I write this post so that I don’t forget what I went through, so I don’t become less vigilant in maintaining my health and doing breast exams in the future. This happens to 1 of 8 of us. Serious stuff.
I got the call the night before surgery to show up at 8:30am at the hospital. We got there and stood in line with a bevy of other patients checking in for their own procedures. After a short wait we were escorted back to what would be my room for the day, 1115.
Let the humiliation begin.
They had me strip down and made me wipe my entire body down with these germ-killing wash cloths, that left my skin sticky and itchy. Then I donned a purple plastic gown that had a port on either side where you could attach a heater that would blow warm air into the gown. Although very modern, It was reminiscent of the old hair dryers from the 70’s. It had a remote so that I could adjust the temp to blow either hot or cold air, and I used both settings since I was swinging from one temp to the next. Hot flashes? Nervousness? Yes.
Time to get the i.v. set up. The poor nurse had a heck of a time finding a vein. I was dehydrated from not being able to drink and I guess the veins shrink when you are under stress, double whammy. She found a vein on the back of my right hand that she thought was usable, but it had a valve nearby so when she ran the catheter in, it “blew up.” She decided to call in an older lady who was an i.v. jedi. She found a decent vein at the base of my thumb, and got the i.v. in there, but it was painful all day because anytime I moved my right hand it hurt because that is a flex point.
10am came and I was scheduled for what would be the worst part of my day. It’s called a lymphoscintigraphy (say that one without spitting) and it’s done in advance of a what’s called a sentinel node biopsy, which would be performed after my lumpectomy.
******** Graphic description warning, skip to below to avoid ********
They wheeled me into the same room I had my tumor biopsied a month earlier. I was in with the same (wonderful) physician Dr. Gonyo, her sonography technician, a radiologist and a lady named Yvette, whose job it was to keep me distracted. The radiologist explained to me the procedure, I was to get 3 injections into my nipple and that it is quite painful. The injections are a radioactive fluid that helps locate which lymph nodes the tumor drains into, so they can determine if the cancer has spread. They can’t give any numbing agent along with it, because it hinders the draining mechanism. So, over the next several minutes I trembled in agony as they slowly injected me with this burning fluid in my nipple. It was described to me beforehand as a wasp sting, and it was just like that, only more intense and long-lasting. Yvette was wonderful as she comforted me, while I breathed through the injections like one would through a contraction. I cried, I tried to hold it in, but I couldn’t. After a while, at last the pain subsided. I was left shaken and weak. I want to go home, I want this to stop. But onward I go.
Then, more fun was to begin but at least I would be numbed for this part. In order to locate the tumor for the surgeon, they needed to insert a barbed needle into the center of the tumor. I watched on the ultrasound screen as they inserted it horizontally through my breast until they reached the center. About an inch of needle still remained on the outside, so they covered it with a small plastic cup and taped it in place. This would give the surgeon a reference point to cut around and then the tumor would come loose, just like a cancer lollipop on the barbed needle, after surgery.
********** Graphic stuff over with **********
I was wheeled back to my room to await my scheduled surgery time of 1:00pm. I was the last surgery of the day. Unfortunately, my surgeon’s first surgery of the day turned out to be a difficult case and all of the other surgeries were now delayed by two hours. Meanwhile, I was so thirsty, hungry, my wrist was throbbing from the i.v. and the anesthetic was wearing off from the area where the needle was inserted. I maintained a decent mood despite all of this and the hospital staff did their best to keep me informed.
At 3pm they finally wheeled me in to the operating room. I always laugh because anesthesiologists always tell me that I’ll never remember this part when I wake up, but I always do, up until the point they put the mask on me. They transferred me to a narrow operating table and began securing my arms down. They put a pillow under my knees for comfort and as I looked around I noticed large screens with the images of my tumor on them. Then came the mask – she said it was just oxygen and to breathe deeply, I did. After a few minutes she cranked on the gas. I was out.
I awoke 3 hours later in the recovery room. The surgery was supposed to only take 2 hours. The surgeon told my husband that they had to go deep into my armpit for my lymph nodes, at least that’s what he thinks she said. Annoyingly, he didn’t really ask for any details. I guess I will find out next Wednesday, at my follow-up appointment. After an hour in recovery and then another hour recovery back in my room, I was finally allowed to go home, over 12 hours after my arrival. After a quick stop for a sandwich, I went home and settled into a deep drug-induced sleep.
Now, I begin to recover and (my favorite) more waiting for results of my biopsy. More on that soon…