BUZZ FROM THE HIVE: HAD TWO MORE BREAST CANCER RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERIES SINCE JUNE OF 2013…
When you’ve been diagnosed with that c-word, “cancer”, you get really scared when you experience pain in any part of your body post-surgery. I’ve already had three surgeries related to breast cancer following my Invasive, Moderately Differentiated, Ductal Carcinoma diagnosis, and I react the same every time—wondering if it’s a recurrence since it was invasive, meaning cancer cells traveled outside the cell wall of the tumor.
Three months ago, I started getting pain in both breasts, more so in the left breast. I thought maybe I pulled a muscle or something. When the pain started getting worse in my left breast then radiating up my chest wall and under both arms, I started getting really scared. I called my plastic surgeon and was seen. He told me it wasn’t breast cancer, which answered my prayers. He said I have a large amount of scar tissue that’s really bad in my left breast, and is starting on the right side. Also, the bottom part of my left breast was severely caved in and it showed even through clothes. I couldn’t even wear scoop neck shirts either because my chest wall was caved in as well. I had to wear very baggy tops that came up to my neck.
Needless to say, being a woman, I was mortified. He told me that even though all this is going on and that I’m in a lot of pain, I can thank my breast cancer surgeon for the great job she did at clearing out so much tissue when I had the double mastectomy and tram flap reconstruction just before Christmas of 2011. That’s the primary reason I’ve been cancer-free, I guess. I was then scheduled for surgery.
The surgery was two months ago—in June of this year—and I have to tell you, it wasn’t as excruciatingly painful as the previous three, but it’s right up there with extremely painful. He removed the large amount of scar tissue from right and left sides and breasts then took fat from my hips to fill in my chest wall and left breast. The surgery lasted for about 4-5 hours, and I was left with massive bruises from the liposuction. I don’t understand why woman voluntarily have liposuction. I never would have done it, but it was so necessary—I didn’t want that constant “breast cancer” reminder.
My surgeon tells me I do heal very slowly, and that when I do heal, I heal beautifully. My body doesn’t like to be invaded except by my husband, and this time, not only was I in pain in my whole upper torso, I was also in pain in my hip areas as well. I found solace in a bed wedge. It has been my pal through all my surgeries, keeping me on my back, legs raised so that there’s no pulling on my torso. I tried sleeping without it one night, and accidentally rolled over on my side…OWWWW!!! I’m going to have to use it until I heal completely from all these surgeries.
After my fourth surgery, my plastic surgeon suggested that I start another round of physical therapy so I could gain more motion in my arms and torso, focusing on core strength. I was going to my PT sessions. I told them I was having some pain in my left breast, and that it may be because of my previous surgery so they focused on core strength initially. The pain was getting worse, and one day, as I was drying off after a shower, I noticed this brownish, purplish area on the surgical site of my left breast. I passed it off as a hematoma from my latest surgery, thinking my body would just dissolve it. When it started hurting a whole lot more and growing into a bubble, getting more pronounced, I panicked. Is this breast cancer again? I prayed that it wasn’t.
I called my surgeon’s office, but he wasn’t in that week. I thought maybe I was overreacting and suggested I send pictures of the area in question in an email so they could see if I needed to be seen, ala “Weiner”. I felt kind of creepy taking a “selfie”, but in this case I felt it was justified. The pics were then sent to my surgeon who ordered an antibiotic right away. The bubble was so big, I put gauze pads on the site and taped it up. Good thing because the next day, it burst and there was blood all over my clothes. I was so traumatized at this point, but later realized it was blood mixed with a lot of fluid so it looked like it was all blood.
I was seen by another surgeon in the same office. He said it was a big seroma and he proceeded to clean it out. He said the fluid buildup is causing the pain. My left breast was now double the size of my right breast, and it hurt so much. He said he was going to pack it with gauze and that I could take it out the next day.
The next day, I didn’t want to take it out because I didn’t know what would happen when I take out the gauze packing. Would blood squirt all over the place? I went to my PCP’s office, but she wasn’t in the office so I saw a nurse practitioner. I couldn’t believe it when she said they didn’t do wound care. She wouldn’t touch me because she didn’t want to be responsible. I had to do it myself, and it was gross—it was green slime with some blood. I redressed it and she kept telling me I have to be seen by my surgeon because it didn’t look good. As soon as I left, I called my surgeon’s office, traumatized.
I was seen the very next day by my surgeon’s assistant. She said that it’s common in women who have had lumpectomies and mastectomies. I’m thankful that this is the first time I’ve ever had trouble with the stitch sites after four surgeries. She cleaned out the seroma and said there’s so much fluid that my surgeon will have to see me when he returns the following week. She said she was going to repack it, but that it has to be done every day to avoid the risk of infection and said it was a little infected and inflamed. Are you kidding me? I told her I would have a problem doing it every day and asked if I could do it twice before seeing my surgeon, and she said that would work. I then told her to get me a mirror because I would have to duplicate what she did. When I ever looked in the mirror at the image under my left breast as she was cleaning out the area, I almost vomited. THERE’S A BIG HOLE WHERE THE SEROMA WAS! I could see the inside of my breast. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I started crying, but held my own after the initial shock. The hole is about the size of an adult thumb nail. She used long stainless steel forceps, 5-6″ in length and pushed the sterile gauze into the hole. She then applied gauze over the wound and taped it.
The first time I repacked it myself, I cried like a baby. I’m not ashamed to admit that. I cried because of everything my husband and I have gone through. I cried because of all the pain I’ve had to endure throughout this nightmare. I cried because women shouldn’t have to go through this. I cried because instead of a cure, they’re throwing us treatments that are making them richer, and us sicker. I cried harder when I repacked it a second time—there was another seroma starting near the original seroma site. I couldn’t believe it. By this time, the fluid was swelling my breast so much, I thought it might burst, and the fluid traveled to my chest and upper abdominal area.
Then came the day I finally saw my surgeon, and he agreed that there was a second seroma forming. He cleaned out both sites and removed some fluid, but said I needed to be hospitalized for the rest of the procedure. I almost cried—another surgery! My husband was devastated, and said I was handling it better than he was. Now I have two holes in my left breast that have to remain open until after the next surgery. By this time, I was comfortable enough to pack the sites every day.
The only thing I focused on was the fact that after this LAST SURGERY, I wouldn’t be in any more pain. That would be the end of it, and I can heal and concentrate on getting back to work. That’s what I put out into the universe—that I’m going to do great, and that God will guide my surgeon’s hand and I’ll be fine.
The day before surgery, I was going out of my mind. I was sick and tired of staying in the house. I needed to get out, enjoy life and take my mind off of surgery the following day. My husband and I went to a vineyard and sampled some of what they had—me, wines; him, beers. It was great, and the wine, even though they were small portions, went right to my head because I always fast the day before surgery so I had a very empty stomach. I’m a very light drinker to begin with so even a small glass of wine has me feeling pretty good. We were laughing and having a great time with other people there and also the person who tended bar.
We were on our way home when my husband got a call from one of his aunts. She wanted us to go over her house because she had something to give us. When we got there, we had a great conversation, lots of laughs, and I was still feeling the wine. We talked and talked, and I really enjoyed being there with her. Then she gave me a plastic bag with something in it. There was a card explaining what the contents was. It was a beautiful blue triangular Prayer Shawl, and I was floored! I wrapped myself in it and I felt like God was tenderly holding me in His loving arms. I then cried happy tears that she would do that for me. I couldn’t believe she took the time to get that for me. I am truly loved by my husband’s family, and now every time I put this Prayer Shawl around me, I’ll close my eyes and think of her, and of God’s love and all the prayers that went into making it for me.
I never knew the meaning of a Prayer Shawl until my husband’s aunt told me. Someone prayed for me while they crocheted my Prayer Shawl, and upon its completion, a priest blessed it especially for me. How can I not feel blessed? I wore it all the way home even thought it was almost 90º, but I didn’t care. I wrapped myself up in it while I watched TV, while I slept and I even wore it to the hospital the next morning, but left it in the truck.
I don’t know what the heck happened, but I was floating on air this time around. I was in such high spirits, and for someone who hadn’t eaten for 41 hours, I wasn’t even hungry. When my husband and I walked up to the desk, the woman asked if I was checking in. My reply was, “Yes, I am! I guess it’s better to be checking in than checking out, huh?” They all laughed and that was the way I felt the whole day. When I was waiting to go into the OR, a bunch of the OR nurses came over to me and hugged me, wishing me well—they all knew me by name—I’ve been there so many times, all the anesthesiologists know me as well LOL. That prompted my husband to say, “They all know you by name. I’m wondering if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” Then we both laughed. When my surgeon came to see me, he pulled the curtain back and asked what all the laughing was about. We all shared some laughs.
My blood pressure was 104/60, and I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t worried if the surgery would go well or not—I knew it would go great. I knew I was in good hands—God’s hands! It’s almost like that Prayer Shawl and all the blessings and prayers that went into making it was just what I needed to squelch the nervousness I felt with all the other surgeries. This time was so different. Was it the Prayer Shawl and God’s love that surrounded it or was it just a coincidence that this last surgery went better than anticipated and my worries seemed to dissipate? I don’t believe in coincidences.
Now I’m going through the healing process once again. I’m going to give my body the time that it needs to heal. I’m surrounded by Bountiful Blessings. I’m happy to be alive; I’m happy to be with my wonderful, caring husband; and I’m happy that even in a world filled with hate, evil and resentment, I can turn it off to focus on what truly matters to me: God, my country and my family…
May Bountiful Blessings surround you as well…