On Monday I had surgery to remove the cancerous tumour in my breast and I’m sharing a recap of the day below.

Sunday night I took a Lorazepam to help me sleep, and I was up at 6 a.m. the next morning to shower and head to the hospital. My husband dropped me at the door (COVID rules) and once I finished at admitting I was sent to the day surgery waiting room, and eventually taken to my “bed” in the OR waiting room, where I had a wonderful nurse who directed me through the day.

The first step before surgery was the radioactive dye injections, which would help the surgeon identify the location of the sentinel nodes (where fluid from the breast drains first, and logically the first place you would find cancer cells if they spread). I received two needles (I’m getting used to those by now) but there was some extra pressure with the second one which brought tears to my eyes, which then led me to have my first little cry of the day. The technicians seemed surprised there was no one in the waiting room for me (“You don’t have anyone here with you today?”) and I think they felt a bit sorry for this lonely woman with no family or friends…but no one was allowed to come!! People have asked me if COVID seems to be having any impact on my treatment, and up until Monday I would have said no, but now I can tell you that having to spend that day completely alone was not ideal.

After the dye had half an hour to start doing its thing I had some images taken and the technician marked my skin to give the surgeon a guideline. He would also have a little Geiger counter device to help locate the radioactive dye in my body during surgery.

{Note: I thought I had been sleeping fairly well in the days prior to surgery. The shiners under my eyes tell a different story.}

Next up the porter delivered me to ultrasound (which feels like home now after this many visits) to have the guide wire put in place, which is necessary when you can’t feel the tumour from the outside. This process was similar to having a biopsy: they put in a needle to freeze the area, then instead of taking material out, they inserted a wire with a little hook to keep it in the tumour. I had pictured just a wire hanging out of me, but it was actually still attached to a little needle. I tried to take a suitable-for-the-internet photo but there’s no way to crop it without showing more underboob than is appropriate (which in my line of work is none).

Then I headed over to the mammogram machine so they could get images to confirm that the wire was in the right place. Yes, I had a mammogram with a needle and wire hanging out of the breast. Once the correct placement was confirmed, the technician taped a Dixie cup (you can’t make this stuff up) over the needle to try to keep it from getting jostled.

Finally (after five and a half hours, many waiting periods that I won’t bore you with here, as well as paperwork and consultations) it was go time! A nurse who I know from the community (yes, I taught her kids, and no, this isn’t the same nurse I mentioned in my last post) came to tell me that she had been assigned to my surgery but that she would switch out if that made me uncomfortable. In fact it was the opposite, as it was wonderful to see a familiar face as I was being wheeled down.

My first impression of the OR was that it was much smaller than the ones on Grey’s Anatomy, and there wasn’t that definitive starting moment that I was expecting from TV shows when the patient is told “count backwards from ten”…I do know that when the mask was first put on and I attempted to breathe deeply, I started to cry, and that nurse was like an angel beside me, holding my hand and saying, “It’s okay, we’ve got you.” I will never forget that moment and her comforting presence (and I am crying again as I type this). And the next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery.

I remember asking, “Is it over?” and “Did it go okay?” as well as, “Can I stay here for a while?” as my first sensation was pure exhaustion, and I truly could have spent hours longer just lying in that bed. But of course that’s not how hospitals work, and eventually I got up to get dressed (wrestling my wounded areas into the required sports bra while groggy was quite the task)…and then the nausea hit hard. I didn’t actually get sick, but spent most of the night feeling like I was going to.

They wheeled me out to the front of the hospital for my husband to pick me up, and here’s an indication of how sick I felt: I refused my coat, and spent the 15 minute (December) ride home with my window down all the way. If you know me at all, you know that this is extremely out of character for me. (There are times I wear my parka in the classroom, if that helps to paint the picture.)

In addition to the radioactive material, blue dye was also injected during surgery to help identify the sentinel nodes, and while I didn’t look at myself in the mirror to see the blue pallor I had been warned about, I was glad I had also been told that the colour would make its way through my kidneys as well. (See how I worded that so carefully without actually making any reference to the bathroom? Classy, right?)

Once home I headed straight to bed – I went about eight hours (from before surgery to mid-evening) without looking at my phone which again is very uncharacteristic. Surgery takes a lot out of a person! Eva took a Precious Moments bell ornament off the tree and brought it for me to keep on the nightstand in case I needed to call for assistance, which I thought was pretty sweet.

Because of the lymph node removal, the fingers on my left hand were quite tingly, a sensation which has now subsided, though my underarm and upper arm are still quite numb, and my throat was very dry from the breathing tube (put in and removed while I was asleep)

Tuesday I woke up feeling okay – the nausea was gone, I had breakfast with the girls and got a few little things done before hitting the couch for today, and enjoyed a visit from my parents in the evening. However, through the night I was struck with another wave of nausea combined with insomnia, and I started worrying that the lymph nodes incision was too swollen and possibly infected (you know how everything seems worse in the middle of the night). And once I’m tired I cry more easily too, and I kept thinking back to the whole process at the hospital and reliving it. I think it’s fair to say that it was one of the most traumatic events of my sheltered life, even though I knew exactly how it was all supposed to play out (and everything did, in fact, go according to plan.)

Once the girls left for school on Wednesday I took some Gravol for the nausea and slept the morning away, and I felt somewhat better after I woke up. I was told to remove the outer bandages and shower 48 hours after surgery, so Wednesday evening I very tentatively peeled off the bandages (there are still small steri strips covering the two incisions) and surveyed the damage, which wasn’t as horrifying as I had braced myself for.

So where do things stand now?

At the end of next week I have my post-op appointment with my surgeon. At that point we will have results back to know if enough of a clear margin was taken around the tumour (pray for yes), as well as the state of the lymph nodes (pray for clear). Then he refers me on to Oshawa where I will get a treatment plan in place. Until then I will focus on recovery, and I’ll be back with an update when I have one!

Thank you for your continued prayers and messages of support. You are all getting me through this. xo

6 comments on “My Breast Cancer Story Part 8: Surgery Day”

  1. It’s a difficult process to share, but you have done really well Kate! I’ve been through minor procedures myself, and an awful lot with William. I really like the way you described the hospital ‘process’. It is very realistic.
    The ‘covid’ portion is very enlightening. We all need someone there to support….even adults!! Although I know you to be a rock (you were once my rock when I received a difficult diagnosis), I can only imagine how alone you felt that day. Please know our prayers and positives vibes are with you, as I know yours have been with us along our journey. ❤️?

  2. I was crying along with you. You described everything in detail and what you are doing is important to yourself and others. My sister has gone through the same thing with radiation just recently and, if you would like to talk to her, let me know and I will give you her number or email. Like you, she wants to help other people going through the same thing. We are here to support each other with knowledge and prayers. This is your time to heal! You are doing great!!

  3. Kate, your strength and openness (is that really a word?) is truly amazing. We are all praying for good news for you and saying that I am thinking of you often is an understatement. Don’t be afraid to tell us how we can help. That takes strength too.

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