What to Expect After Mastectomy
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"Microcalcifications. Bilateral lymphadenopathy. No suspicious lumps. Biopsy recommended." Yes, I could have ignored it being
that the report read no suspicious lumps, but considering my mom was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer five years earlier, I pursued
The biopsy confirmed my fears, "DCIS high grade II-III; ER+ 80%, PR+ 80%". DCIS stands for ductal carcinoma in situ.
In other words, I had precancer confined to the mammary duct. As my doctor explained, DCIS can mutate and turn into invasive cancer
or it can sit there for the rest of my life. But considering it was high grade, my chances of it turning into invasive cancer were
The doctor recommended a mastectomy to be followed by an implant as opposed to a lumpectomy. He stated the area of microcalifications
was large and a lumpectomy would leave me deformed. What's more, he stated if I were his wife or loved one, a mastectomy in my case,
would be the course of action he'd recommend. Being that his mother had breast cancer, I sincerely believed his concern.
prepped for the mastectomy was painful. I was wheeled to nuclear medicine, had a radioactive tracer injected around my nipple, then
waited under the machine for 45 minutes so pictures could be taken of the sentinel nodes. The painful part was when the technician
injected the dye around my nipple= north, south, east, west.
The purpose of locating the sentinel nodes (the first lymph nodes)
is to detect cancer cells. During surgery, the doctor performed a "frozen section" biopsy by removing the first two sentinel nodes.
He then rushed them to pathology and five minutes later it was confirmed that the nodes were clear of cancer cells. This meant no
more lymph nodes were to be removed and I possibly did not have invasive cancer. Only a final biopsy could confirm that.
the lymph nodes were negative for cancer cells, the mastectomy proceeded on. The procedure I had was a nipple-sparing mastectomy.
Considering I had "clean margins" to the outside of my left breast (as opposed to dirty margins), my nipple was saved.
expander, with an injection port, was inserted under the skin and muscle to create a pocket for an implant to be placed at a later
time. Its expected to visit the doctor every couple of weeks to have sterile saline injected into the tissue expander to gradually
increase the size of the pocket. When it matches the size of the other breast, another surgery will be planned to install the implant
while removing the tissue expander. As stated by my doctor, the tissue expander can remain in place for up to two years. The longer
the wait the better because it allows for the skin and muscle to slowly stretch, relax, and heal for a better outcome.
overnight in the hospital and my mom stayed with me because I needed much help, even going to the bathroom. I was sent home the next
day with a JP drain, bandages, ace wrap, anti-nausea meds, and pain meds.
The purpose of the JP drain is to pull excess fluid
from the surgical site so as to prevent it from collecting in the area. It must be emptied each day and the amount and color needs
to be recorded for the doctor. (Note: after draining the fluid, squeeze the bulb to create a suction before recapping it). Mine was
removed after a week because the drainage slowed down considerably.
The day after surgery was painful. Naturally, my breast
area was tender, but most of the nerves were severed during the mastectomy; therefore, my breast was not the site of my pain. I mainly
hurt under my armpit, where the sentinel nodes were removed. I could not lift my arm higher than my breast area due to the pain. I
needed assistance getting off the couch, out of bed, and anything requiring me to use my left arm.
For the first few weeks,
and then periodically, I found it very helpful to wear a Breast Band. You can improvise with an ace bandage, but I prefer the breast band
because its more stable. It is typically used for those who undergo breast augmentation to push the implants in place and is worn
at night. Although I wore it for the same reasons, I did find it relieved much pain during the day and during my sleep. I highly suggest
getting a breast band.
Although I was hurting, it was bearable. I took half a pain pill every few hours for a total of five
pain pills in seven days. Then I was done taking them. After two weeks, the pain subsided, I was driving my car, and I had returned
On an odd note related to recovery: A week after the mastectomy, while falling asleep, I was experiencing electrical
like currents circling my chest and back. It made a complete 360 several times each night for a week. I deducted my nerves were reconnecting.
I have most of the feeling back, but not 100%. It doesn't bother me at all.
Healing proceeded well. Four weeks after the mastectomy,
I could lift my arm over my head (a big milestone for mastectomy patients), and I was a ball of energy. I had more energy three weeks
after the procedure than I had in several years. Incisions closed nicely, yet the scar was very tender. I keep a soft gauze on
the area for about four weeks, until the pain subsided.
I am so grateful to the doctor for removing the disease so I can live
life again! Like my husband told the doctor when describing the mastectomy, "I don't care what my wife looks like, just so she's alive"
...and I am more alive today, than I was prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer!
I hope my experience gives you comfort,
especially in knowing that you are not alone. Remember this my friend, "Cancer is not a death sentence. It's an awakening." In this
awakening you learn who truly loves you; you learn you are strong; you learn to live your life with vigor and passion; and most importantly,
you learn to make positive change in your life to prevent breast cancer from reoccurring.
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Hearing the words, "You have breast cancer", may be the most horrifying words ever spoken to you. To make matters worse, it may be
followed by, "You need a mastectomy".
I have walked this path and I hope my experience gives you peace of mind through your journey.
My journey began in the typical fashion: I felt a lump, saw the doctor, had a mammogram, then received the bad news. Depressing as
it was, the mammogram report showed,