So, you’ve heard about chemo, and you’ve heard about radiation (so weird!), and now it’s time to learn about surgery. I’m gonna warn you upfront, this is way grosser than anything else I have described, so if you’re squeamish about bodily fluids, you’re gonna want to skip this post.
Alright, the rest of you non-squeamish types still with me? Right, here we go.
Before surgery, I was scared shitless, as I am about any kind of surgery–what if something goes wrong and I die on the operating table–and on top of that, I cried an awful lot about losing a breast. I was terrified that every time I looked at myself, and saw the scar where my breast used to be, I would have to be reminded of The Cancer. I was pretty much a mess.
Then a few days before surgery, I got sick with a sore throat. No fever or cough, just a sore throat, but man did it hurt like a motherfucker. So, I went to urgent care the Sunday before surgery, and they looked at it and said “Dude, your uvula is like 3 times the size it should be, let’s get you on antibiotics.” Then I really started to panic, because what if I had to postpone surgery? The only thing I could think of worse than having a mastectomy was postponing having a mastectomy. But luckily, the antibiotics helped immensely, and I was able to go forward with surgery after all. I think getting sick helped with my attitude toward surgery, or at least distracted me from my fears.
So, the big day came, and off we went to the hospital. My doc ended up having her morning surgery run long, so mine was delayed an hour, which was not fun. Lying in a hospital gown for that long, waiting for things to start, just was not helpful to my mood. But, then it was finally go time, and they gave me some kind of drug that they said would relax me…and that’s the last thing I remember, I don’t even remember them wheeling me down the hall to the operating room. The next thing I knew, I was in recovery and feeling really nauseous, but even that is kind of a dim blurry memory. And then they wheeled me to my room for the night.
At this point I want to give a shout out to the world of nurses. Because all of the nurses I met this stay were awesome. 9 weeks of The Boy in the NICU and we met maybe 2 nurses we didn’t like in that whole time. I mean seriously, how awesome are nurses, that practically every one you meet is kind and hard-working and just generally awesome? However much they pay you guys, you deserve more.
My mastectomy was a modified radical mastectomy with ancillary lymph gland removal. That means they took the whole breast, along with the lymph glands in my armpit area that are part of the breast system. Now, if you don’t take out the lymph glands, I hear pain after a mastectomy isn’t that bad because they take all the nerves out too. But if they take the lymph glands, there are still nerves in that area, so that’s the most painful part, and that’s what it was like for me. They gave me oxycodone and Tylenol to manage the pain, and the oxy definitely made me groggy and sleepy.
And now, here is the gross part. During the first part of the healing process, you have drains attached you. Like, they put a tube from the incision site from the boob, and the incision site from the lymph glands, and those tubes drain into bulb thingies that look like a grenade, only see-through and rubbery. And in that grenade, it starts out with red stuff, like, not thick like blood, it’s more watery than that, but it’s red like blood. Eventually it gets less red and more yellowish. And so, a few times a day, you have to empty the drains, and measure how much came out.
It takes like a week or two for most patients to drain before there’s a small enough amount of fluid coming out that you don’t need the drains anymore. And then you go to your doctor and they remove them. I got my first drain out at my post-op appointment 8 days after surgery, and when the drain came out, it was a very weird feeling, not painful but just weird, like, you can feel the tubing moving in there. Creepy. As of the writing of this, the other drain hasn’t come out yet, but it should be ready very soon.
Now, in addition to the drains, there was quite a bit of stuff wrapped around me when I came home from the hospital. Specifically, the outer layer was a giant ace bandage, then under there was gauzy stuff covered in tape, then under that were steristrips over the incision. And of course the drains, which had gauze around them. If I wanted a shower, I had to put some plastic stuff over the drains, so as not to let them get wet. The plastic stuff was basically like peel and stick Saran Wrap sheets. You can actually use regular Saran Wrap, they said, but I used the things they gave me. I didn’t feel like showering much since I wasn’t leaving the house and I was sore.
My doctor says I am recovering beautifully, and that the pathology report was good news–the chemo had done such a number on the tumors that only scattered cancer cells were left. Everything else from the tumor was just scar tissue. I still wear out pretty easily–a 20 minute trip to Target means a 3 hour nap later. And I’m still pretty sore, and my arm is pretty weak–I’ll be having PT for that later. But, all of this is normal, and I am on track to be screaming on a roller coaster with The Boy at Disneyland in a month…and after that, we do some more cancer-killing.