anesthesia, breast cancer, breast surgeon, cancer, Cancer Kitten, Cathy, Dana Farber, DCIA, Failkner Hospital, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Lumpectomy, nipple sparing, pathology, plastic surgeon, radiologist, sentinel lymph node biopsy, Sentinel Lymph Node Incision, Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma, wire localization procedure, young woman with breast cancer
When I woke up from surgery, I asked the surgeon a question, she answered, then I repeated the question. I wish I remembered what I asked, and how many times she actually responded…
My first memory post-surgery occurred in the second recovery room. I looked at the clock and saw that it said 6:15, and I thought to myself “they need to put a new battery in that thing.” I was supposed to be out of surgery at 2, and I figured I’d be lucid by 3. I love that my post-anesthesia mind assumed that I was more on top of such things than the hospital employees. I asked my nurse (my “best friend”) to bring Bing in, and she told me that Bing wasn’t there, that my surgery took much longer than expected and he had to leave. She asked me if I was ready to get dressed, and I said yes, so she helped me put on a lovely “medical bra” which differentiates itself from normal bras with its plethora of velcro and loop features. Then she had me stand up to change out of my surgery garb. I remember seeing my boobs and noticing that rightie was a bit smaller than leftie for the first time in (my long term) memory.
She had me plop down in a wheelchair, and asked me if I wanted crackers and a drink, and of course I said yes, I never say no to food unless it’s meaty, then I make a disgusted face and say no thank you, I don’t eat meat. My best friend/nurse then asked me if I was ready to go home, and I said yes (duh). I asked her to bring Bing in, and she told me that Bing wasn’t there, that my surgery took much longer than expected and he had to leave (gotta love anesthesia). My mom and Kristin came in to see me. They explained to me for the 13th time that a wire was lost in me and the surgeon called them at 3 to say that the surgery was going to take longer than expected, and Bing had to leave for work. “Oh ya, that’s right.” I responded.
I read my surgery notes about a week after my surgery. Apparently, the lower wire from the wire localization procedure migrated into my pectoralis muscle while the doctors were performing the first part of the surgery (the sentinel lymph node biopsy and removing the DCIS area). This is NOT a normal occurence! In fact, I think it was a first for Dr. Carter. Radiology was called to take images to locate the runaway wire. Then, they cut through my pectoralis muscle to retrieve the wire, and accidentally cut the wire. They retrieved the lower half of the wire, but the other half continued its migration up my body. Eventually, the doctors determined that they needed to reopen the incision for the lymph node biopsy and retrieve the remainder of the wire via that, um, hole. They checked the amount of wire they had against the radiology images to be certain that they retrieved it all, which they had.
The good news is, the pathologist contacted Dr. Carter while this was happening and told her that my lymph nodes were cancer-free. Although the doctors haven’t told me a “stage,” the pathology report says the “firm area” is 2.2 cm x 1.8 x 1.4. I believe given all of this information, I have Stage IIA breast cancer, where my the tumor is greater than 2 cm and has not left the breast. If the DCIS is included in staging, then I have Stage IIB, as the cancerous area is greater than 5cm. (***addendum: I have Stage 1 breast cancer, per Dr. Parker. So much for trying to play doctor!)
The nurse rolled me out of the recovery room and to the front of the hospital. Kristin pulled her Jeep around and the nurse helped me into the car, clutching my brand-new hospital pillow (yuck, I know). We started off and I immediately told Kristin to stop and roll down the window, I felt nauseous. I sat there for a long minute, feeling a nausea that I thought would never end, and then I burped and returned to my anesthetic euphoria for the rest of the ride.
Everyone was hungry and had a long day of waiting for me, so we grabbed take-out Italian on the way home. Dr. Carter explicitly told me before surgery that I could eat bland food, mainly crackers, that night and could resume a normal diet the following day. I wasn’t having it. I think I ate 8 pieces of really buttery garlic bread, propped up in a recliner in Mooie’s living room, plus some yummy pasta-eggplant thing. It was heavenly, and I did not get sick.
All movement hurt, especially any movement of my right arm. Kristin was my little home nurse, and committed everything that the nurse and doctor told her and my mom to memory. She was adamant that I follow their directions. She even slept next to me that first night, to help me should I need anything in the middle of the night, and I think to make sure I didn’t stray from the the doctor’s orders. =)
I kept an ice pack on my incision sites nearly full-time for three days post-op, and my arm resting on a pillow. I was extremely sore, but took my pain meds regularly, before I started to feel much pain. Even my stomach muscles were sore, and I have no idea why. Maybe it was because whenever I sat up, I used my stomach and not my arms? (Am I normally that lazy?) I took the large bandages off two nights after my surgery. I had bruising underneath my right boob and along my side which only lasted for a few days before dissipating. Some parts of my side and underarm were and still are a bit numb. I had a little bit of lymphedema, but it was gone 3 weeks after surgery.
Rightie herself was pleasantly plump for the first two weeks. I felt like I had a new fake boob, and was not complaining! Now she is reducing to normal size. Rightie is still sore and feels quite different-lumpy even. I am interested to see how she is when healing is complete. I still haven’t taken off the smaller steri-strip bandages from my areola. My nipple is pulled tight on the inside, so it’s angled a bit straighter than it was before. My boob has a slightly squared-off droop to it now. Overall, there is asymmetry, but it’s not too shabby!
I don’t think I could be luckier in this situation (knock on wood). Honestly, I just can’t believe that Dr. Carter was able to perform a successful lumpectomy (margins were good!) through an incision around my areola. Every doctor I spoke with prepared me to have a mastectomy, Dr. Carter included, given the extent of the tissue requiring removal. The pathology report said that I had a 7.1 cm x 9.8 cm x 2.3 cm fragment of breast tissue removed. To think that she was confident attempting a lumpectomy (nipple-sparing procedure), and performed it in such an aesthetic way…well it’s pretty amazing to me, and I am grateful everyday. I almost feel like I cried wolf about my breast cancer (but not quite).
I had follow-up visits with Dr. Carter and Dr. Talbot a week after surgery (I really had to push Dr. Carter to see me after a week and not closer to two), and they were both very happy with my recovery. I hopped on a plane the next morning, homeward bound to Colorado.
So many people reached out with incredible gestures of kindness during my recovery! Thank you to everyone who sent emails, texts, phone calls, cards, cancer advice, chocolate-covered strawberries, flowers, comfort bras, camisoles, and books. I still have a million return calls to make and thank you notes to write! And of course, thank you to my family (Kristin included) who tolerated my home invasion(s) for a couple of weeks! If you miss my butt imprint on your couch, don’t worry, I’ll be back. We still have fertility, chemo, and radiation to go!
My cousin enjoying a surgery gift:
The cutest (and most appropriate) flower arrangement EVER:
The girls, post-lumpectomy, in a sexy medical bra. (This is a mirror pic).
Here’s rightie on Thursday, two days after surgery.
Bruising on Saturday, four days post-surgery:
My lymph node incision site, which was re-opened during surgery. This is three weeks post-op. I think it looks amazing. Thank you, Dr. Talbot!
Here is the incision with a better indication of its scale to my body. It fits right into the fold of my underarm, so only the end of it is visible when my arm is resting by my side.