Surgery day started at 6:30 a.m. My mom and Lauren drove me to the hospital and stayed with me through pre-op stuff.
Around 8, I was wheeled to the Radioactive Room to have nuclear isotopes injected in my breast. These isotopes would lead the surgeon to the main lymph nodes under my arm (the sentinel nodes). If the cancer spread, there would be signs in these nodes.
I was transferred to a narrow table and told to relax. The doctor came in and explained she would inject four needles into my breast, as close to the nipple as possible. I was told it would feel like bee stings. (But BEE STINGS – in my BREAST! Ouch!)
A nurse held my hand as the doctor injected the isotopes. The first two injections were like bee stings. The third, I didn’t even feel. The fourth, though, hurt like hell. The doctor explained that I would have imaging for about the next 40 minutes, and if the isotopes weren’t moving, she’d have to inject me again four times. If THAT didn’t work, there would be a Geiger counter in the operating room that the surgeon would use to identify the sentinel nodes. A Geiger counter?! How radioactive was I going to be?
Imaging wasn’t bad. Thirty minutes for the first images, seven for the second, and four for the third. The isotopes did not move. The doctor came back in for the second set of injections. All four hurt…major pain and not “bee-like” at all. A second set of images were taken, and the isotopes moved to where they needed to be. My underarm was marked where the main nodes were located, and I was sent to the mammography center.
In the mammogram room, I sat in a chair for the imaging. The point was to find the clips from the original biopsy and mark the clips with guide wires for the surgeon. After four attempts – three of which I was standing, the tumor located near the breast wall, and farther back than the other, was found.
“Are you very squeamish?” the doctor asked.
“Um, no, I don’t think so, but no one has ever approached my breast with a nine-inch needle before,” I said.
“Don’t pass out,” she said. Since she’d have to put the wire in with me standing (the only way we could “find” the tumor) passing out was a possibility.
“One, two, three,” the doctor said and passed a needle in my breast. I was prepared for pain, but felt almost nothing. About three inches of the wire was inside, about six inches left outside my body as a guide.
The second tumor was easier to find and mark, although I was worried about the mammogram panels (the part that squeezes you) hitting the first guidewire and pushing it through my breast. When the second needle/guidewire was placed, the nurses put both under a Styrofoam cup and taped the cup to my chest. This was to “protect” the needles from movement before I was taken to surgery.
I had almost two hours before surgery, so I was taken back to my room. B was there, and having him close while I’d be in surgery made me feel better.
Surgery was about four and a half hours. The first thing I was told when I woke up was that the lymph nodes were clear – meaning no signs of cancer! Both the breast surgeon and plastic surgeon said the procedures went great, no surprises. A few hours after surgery, I was discharged and B drove me home.
Today, I’m aware, but not in much pain, on the areas of incision (a small one in the side of my breast – where the surgeon removed the tumors, a larger one under my breast and one around my areola – both part of phase one of reconstruction, and one on my side past my arm – holding a drain for any fluid build up). I’m in a surgical bra for the next seven days, only able to remove it for showering or washing it.
I know the breast is swollen, but from what I can see, I’m quite pleased. The size (compensating for the swelling) and shape are fantastic. It makes the left breast look kind of sad and floppy (reconstruction on that side won’t happen until next spring).
Overall, I slept great last night, and I feel really good today. So good, in fact, that I’m under the very watchful eyes of my mom and kids to make sure I do NOTHING today, even though I feel like I could do stuff. (They’re okay with me typing, but not lifting my computer…) I’m on restrictions for the next four weeks – primarily no lifting more than FIVE pounds, and limiting activities that increase heart rate and blood pressure. Those are going to be hard rules to follow, if I continue feeling this good.
Fingers crossed for a quick and easy recovery.