Breast Cancer at 41 – The Surgery
Please note that this post is 1 of 2 – “The Surgery” to be followed shortly by “The Recovery.” Photos shown may be graphic in nature and are used only promote awareness of breast cancer and breast cancer surgery.
After being told you have a cancerous tumor in your body your first instinct is to GET IT OUT NOW! I was told I had breast cancer on July 8th and being ignorant I thought I would have surgery the following week.
Unfortunately, hospital schedules don’t work that way. Not only would I have to schedule the surgery with my own Surgical Oncologist and his partner, but also my Plastic Surgeon. 4 Schedules needed to align – 3 doctors and the operating room. Plus I needed to complete other pre-op tasks before a date could be set:
- A pre-op physical by my primary care doctor: to make sure you are well enough to withstand surgery. Check – got that done the following day.
- Fill out a mountain of legalize: AKA signing your life away – done, did it as fast as they could email it to me!
- A Bi-lateral MRI to double-check my other breast & lymph nodes – now approved by my insurance since the biopsy confirmed I had cancer – got in the next available appointment within 48 hours.
- Choosing a Plastic Surgeon: This was checked off the list due to my fabulous & proactive nurse who had made the discovery appointment prior to my biopsy (just in case) I saw him on June 27th.
Once the above was completed, the nurse called me with a surgery date of August 13th. This is where I lost it! I told her, “No, no! This will not do! I’m going to Disneyland with my family and we are running the Family 5K together and I’m running the Dumbo Double Dare Challenge at the end of August! I need enough time to recuperate for that race! I need to be fit enough to go!”
Please note that every single conversation with my medical team had this particular race as a topic of discussion. Please also note that I registered both myself and my entire family to run this weekend back in January. As it turns out, my plastic surgeon, who ran the Marine Corps Marathon for his 40th birthday, said, “you got into that?!!” So it was understood. Sacred cow – do not mess with my sacred cow. The nurse also thought I should do it – it would be good for my psyche.
So after my hissy fit, my nurse took care of it and got the date moved to July 30th. A small victory – she did have to promise her first-born, but I offered to throw in mine as well – to sweeten the deal.
Twenty-three days of waiting…..
Twenty-three days of conversing with my “lump buddy.” My running friend who found out she too had breast cancer the same week as me.
And then the countdown…..day, by, day, by day….
My husband and I decided that telling the children a week prior to surgery would give them enough time to process the information and ask questions. I kept the discussion high level, stressing my choice to get new breasts and that having surgery would make me well and able to live a long life.
The surgery was scheduled at 7:45am – with a hospital call time of 6am. I was up a 5am ready to go. The night prior to my surgery, I showered with a special antibacterial soap, Hibiclens. You are not allowed to wear any lotion, deodorant or make-up to surgery. Also, jewelry is not allowed – the only exception is made for wedding bands – which will be taped to your finger. You are allowed nothing to eat or drink after 10pm. However, you are allowed the minimum amount of water to swallow your normal daily medications.
My procedures were:
- Bilateral axillary sentinel lymph node biopsy
- Bilateral mastectomies
- Possible bilateral axillary dissections
- Bilateral immediate breast reconstruction with sub pectoral tissue expanders, pectoralis major flaps, vicryl mesh
We quickly checked into the hospital and I changed into hospital attire. I was then brought down to radiation for my sentinel node biopsy. This procedure would help to determine if my axillary lymph nodes contained cancer.
My surgical oncologist injected a radioactive dye into my breasts and then the machine would detect the radioactive substance in the first draining lymph node. After locating the sentinel node, it and others (in my case 7 were removed from my left side and 1 from my right side), would be removed and examined to see if cancer cells were present.
After that procedure I was brought back up to the operating floor where my vitals would be checked, I’d meet with my plastic surgeon, who would then draw on my chest, marking the cuts and marking the skin areas he would like saved. I wish I had taken some photos of this – I was marked as well as a football playbook (in bright purple no less).
Then I was whisked off to the operating room – we were running late! They introduced themselves from behind their masks – all I could see were their eyes – and I was moved from the gurney to the operating table. At least 10 people were in the operating room. I received a compliment that I was too small for the table and additional towels and blankets were brought in to prop me up. Then the mask was put on me and without a countdown, I was out.
Three and a half hours later, I remember being pushed into the light to see my mother-in-law and my husband waiting. All I wanted was someone to scratch my head, because I couldn’t seem to raise my arms…and from there we were brought up to my shared hospital room.
Next up – The Recovery.