I always say that fear of the unknown is worse than anything else. That awful feeling when you don’t know whats ahead is pure torture. I often speak with girls who are very nervous about each aspect of their treatment, the worst time is usually the lead up to it, surgery is no different. I am going to share my experience of having a Mastectomy it might enlighten you and let you know what to expect but please remember we are all different so you may feel and react differently than I did.
From the moment of my initial diagnosis a Mastectomy was always on the cards for me. I had 3 tumors all spaced out so a Lumpectomy would not have been possible. When I was told my treatment plan would be 8 sessions of Chemo, followed by a Mastectomy and then Radiotherapy for 6 weeks, I really didn’t focus too much on the surgery or give it too much thought. I viewed each of them as hurdles that needed to be jumped before I crossed the CANCER FREE FINISH LINE. Chemo was really my biggest worry oh god I had no idea what to expect, I guess I expected everything else to be a breeze. I finished my chemo on the 20th December 2013. To give my weak body time to recover my surgery was scheduled for the beginning of February. To be honest I was more worried about staying in hospital that the actual surgery itself, as any of you who know me will be aware I have a fear of all things hospital, the environment unnerves me, not a great fear to have when you have Breast Cancer. To this day I have such anxiety when I enter a hospital even if its to visit someone. It has an awful affect on my nerves, its just an awful phobia to have.
I wasn’t overly upset at having to have a mastectomy I knew it was a necessity but I did opt for immediate reconstruction so that I would have something resembleing a breast when I woke up. At the time I wasn’t too focused about loosing a breast and how I would feel. You see a lot of what happened to me felt like I was watching someone elses life unfold, I really was quite detatched. Unfortunately the first time I was due to get my surgery I was given too much of a relaxer and they were unable to put me under anastethic, so instead of going into surgery I spent a day in recovery asleep. It was just a human error. The positive I took from it was to use it as a trial run of what it would be like staying in hospital. The following week I was back in for the surgery which went ahead and needless to say I was given nothing to relax me lol.
My surgery was long about 10 hours. It was a full mastectomy with reconstruction using muscle from my back and a clearance of my lymph nodes. One of my biggest worries about my surgery was that I didn’t want anyone in my family to see me without my wig or hat. I had a fear that I would be still asleep and they would walk in. I was really funny about this during my treatment as well as I just didn’t want anyone to have a picture of me in their head being bald. I didn’t want to look sick for people or scare them. I actually gave myself a really hard time trying to not let the world see I was sick, I had a weird shame about not having hair. I only have one photo of myself completely bald which I have since shared. I asked the nurse if she could put my hat back on me as soon as my surgery was finished. I know many people will probably think its nuts that such a thing was the cause of most of my most anxiety before I was due to get my surgery but it was.
I was checked into hospital the night before my surgery was due to take place. That evening the surgical team visited me took measurements and had a chat. They were lovely and reassured me that everything would be fine. The next morning I woke early, the team again came to see me and mark me up in advance of surgery. The lovely girls that I shared a ward with wished me luck and waved me off. I was brought down to the surgery waiting room until it was my turn to be worked on. When it was my turn I was wheeled in and given anestethic before I knew it I was asleep. What seemed like minutes I woke up very groggy, it was all over, I was in the recovery room but didn’t really know where I was. Oh god I was so thirsty as well. I was kept in recovery for a while until they were happy for me to be moved back to my ward. First thing I did notice was that angel of a nurse was true to her word and popped my hat back on my head. Even as zonked as I may have been, I was still conscious of that. I was brought up to my hospital room. When you wake up you are bandadged up and have a very tight fitting bra on which supports you and its made so doctors can examine you without having to take it off. You have to wear this for a few weeks after surgery it is not pretty. That evening Family members were able to visit me and although I was tired and not dancing around I was fine for the chats. I was stiff and not up to walking. That evening I was not able to really move my body or change my position in the bed with out assistance but by the next day I was out of the bed and able to make it to the bathroom myself.
I remained stiff for a few days. After surgery you have to be so careful when moving as you can forget your limitations and extend your arm out for something which can be very painful. The lymph node removal was more uncomfortable than the mastectomy as this caused all of the stiffness and lack of arm movement. There is also the worry of Lymphaedmia which was something I had never heard of until after my surgery. However you can do stuff to prevent the onset of Lymphademia, a physio will come by to give you exercises to do to help your arm regain movement and help avoid Lymphaedmia. Whatever you do take what your physio says seriously and do the exercises until you are told it is okay to stop. I would advise against lifting heavy objects or reaching for stuff far away do not over stretch in the first few days after surgery. It is also advised to wait 3 months before going back to proper exercising I may have not given myself that long which was a mistake and delayed my proper recovery time. Unfortunately it took many months for my wounds to heal but that I was an exceptional case, plagued by many infections. I just didn’t heal and my scar on my back is quite big compared to other girls I know. My back wound didn’t properly heal until the October after my surgery.
When I woke up from surgery I had several drains from the surgical sites. They are inserted to let the fluid drain away after surgery. Daily a nurse “milks” the drains (basically she emptys them) and they do not remove them until they stop filling up. My hospital stay lasted 10 days, however some people I know spent less time in hospital. By the 10th day when I was ready to leave hospital the drains were removed. I really didn’t like them and was so glad to see the back of them. I never really felt pain as such after surgery as I had morphine pump which believe me got lots of use for the first few days, I was then switched to tablets. I had become quite attached to the pump if I am honest. 10 days felt like such a long time to have to stay in hospital and my surgery hurdle was probably the one I found the most difficult especially mentally. The surgery itself was over before I knew it but it was having to stay in hospital for so long that got me down. I think a mixture of lots of medication and too much time on my hands probably set me into my darkest days. I would really look forward to visits from friends and family and remember when one of my closest friends didn’t visit me how hurt I felt. I also really appreciate all of the people who were by my bed side. I was really sensitive at that time and looking back now sure why wouldn’t I be, I really wasn’t in my full senses and very vunerable.
Important stuff to do after your surgery
- Drink plenty of water after your operation – water is your best friend – it will help flush your system.
- If you are in pain request more pain relief do not be a hero and suffer in silence.
- Do not let yourself get constipated – this is an embarrassing one but one to be very aware of. I think its the anestethic that can cause constipation if you feel this happening do not let it go for more that a day or two or it will cause you a huge amount of discomfort and make you feel very ill.
- Use the time in hospital to rest and repair.
If you are wondering what to pack in your bag here is what I packed –
- To make my stay in hospital a little less yucky I brought fluffy blankets to make the bed look a little less hospitally !
- Night dresses / pyjamas that open at the front for easy access as doctors / nurses will want to check you. Have a few changes of PJs you will want to be feeling FRESH
- Fluffy socks
- Fluffy bath robe (fluffy isn’t necessary but I do luv fluffy)
- Small amount of cash in case you fancy anything in the shop
- Portable DVD player and some box sets (FR TED / Breaking Bad were my boxsets of choice), I just didn’t want to have to rely on hospital wifi
- Phone & Charger
- Hat for if you don’t want to wear your wig in hospital
- A small mirror- really important not to forget ( I didn’t pack it originally but got my mam to bring one in I was lost without it)
- Shower Gel
- Coconut Oil (skin can get very dehydrated in hospital)
- Baby Wipes
- BB Cream (lighter than foundation)
- Toothbrush / Toothpaste.
- If you do forget anything there is shops in the hospital.
I am now nearly 3 years over my surgery and since then I have undergone a few more surgeries to fully complete my reconstruction. At the time it felt like I was waiting forever for my implants but looking back I am glad my body was given the time to heal properly after all of my treatment before I got that surgery. If you are waiting for your further reconstruction surgeries please be patient I was waiting for just over a year after I finished my radiation. It was a huge success and I recovered very quickly from it. Its a long road but girls you will get there and I have to say I am really happy with how success full my surgery was.
#breastcancer #mastectomy #breastcancerawareness