The first couple of days after surgery I suspect are pretty much always going to be a write off. I did get up and dressed every day though, but inevitably everything seemed to take much longer than usual. I was wound into a pressure bandage over my breasts after surgery and was told to try to keep it on for 2 days, but it drove me mad. I did manage the 2 days, but it kept slipping down and having to be hauled back up again. I wasn’t really in much pain at all, although sleeping was uncomfortable. I gave up on the codeine very quickly, as I didn’t need it for pain and I was convinced it was stopping me sleeping. Friends kept popping over to make sure I was ok, which was lovely – the house began to resemble a florists very quickly! I kept myself quietly occupied with reading (obviously – I am a librarian!), napping, a little TV, visitors – all the usual things. I made sure to eat reasonably well. I had spent a while making & freezing meals that I really like so that I didn’t actually have to cook as such in the first few days. In some ways there was a real advantage to living by myself at this point, as I could mostly just entirely please myself & not have to think about anyone else. The only sadness was that I hadn’t been able to see the kids other than over facetime – my daughter was moving flats and my son was doing exams – terrible timing!
I unwound the pressure bandage after 2 days, and underneath were 2 patches of adhesive dressings. I couldn’t see the wounds, but there was some rather dramatic bruising – but generally I felt much better than I had been expecting. Once that bandage was off – oh joy, I was allowed to shower carefully. The dressings are pretty tough and as long as you don’t soak them completely, they really are pretty secure.
After 3 days I started on the exercise leaflet I had been given. My BCN had demonstrated all the exercises as well, and the first few days are just the very basic ones, three times a day. I had been told to expect a reduction in movement of my affected arm (my left), and was pleased to find this wasn’t as restrictive as I’d imagined, although I did have to be gentle and careful when getting dressed. However, the exercises are designed very specifically as they can feel a bit uncomfortable for a week or so as you gradually push a little bit further each time. I had been signed off work for 2 weeks, and you are strongly advised not to drive for 3 if you’ve had sentinal node biopsy (2 if not). This meant my friends all felt it was their solemn duty to come & visit or take me out – it was lovely! Lots of trips to shop, or walk a little, or just eat cake – pretty well perfect! More on this in another post!!
Just over a week after the surgery I was in a very nice routine at home, and then had a return visit to the unit to hear the results of the surgery. Here’s a tip for hospital staff – if you need to break bad news, try not to have a leaflet about chemotherapy clearly visible on your desk. This was the first thing I spotted, and I think I visibly sank at that point. The surgeon took a look at my scars. I had just managed to very slowly & carefully peel off the self-adhesive dressings the day before. They tell you the area will be almost numb so you won’t feel it – I felt every millimetre! I could still only really see the bruising as there were steri-strips over the actual cuts (you are advised to keep these on if you can as they aid the cosmetic healing). The surgeon was pleased with the healing & decided to take the steri-strips off the cut in my arm pit. Not sure it was quite ready as it started to bleed, so was hastily covered again! Good job I’m not especially sqeamish!
After that we sat. The news was disappointing. The actual tumour was even larger than had been thought (40mm). When it was looked at in the lab they were unhappy that there was a clear margin of unaffected tissue around it on one edge, so I was going to have to go back in so he could take a little more away. This was pretty devastating in itself. I can’t say I have a particular dislike of hospitals as I know many do – it was the thought of doing it all again, and possibly being sick again, and going through the recovery for a second time that was upsetting. However, there was more. Of the 4 lymph nodes tested, 2 showed signs of the cancer cells. There is then, I gather, only the option of chemotherapy for this. This was totally devastating. From the very beginning there seemed to be a pretty specific plan in place. Surgery, radiotherapy, then tamoxifen. It’s always hard hearing you have cancer, but this process seemed very specific and I could see the end. What I’m about to say next may sound really odd, but I can only be honest about my thoughts. In my head I knew I had cancer, but there was no chemo and the process was clear. Hearing I now needed to have chemo made it feel like I had proper cancer – this was serious and the end point had suddenly drifted out of sight. I know it sounds weird, but that’s how it felt for me. This was a pretty low point. I had been recovering so well, and it felt like I was going to have to go back to square one. Not a good day.