June 1, 2013
My walk with breast cancer started November 30, 2011. I'd had a screening mammogram which showed TWO suspicious lesions in my right breast. The subsequent biopsies confirmed both were cancerous. My boss also happens to be our family doctor - I'm an LPN, (almost 57 years old as I'm writing this). He took me into an exam room and at the time I didn't realize what he was doing. He laid the biopsy report in front of me so I could see it and said, "You have cancer." He is the kindest, most compassionate doctor I know, and was and is battling cancer himself. I'm guessing he thought I might cry, but the first words out of my mouth were, "What do we do next?"
I saw a breast surgeon soon after that. She explained the differences in the 2 tumors: one was hormone receptor positive, but the other was triple negative, which she said isn't very common. She spent 3 hours on a Saturday with my husband and me discussing options and explaining everything. We decided a mastectomy would be the best surgical choice. Because of the one tumor being triple hormone receptor negative, my surgeon advised I have the BRCA genetic test which determines whether one carries the gene for breast cancer. If the test is positive, many women opt for a double mastectomy to decrease/prevent the chance of getting cancer in the unaffected breast. My test was negative, so only a single mastectomy was needed. I also decided on reconstruction, so she referred me to a plastic surgeon. Since I work with doctors, I know there are some who are good AND personable, and some who are good and have the bedside manner of a jar of nails. I wanted good and personable and she gave me a wonderful recommendation. He spent at least 45 minutes going over the different types of implants available. I knew I loved him when he took the silicone implant and threw it on the floor and STOMPED on it to show me how strong it was! I told him that he'd just practiced for a mammogram!
Surgery was scheduled for January 11, 2012. Both surgeons were to be present; the breast surgeon to do the mastectomy and my plastic surgeon to do the implant. One thing my plastic surgeon told me was that sometimes the tissue left to encase the implant does not have an adequate blood supply. If the implant was done in such a case, the tissue would likely die and more surgery would be needed. Not a good thing. There is a machine called a SPY camera that checks the tissue in question for adequate blood supply. He used that during my surgery and it was determined I would not be a good candidate for the implant at that time. What he DID do was cut away the non-viable tissue, put in an expander, and filled it with about 300 cc's of saline and stitched me up. Every couple of weeks for the next few months he injected more saline which stretched and grew NEW skin! After chemo was completed, he was able to remove the expander, place the implant, and ALSO tweak the left breast so they matched! He explained that to me at my first visit with him. It hadn't occurred to me that I'd have BOTH breasts worked on. I'd just assumed I'd have one "perky" breast and one "fried egg hanging on a nail" breast. Win-win!
I spent the night in the hospital. I had 2 tubes hanging out of the right side of my chest connected to high wall suction and Jackson-Pratt drains, a urinary catheter, IV's, and cuffs on my calves that inflated every few minutes to help with circulation and prevent blood clots from forming in the leg veins - I was more worried about that than I was the mastectomy! I. Had. No. Pain. I was amazed, although along with the tumors and breast tissue, the nerves were removed as well, but still...
Recovery from surgery was uneventful. I was glad when the drainage tubes were removed about 12 days after surgery. The biopsies of the sentinel lymph nodes and 3 other nodes were negative and the tumors were removed in their entirety! After 6 weeks off, I went back to work. That seemed therapeutic. Then I started chemo.