Recovery from my lumpectomy and lymph node removal has been really up and down, both physically and emotionally.
I haven’t had any issues in terms of the breast surgery itself, but the area under my arm where the lymph nodes were removed has been a lot trickier, with numbness (I still can’t feel myself applying deodorant), tingling, random shooting pains, and more localized pain when I try to move a certain way (holding the phone with my shoulder is a definite no no). That said, I never did fill the prescription for painkillers that I was given, and just use Extra Strength Tylenol which does the trick. At this point, I take it once a day if something is bugging me (or I want it before I do my strengthening exercises), but some days I take nothing at all so really I can’t complain too much.
Despite being aware of what hurts, it’s amazing how I remain such a creature of habit: I have learned, for example, that it is my natural instinct to put on shirts, sweaters and coats right arm first. My surgery was on the left, and it’s much less painful to do that side first (less twisting/stretching), but close to two weeks later I still reach forward with the wrong arm almost every time.
Sports bras are recommended 24/7 for the first while, and I also learned that it’s important that the bra does not require going over your head. I know we’re supposed to hate Amazon right now and everything but when I couldn’t leave the house and desperately needed a change of bra that I could pull up over my legs I was grateful to have the necessary items on my front step in two days.
As far as emotions go, there are good days and bad, good hours and bad. When I’m tired I’m much more emotional so I am prioritizing sleep, including afternoon naps when necessary. It was really hard to be away from school the week before Christmas, as it’s always my favourite time of year to be in the classroom, but now I’m shifting my focus and appreciating the fact that my husband and daughters are off school for the holidays.
While I’m a practical person (for example I hope I don’t need chemo but I’m preparing myself for that possibility) I try to block the crazy negative thoughts, like OMG what if this is my last Christmas? (I have absolutely no reason to think that is a possibility, but tell that to my middle-of-the-night brain.)
11 days after surgery I had a post-op appointment with my surgeon, where he removed the steri-strips and told me I was “healing like a champ” (which I felt a little too proud about, considering it was more about his skill than my healing efforts, but I’ll take whatever mood-boosting comments I can get at this point).
When asked to raise up my left arm so he could access that incision, I did so hesitantly, which he took as a sign to gently remind me that I need to be doing my exercises to get back a full range of motion. While I am a bit careful to avoid pain, the truth is I was also self-conscious about the lack of grooming in the area – since I can’t feel it and have a hard time seeing it, I was letting it go natural until after the checkup. And I know, I know, medical professionals do not care about this sort of thing and as a feminist I should celebrate that women don’t even need to shave etc., etc., but I’m going for honesty here!
The doctor explained where he had strategically made incisions on the breast (I have to work with some of you people so I’m not going to actually use the word areola – whoops, just did!) and also reassured me that the lump around the underarm incision (it looks and feels like I’m attempting to smuggle a tube of lipstick under my skin) will eventually go away. Once I got home, I took a good look at the now-exposed surgical sites and I have to say I’m pretty okay with things – he really did do an excellent job.
He also confirmed the good news I had heard from my family doctor the day before: there were clear margins on the tumour, and the five sentinel lymph nodes he had located and removed were free of any cancer cells. The largest dimension of the tumour was 1.1 cm, which sounds pretty small to me, so I’m considering that more good news. (I’ll share more specifics about the tumour in the next post; we’re still waiting on a bit of information that may impact treatment.)
I will see the surgeon again for a follow-up in six months, and next he has referred me to Lakeridge Health in Oshawa to meet with my oncologist for a treatment plan. Since the appointment and plan could both be a while coming, I wanted to go ahead and share where things stand at the moment.
I realized once I left the surgeon’s office that day that I had been so business-focused with questions about the results and next steps that I had been remiss in thanking the man who successfully removed the cancerous tumour from my body. I will be sure to rectify that situation.
As for the grooming, I am happy to tell you that I enlisted Olivia to assist as my spotter at the bathroom sink and I got the job done. I couldn’t relinquish the razor, but I took direction well: “Down lower – go over that spot again – now closer to the front”. When I asked her if she had ever imagined helping her mother in such a manner she said, “Well, maybe when you were 80!”
I’ve been doing my exercises daily, and continue to see improvement. In fact, yesterday I put on a real sweater over my head for the first time and was so proud that I thought it deserved a commemorative photo! (On a related note, I highly recommend a ring light.)
Thank you for being here and following my journey – I wish you all the happiest (and healthiest) of holidays! xo