began the crazy making waiting again as I waited first to hear when the tests were scheduled, then when results would be in, and finally when I would meet my oncologists…
I believe I mentioned earlier that humour is one of the ways many of us handle tough times. Please know that I do not actually take breast cancer lightly and that my experiences and thoughts are not meant in any way as judgement on others with this disease!
After my appointment with my family doctor it was time to share the news with my husband, children, and siblings. I would have given anything to be able to call my mum to talk about things, but that was no longer possible. I called my husband and he called our son. When I got home I told my daughters.
I pointed out to the girls that it wasn’t as if the breast was essential to survival. Having breastfed when they were babies, they were no longer of any practical use. We talked about how it was the most common form of breast cancer and that meant that doctors had tons of experience dealing with it. When we finished talking they went back downstairs.
Later on when they were both upstairs I said to them, “At least I won’t have to wear a bra anymore!” They both broke out laughing. They looked at each other and said, “That’s the first thing we said to each other when we went downstairs!”
These are the words I was expecting to hear from the doctor when I saw her 11 days later. They didn’t really illicit much of a reaction. She told me that I had both in-situ and invasive ductal carcinoma. She said that I was referred to a very good surgeon and that after surgery I would likely have radiation. She even gave me a copy of the lab reports.
Other than telling me the general plan, my doctor explained that I would be mostly in the hands of cancer experts for my treatment, but that she would be there for any other needs I had. She said I was a VIP and that if I needed anything I should call and they would get me in as soon as possible. I said, “Woo hoo, I’ve always wanted to be a VIP!” Humour and sarcasm are my default settings.
She told me she would have to rely on me to let her know how I was doing, because I was hard to read, and then she gave me a hug, “For this I give hugs.”