Hello, friends! We are marching this thing forward!! Last Thurday, 9/12, I had a double mastectomy with lymph node removal performed. I’m currently recovering at home…impatiently waiting to feel back to normal. 😉
When this all started, we thought I would simply do a lumptectomy, and maybe some radiation, to manage this beast. That was the original plan, because based on the one mammogram and ultrasound data…they thought I had 2 small tumors and one involved lymph node. They first said I was a Stage 2, then changed me to a Stage 1C, before any other tests were done. This is part of what’s so frustrating with a cancer diagnosis. The doctors see one piece of information and then start handing out diagnosis and treatment plans…without all of the puzzle pieces in place first! It’s very disappointing. I write this simply as a warning for anyone that may go through this personally, or have a friend or a loved one that does, in the future. Be patient and be prepared…things change. A lot.
After all of the additional scans, biopsies and tests we did in March…it was determined that I had one very large tumor and at least 8 involved lymph nodes. I was reading my chart updates online the other day, and I saw where they had updated my staging to Stage 3C. <<Thanks for updating my chart…even though you never discussed this change with me!!!>> (Rant over!) This is what led us to chemotherapy, surgery and then eventually will take us to radiation.
Due to the size of the tumor, a lumpectomy was no longer an option. I would have to have a mastectomy to remove the tumor. So, my surgeon gave me the option of doing a double while she was in there. It was simply a personal choice, because the chance of developing a secondary cancer in the other breast is like less than 2%. But if I was going to do this, I was going to do it once and be done. Additionally, we had to address the cancer in the lymph nodes.
It was almost surgery day…and boy was I ready!!!! This was the day I had been waiting for since February 26. I just wanted this beast out of me and gone forever. I was not nervous or anxious or apprehensive whatsoever. I think I was the only one in my family that wasn’t. Ha ha. A few days before my surgery, my grandfather had to one-up me and have a triple bypass surgery. 🙂 So, everyone had already been back and forth to hospitals for a week, and this just added to it. The night before, my sister and best friend and I went out for a girls’ dinner…such a good evening before a crazy day!
SURGERY DAY – September 12. It was scheduled to take approximately 4 hours. Well, if you know me and how special I am, I had to be more dramatic than that. Surgery lasted almost 6 hours. I woke up in the OR with the most excruciating pain in my arms I’ve ever had. I had no pain from the surgery itself, just my arms. Apparently they had them strapped down in a weird position for almost 6 hours…it took almost an entire week for that soreness to work itself out.
They got me to a room, and thank you baby Jesus, they let me eat real food immediately! I was starving. It was the best meatloaf anyone had ever prepared…the carrots not so much, but the meatloaf was the bomb! My family was there to greet me in my room, one of my sweet co-workers even came by, and my mom stayed with me that night at the hospital so Clint could go home with Sara. Bless my mom’s heart…she’s the most cold natured person in the world (she is ‘long johns rolled up to her knees under dresses in the winter’ kind of cold natured). I didn’t realize that I had my room basically set to deep freeze, so she slept under 4 blankets with her flannel pajamas, to make sure I had help if needed in the night. Fortunately, by 10:00 the next morning, I was discharged and on my way home!
Recovery has been odd. Because with the mastectomy, they cut through most of the nerves in the breast, there isn’t much pain related to it. However, I did leave the hospital with 3 drains. To say they are uncomfortable is an understatement. If it wasn’t for them, I think I would be doing pretty okay by now, but I will likely have them in for another week. Ugh!!! Under my left arm where she took the lymph nodes, the skin is numb but the tissue underneath it is very tender and sensitive. As is the skin on the back of my upper arm…it’s numb but also really irritated at the same time. According to my surgeon and plastic surgeon, the incisions and skin look really good so far!
Fair warning…this part is a little TMI, proceed at your own curiosity. 🙂 The incisions were supposed to be like a question mark around the areola, then down to a cut under the fold the length of each breast. Due to poor blood flow to the nipples, though, they had to basically take them off and then graft them back on. To achieve this, my plastic surgeon had to sew them on with these huge flower shaped sponges on top. I called myself “Spongeboob Round Pants”. It’s definitely a strange sight! Trust me, though, I’ll spare you the visual. Because I cannot get the sponges wet by any means, I haven’t been able to shower since the morning of surgery. Just sponge baths with cleansing cloths. I am dying for a shower!!!!! I have to empty my drains twice a day, and measure the output for each every time. This is Clint’s favorite part of the day! 🙂
Fortunately, I am able to do most things for myself like before. Before anyone gets all up in arms about what I should and shouldn’t be doing…my surgeon said I should do everything I possibly could for myself, short of lifting anything more than the weight of a jug of milk or stretching uncomfortably. So, I can dress myself, feed myself and do most of my normal things. My husband is constantly trying to do for me, and I have to remind him to let me do most things. Keeping my range of motion is so important!
RESULTS – We met with my surgeon this week to discuss the results and pathology from surgery. In layman’s terms, unlike how she originally explained it to me and Clint, they got everything they expected and things look good. When they pulled the sentinel nodes and checked them during surgery, they did see active cancer still in them…so she ended up taking 6 more…9 in total. Fortunately, beyond the first three, they did not find any more cancer. Yay! The tumor itself had reduced in size, but not necessarily “shrunken” like you would think. Rather, it started dying off like swiss cheese…there were active and dead spots throughout what was left of it. Fortunately, what was originally 7.6cm of active tumor, the largest single part of the tumor was only 1.5cm in size. So, while we didn’t get a “complete pathological response”, we got a Definite response. Apparently, people with my type of cancer and hormone markers very seldom ever get a complete response, so this wasn’t a surprise to them. She removed the tumor, with clear margins, and the infected lymph nodes…so, as of now, we believe all cancer has been removed and thereby making me cancer free!!
Next steps, we meet with my oncologist next week to discuss hormone blockers, potential need for additional therapy (not chemo) pending the results of the HER2 markers, and radiation. My hair is growing back…I’m literally going to my hairdresser next week to start working on a super cute pixie style! My eyelashes fell out this week…seriously…5 weeks after I finish chemo, they fell out! So, I’ll be going for my first set of falsies soon, as well. 🙂
I’ll be off of work for a few more weeks, until I’m fully healed and ready to manage a full load again. Beyond the pain and discomfort from the drains and the gradual filling of the tissue expanders in my chest, I’m surprised at how easily I get tired. So, I hope to build up my stamina quickly, so I can get back to work at full ability soon!
Wow…that was a lot of words. Sorry for the novel I wrote. This week has just been crazy. I cannot thank my friends and family enough for checking on us and sending encouraging messages along. Friends and colleagues from work sent flowers to brighten up my day. Also, for our church family, who has fed us daily since I got out of the hospital…we have so much food, we are running out of room in our fridge and freezer! 🙂 God has provided over and over again for us during this process.
More to come!