What to Wear after Breast Surgery

I can see without looking very hard, that not all cancer stories have a happy ending.  My new friend in the bed next to me had been battling cancer for thirteen years, facing endless treatments for cancers popping up in different parts of her body.  She still had a bubbly positive attitude, although she felt God had put her on the earth to torture her.  I know she is not alone, in feeling like sickness and disease is God’s fault.  I could only share my story with her.  Being a person that has faith in God’s plan for my life I trust in His outcome.  Just after being diagnosed I pulled out my Bible and sat in the quiet reading Psalm 91. Verse 14 seemed to jump out at me ‘Though a thousand fall at your side, and ten thousand are dying all around you, none of these evils will overtake you, Yvette’ I put my own name in to read it as a promise from God to me, from then on I felt completely peaceful, knowing that no matter what I go through in the next months, I will not be alone and I have a promise that I will be alright.

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Before I came for surgery, Sarah and I had gone shopping  to buy a pod machine for her Dad, this way he would still have good coffee while I was gone, and be able to make me one when I get back. We got a nice white Caffitaly machine with the breast cancer logo on the side.  I thought it only right to support the cause.   It was not until I got involved in the breast cancer world that I was aware  how busy the surgeons and radiology fields are, in dealing with many many breast cancer patients, day after day.

I realised that having breast surgery, may pose some dressing problems.  I own very few button down the front shirts or tops. Even if they only do a lumpectomy I will find it hard to pull tight tops over my head. As it turns out, the Physiotherapist does want you to lift your arms and do gentle exercise to keep everything moving, but, take it easy and don’t hurt yourself.  There are websites dedicated to tops for after a mastectomy with little pockets to pop prosthetics, and the round ends of drainage tubes into. On a search, engine just type ‘What to Wear after a mastectomy’, for lots of ideas and sites to order from. Also breast cancer foundation WA has access to many resources. I did some online shopping from Target, which turned out to be very good.  They have a couple of very inexpensive Bra styles for post surgery with no underwire to dig in to tender areas, and some do up in the front.

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They proved to be invaluable after my operation.  It always amazes me that our mothers warned us about strangers, yet when the Resident who could have been anyone, told me to take my top off so he could admire their work came to see me the morning after surgery, I flashed my boobs to him and his entourage without a second thought.  He did say, put your bra on and leave it on, not because he was so shocked at what he saw (stop laughing, he didn’t say it immediately) but to help support the area.  This was great advise.  The support helped with the pain management.  Mostly you do everything one handed, especially bending down which I tried to avoid, but did whilst holding the sore boob tightly as I bent over. While we are on the subject of pain, one of the sisters said good old paracetamol taken regularly is very effective in keeping the pain under control and she was right.  I feel for ladies who have double mastectomies, that would be another ball game entirely.  Apparently it hurts to sneeze for months and coping with a large expanse of your body in a very up front position which suddenly has no feeling must be  strange. It actually hurts to sneeze or cough after any surgery, the Physio said to hug a pillow or yourself, that helps.  Did you know they have pillows with an arm, how sad is that so you don’t have to feel lonely,  you just snuggle in and pretend your partner is there.  Mind you at least you don’t have to make the pillow breakfast.

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They are very keen to preserve your breast if at all possible.  They first remove the tumour with a section around it.  If this section or margin is clear of cancer cells, all good.  If one of the margins has cancer cells too close to the edge, they may go back in a slice a bit more off.  If it has invaded too far then they may do a mastectomy.  Now we just have to wait, it takes about 10 days to get all the results.

Lumpectomy Day

On the day of my lumpectomy I needed to be at Royal Perth Hospital for an 8 am appointment at Nuclear Medicine, for a Lymphoscintigraphy so we set off at 6.45 to allow for traffic. My breast was injected with a radioactive substance that maps the drainage from the tumour in my breast and shows up which Lymph Node it will drain to first, this way while you are being operated on they can take that Node named the Sentinel Node and check that along with any others they think they should check, to make sure no cancer has spread to them. I am not going to lie, the injection stings and goes on stinging for a little while after, but it is not that bad. You lie still for five minutes while the scanner takes its images, then another five for the side view. I was worried it would be claustrophobic but even though it is quite close to your face your head is out and you can stare out the window or count sheep to keep you occupied.

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I didn’t need to be at the surgery ward till 11.30 so we went and had coffee with our son Scott and his wife Dani who live very close to Royal Perth Hospital. Well Allan had coffee, I was fasting so had to just sniff the fumes and watch. Scott makes the best coffee. He was so passionate about good coffee, he did a baristas course some years back and gave us all lessons. Consequently, we are all coffee addicts and very fussy about a good cup. Allan’s mum has been moved to an aged care hospital a little further up the road, so after we left Scott and Dani we called in there to have a quick visit as I wasn’t sure how long it would be before we got down there again. Even though aged care facilities are necessary as families don’t always have the nursing skills to care for elderly relatives at home, it must be hard on the patient. The staff are generally friendly and when they deal daily with older folk who may not be in very good shape mentally, you can understand a certain amount of complacency, but, Mum has all her faculties and is just frail in her body, so to be stuck in a loud room lined up in a wheel chair with a dozen others to watch a television that you have no chance of hearing must be in total contrast to whatever lifestyle you had eeked out for yourself through the years before your incarceration. One old gentleman asked me to help get him up, I was nervous to assist as I wasn’t sure if I was radio active, so said I would get a staff member. They assured me his trolley wasn’t all connected and didn’t bother to go and see what he wanted. Very frustrating, if your trolley is in fact connected and you just cant get the body going. We sat outside in the forty degrees for a while with Mum, who doesn’t like air-conditioning, then left her with Allan’s niece Diane who has been driving down from Joondalup every day to see her Nan. What a blessing it is to have a big family.

We arrived at the hospital and after checking me in I sent Allan home to have a sleep.

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                                                          Twiggy eat your heart out

My surgeon came to examine me and was shocked that the tumour had grown quite considerably since she had last seen me.  Still, they prepared me for surgery, sexy circulation stockings and backless gown, and I spent the time waiting chatting to the girl in the bed next to me.  She had been fighting cancer for thirteen years, had multiple sites throughout her body, but still had a very positive attitude. She was just having the old port for her chemo removed as she now took tablets.  What an inspiration, she made me feel that my breast tumour wasn’t so bad after all.

Drive thru Hospitals

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I went to check in for next weeks lumpectomy at the hospitals pre admission.  The staff were all very nice as I did the rounds, filling in forms, getting blood tests, ECG’s, and check up with anaesthetist.  Everything was going swimmingly till I came back from blood tests and found the anaesthetist had been and gone and would be back in fifteen minutes.  One hour later he did in fact return and we had our pre op meeting.  While waiting I looked around at the crowd waiting, some for pre admission like me, but most were waiting with their bags to be called in for there surgery, totally cold turkey and no transition from walking in and being knocked out and cut up.  To add insult to the cattle awaiting slaughter atmosphere, there was a sign telling us that the waiting room was for patients, and that relatives should wait outside.  So not only are you to sit there wide awake nervously anticipating what was ahead, but now you can’t even have someone there to hold your hand.

On the day of your procedure, you sit with your gown on waiting to be called, then walk in to the operating theatre and hop up on the table.

To be honest it made me hanker for the good old days when you went in for surgery the night before, so they could give you a sleeping pill and make sure you had a good nights sleep, followed in the morning by some nice pre op relaxer which made you all dozy and you stopped being at all nervous about the procedure you would be having, and not notice that you were hungry from going without your morning coffee and breakfast, and at which point you wouldn’t care if they cut a limb off you were so chilled.

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While I personally wouldn’t want to go back to the ten day mandatory stay in hospital when you had a baby, we may be swinging too far the other way.  They have been doing a study on the concept of a Drive Thru ER at Stanford in the US. which may have its merits, you can at least watch the DVD player in the car, and bring the kids if you need to.  This is all to cut money and time of course, the population is exploding, hospital budgets get cut instead of increased, and I suppose from the patients point of view everyone is so busy they don’t want to interrupt their business with inconvenient hospital stays. They already have Drive thru Pharmacies, Drive Thru Funeral Viewings, so  I suppose before long with surgeries becoming more micro and less invasive, and recovery time being less, you may be able to pull up at the drive thru Hospital, duck in and have your appendix lasered out through a tiny hole, while hubby keeps the motor running and pop back a few minutes later with a couple of paracetamol to swallow on the trip home, without having missed much of the programme you were watching on telly before the pain struck.

The Day clinic is closed on the day of my surgery, they are just doing a few emergencies in the theatre, so I get to go to the Surgical ward.  I may even get a bed to wait in as I will be staying overnight, I will need it as I start the day off with an appointment at Royal Perth Hospital for a lymphoscintigraphy (radio active injection in the boob) at 8am, then off to Armadale hospital for 11.30 to get ready for my surgery booking at 1.00 pm. I will totally be ready for a nap by then, so just for old times sake, I would like to be plonked in a bed in a ward to wait.  One can only hope.

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