In the last instalment of my stage 1 breast cancer journey – I had just received The Letter – and had an appointment to go and talk with the surgeon about my treatment.
So it was back to the Primrose Breast Care Centre and there I was met by a Primrose nurse and, having dis-robed my top half, was decked in a pink mini-cape. The surgeon then joined us to examine the problem.
To start with, I think the amount of bruising was exceptional, the Primrose nurse said ‘Oh my’ and she must see it all. I was asked twice if I was on any blood thinners – like aspirin. I am not.** see below **
I have to say that there were now two hard lumps, one about the size of half a marble, the other slightly smaller, that had come up with the bruising. I had put this down to the two sites of sampling, but when the surgeon said that the cancer sites (lumps) were quite palpable I had to say that they were not until the biopsy!
From the scan they had looked quite deep, but I was told they were here, where these two ‘now palpable’ lumps were, therefore not far beneath the skin.
What can I say… if these, not-deep cancers, were not able to be felt – what chance to feel any deep-set ones! Yet the mammogram found them! So, as I said last week, if you get the call to the mammogram – GO!
Once dressed we met again to discuss the treatment, which had already been discussed with the medical team and a recommendation made. This was to remove the two lumps (a lumpectomy) along with a margin of cancer-free breast and also to remove one or more sentinel lymph nodes from just into my armpit.
Both the lumps and the nodes would be examined to check that there were no cancer cells, a, on the clear margin around the lumps and b, in the lymph nodes. If this is the case then, after time for healing, we can go forward to the next stage of treatment – three weeks of radiotherapy.
** I thought I would look up the non-prescribed supplements that I take – in case any of these are blood-thinners… Cod liver oil, Vitamin D (used from October to May – while the sun isn’t strong enough to make vitamin D in the skin) Glucosamine and Chondroitin, Magnesium glycinate (half daily recommended dose) 3mg Boron, Vitamin B complex. The internet offered so much that was confusing and contradictory that I had another idea! No. 3 son is the one with the PhD in microbiology and works in a business that works with pharmaceutical companies – so I asked him. He came back with ‘there a whole lot of stuff that’s contradictory out there’, but, Chondroitin and Magnesium have scientific evidence of acting as blood thinners. Nothing wrong with this usually, but not good if you would like to avoid bruising. So I cut out both for a week before the operation **
The Operation Day
Another early morning – I really don’t do early very well but I was up early enough to shower and eat my usual breakfast one-egg omelette (breakfast was allowed as long as it was eaten before 7 – as my operation wasn’t until later in the afternoon).
The Husband dropped me off at the hospital at about 7.45am (about the time I start to wake up usually) and I made my way to my first stop – the Primrose Centre. I was armed for my waits with my kindle and a downloaded copy of Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Fifth Elephant’ – something easy to read, funny and distracting. I didn’t have much time to get stuck in as, within a couple of minutes of my appointment time, a nurse took me through to go through paperwork with me – mainly about the exercises to do after the operation and when and how to remove, or have the dressings removed, when the time came. A few minutes more and it was an ultrasound scan – from the same radiologist – who then drew on my breast to indicate the precise areas of the lumps as guided by the scan.
From there I had to head down to Nuclear Medicine – where a blue radioactive dye was injected into my breast so that it would flow through to the sentinel lymph nodes – whereby they could be made visible to the surgeon.
As it happens, I then had a two hour wait until I was due at my next appointment venue – the ward where I would go through all the preparations, checks and paperwork prior to the operation itself. It was a beautiful sunny day, if with a cool wind, so I set off to walk down behind the hospital to where I had seen a pond marked on trips with my Dad to the lowest areas of the hospital where the radiotherapy department is tucked away. The pond had both tadpoles and fish, which were diverting to watch for a few minutes, and a seat in a sunny spot that was ideal for reading, and chuckling, over Pratchett’s story.
Later, after waiting between being ‘seen’ (that saw me reading and chuckling to myself – over the book I was reading – other waiting patients probably thought me mad) and after blood-pressure taking nurse, chat with surgeon, who further annotated my chest with arrows pointing to armpit and breast, and finally the anaesthetist, it was – get changed! Oh yes, and pop on these pressure stockings! SO tight to get on – even when I read the tiny instructions and did it the right way – yes, I have well-developed calves! Then the usual, oh so elegant, hospital gown and then, my flash red ‘silk’ with-Peacocks-and-Chinese-blossoms-all-over-it dressing-gown, to cover it all. Well you have to look bright sometimes … and off we went for a little walk to the prep-room, to be administered the anaesthetic >>> . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . … and woozily I was called back to the world. And the fun began. I had said to the anaesthetist that I didn’t do well with general anaesthetics – well the last time I had them – over 24 years ago. I was, confidently, told that anaesthetics had moved on since then.
Hmm, not for me it hadn’t. So they gave me an antiemetic (anti-sickness drug) to dissolve under my tongue – then tried with the sips of water again …. OOops no go!! I guess, finding me coherent, if still sick, they decided I was fine to go into the next stage of recovery, where, nibbled ginger biscuits and sips of water were tried … OOoops! no go! So it was that they gave me an intravenous antiemetic … then a cup of tea! Down in sips – and …. OOOOps out again!
Seems my body still doesn’t like anaesthetics! By now the woman who came in well after me was happily feasting on tea and sandwiches! So – this aspect is just how it affects me! They decided they’d call the Husband anyway as it was getting late … which they did … and sent me off with him, a couple of packets of pain-killers and a sick bowl!
Next morning I was fine – managed to eat quite happily! I also polished off the rest of the Pratchett as I didn’t feel up to doing much else! I took a couple of pictures – so that anyone interested in what the operation looked like at this stage can compare, should they need to. Not much additional bruising to be seen, just in two places. The dark bruising towards the nipple is still what remains from the biopsy – and nothing to do with the operation. (note: my phone doesn’t have a ‘selfie’ camera, just an away facing one, so it makes taking these pics tricky!)
This is also the morning to begin the exercises – and though the dressings pulled the skin they were attached to – these were fine, not actually hurting. Certainly worth doing to make sure flexibility and strength are maintained!
The First Six Days
All week it has been sore! I’ve been taking one paracetamol and one ibuprofen every four or five hours – and that includes half-way through the night when the ache/pain woke me. A few days I found I just had to go and lie down, and easily slipped into a doze. An hour later I woke feeling much refreshed. Maybe this is the effect of the painkillers (medicines I rarely take and then usually only one at a time or they knock me out) or the healing process I do not know – but it’s good to listen to your own body and follow it’s instructions!
Wearing a bra overnight is weird – but recommended and I would say it does help support, and therefore not pull, on the operation sites. A bra-extender was recommended to counteract the tightness of your usual bra brought on by the swelling from the operation. As I’d not thought about it until a bit late, I constructed my own from an old bra, cutting the two fastenings off and sewing them back together – it has worked really well, making the bra far more comfortable! For anyone who thinks about it earlier they are easily available on eBay or Amazon.
I was told to remove the waterproof dressings on day seven . Options were given a, do it yourself, b go into a practice nurse to have it done, or c, if you were worried or had extensive surgery (like a mastectomy) to go back into the Primrose to have it removed. I opted for a.
Then, in the shower, the steri-strips all peeled off. Leaving the naked lines of the cuts visible. Not too bad looking, though the one under the arm feels lumpy, and the waterproof dressings had started to irritate my skin and cause a rash. Both cuts are about 5 cms long. The bruising from the operation has also faded a bit now – though there’s still some from the biopsy. Whether this was because I’d cut out the magnesium and Chondratin or because there is less force in an operation, I do not know.
So this is where I am, recovering …
… and I hope that this has been of some use to anyone facing the same level of diagnosis. As I said – I’m blogging this experience to help anyone else going through it, now or in the future, to have some kind of comparison – as most blogs seem to be about the worst cases – rather than the early ones.
Thank you if you emailed me with kind words, they are appreciated.
Thoughts, Comments, Questions – All are welcome, you know I love to hear from you.
Best – Ann
ps If you are reading this on email and would like to comment just click onto the title and it will take you to the actual blog – so you can comment there 🙂
pps If it is the first time you have written a comment don’t worry if it doesn’t appear immediately, your first comment has to be verified (to keep the spam-bots out) and I do this personally – so I am sure to see your comment – thanks for reading – Ann