I didn’t realize it until after, but I thought things would be different after my surgery. I saw it as a transition between before and after. Before and after what? I’m not sure, but it was significant. And surgery was a big deal, but now that it’s over I feel that post-Christmas letdown. There was so much buildup to just one day.
The day of my surgery is a blur. My brain keeps trying to fill in the gaps, but parts of the day just aren’t there. It was a really long day. I checked in at 7 am and didn’t get home until around 6 pm. There was a lot of waiting – waiting to be admitted, waiting for imaging, waiting for surgery – but by that point all I could do was trust the process and enjoy my pre-op Ativan.
There was a lot of back and forth between buildings, being pushed across the skybridge for my first wheelchair ride. I went from the main hospital to the Breast Imaging Center to get my wire guides placed. Getting the wires placed was unpleasant – there’s no way that getting poked into with wires while getting a mammogram could feel good, but anything to aid my surgeon was worth it.
Another trip across the skybridge and I was in the pre-op waiting area. I waited here for a long while, though I don’t remember most of the details. I got an IV for fluids. The nurses checked in on me often to make sure I was comfortable and warm enough. My surgery was a little late and one of the nurses called J to let him know about the delay so he wouldn’t worry.
After all of the waiting, everything else happened really quick. I met the anesthesiologist and she told me what she was going to do and we discussed what I could expect. Then I met with my surgeon. I didn’t recognize her at first, since I’d only seen her dressed in business casual in her office. Today she was wearing scrubs and a surgical cap with bananas on it. My surgeon likes to “play dj”, so when I walked into the operating room Prince’s 1999 was playing. ? I laid down on the table and that is the last thing I remember.
I woke up in recovery. I thought I’d be more alarmed about waking up at the hospital, but it was a gradual waking and a nurse was waiting with me. She brought me graham crackers and called J. Very shortly after, we were on our way home. I was foggy and a bit loopy, but I had made it through my first (and hopefully only) major surgery.
It’s been about a week and a half since my surgery and I’m starting to feel more like myself. The first few days after surgery I was pretty achy and swollen. I took a few of my pain pills, but I was able to manage most of the time with Tylenol. I slept a lot.
I saw my surgeon for my followup on Thursday and she said everything is healing nicely. I have two incisions, each about two inches long. She was hoping to only need one, but she couldn’t get to my lymph nodes so there is a second one under my arm. I have some numbness in my right arm but the doctor said that is very common and will subside. She said that my swelling is expected as she “moved a lot of tissue around” to make my breasts more evenly shaped. I am eligible for reconstructive (it’s not cosmetic) surgery, but I don’t think I’ll want it. I reserve the right to change my mind, but I really don’t want to go through another surgery.
Speaking of surgeries, I don’t need another one. My surgeon was happy with the pathology results and got as much of the cancer out that she surgically could. The rest will be zapped with radiation.
She took out the small tumor remaining in my breast. She took out enough that the margins were clear – meaning there was a perimeter of healthy tissue around the tumor. That is how she knew she got it all. If it didn’t have clear margins, she likely would have had to go back in. She also took out 4 lymph nodes, only one of which showed any cancer.
I met with my oncologist after seeing my surgeon, and she’s having me continue with my Keytruda infusions. Since they don’t lessen my immune system, she recommends me having a full year of Keytruda – so about 6 more months. I only have to go in for them every three weeks and I haven’t experienced any negative effects. I’ll be starting daily radiation in December. Hopefully, I will have far fewer appointments in my life in time for my 42nd birthday at the end of February.
I’m still wrapping my head around all of the changes that I have gone through this year. I have scars from this experience, both physical and mental, that I’m trying to incorporate into my changing self image. My hair is starting to grow back and I’m starting to look more like myself again. There were a few weeks around my surgery where my eyebrows and eyelashes finally gave up and I was feeling pretty ogre-like. Now, though, I can see the brown of my hairline growing back and it is a welcome sight.
I am really thankful for everyone who shared their surgery stories and thought happy thoughts for me. Everyone at Swedish took really good care of me. I have good and bad days, like anyone else, and now that my big surgery is done I have more time to reflect. It will take me a while to parse through all that I have experienced and felt this year, but right now I’m going to rest and enjoy a rare appointment-free week.