Learning About Breast Cancer
You know what is so wonderful about these responses? No one is saying you should feel this or that. No one is extrapolating their individual experiences to a universal. They are all acknowledging there can a huge variety of responses.
So - like everyone else I am not saying my experience will be yours. One thing I learned myself and had reinforced on this site is we are often not warned about seromas developing post operatively - seromas are fluid filled sacs in or around the scar. Around 40% of women get them, so they are not rare. There are threads on seromas on this site so I won't go into more detail.
The pain levels can vary enormously. I would recommend you make sure you have effective pain meds already prescribed for you and on hand so you do not find yourself in pain and without them after discharge.
The lumpectomy size, location,number of stitches etc varies enormously. Mine is an inner upper quadrant, so my scar is visible with even semi-low cut top. but I actually like scars, and find them interesting, so this does not have a negative effect on me as it would on someone horrified by scars.
The operation itself was my first as well as first stay in a hospital, so I was very frightened. I had a bad reaction to coming out of the anaesthetic - there is a family history of that so I expected it would happen.
I paid huge attention to avoiding acquiring an infection while I was in hospital as well as once I got out. I was scrupulous about scrubbing myself from head to tow with the anti bacterial wash our hospitals give us to use the night before and morning of surgery. I wore pure cotton gloves in hospital so I was not touching germ filled surfaces and then my face or wound. I changed gloves often. I used anti bacterial hand wash many times a day after discharge as well. I bathed using Phisohex while my wound was healing. I kept well away from small children, even though it would have been lovely not to. I avoided anyone ill with colds etc so I was not sneezed or had to shake hands or kiss anyone carrying any germs. I followed the surgeons instructions to the letter for wound dressings. He used a dressing product that meant I could shower etc normally and it dropped off naturally when it was ready. I let it and did not pull at it. When I was briefly readmitted to hospital because of pain, I did not allow the Dr to remove the dressings early to "have a look" . I told him I had no fever, no temperature, no clinical indications of infection, I was back in hospital because they discharged me after removing 20% of my breast without giving me any pain meds to take home, I wanted some pain meds to rectify their error, and I definitely was not going to disobey y surgeons instructions to not touch the dressing till it fell off naturally excepting if I had an infection.
I found I could not pick up and carry things I used to be able to carry leaning on my wound area. Even a couple of years later, I have to be very careful. Just this week a 3 year old climbed up next to me and bashed her head into my scar. It was very painful. I try to be careful about squirming children or animals, but I still get a painful whack.
For about a year after the lumpectomy I had to avoid breast jiggle. I always used well supported bras anyway, but if I was in a car going over a speed hump for example, I would use my hand to hold my affected breast to avoid a painful jiggle. Years later I still don't do anything that cause my affected breast to jiggle - it tugs painfully at the scar tissue. I still get a weird tightness and burning sensation in the site of my sentinel node biopsy under my armpit. Many women I talk to say that is worse than the lumpectomy.
Within days of my lumpectomy I returned to yoga classes. I could not lay on my front or do some of the poses. I didn't care. The reason was I did what I could was I wanted to try and stretch the underarm and breast scars while they were fresh and still soft, as much as I could, because I knew if I let them heal in a tight ball, they would remain tight forever. So as much as I did not want to do arm stretches etc, I did as much as I could. A formal independent test by a physio showed I retained more than 95% function in my affected arm compared to my non-affected arm, so I think the early stretching really helped.
I did not have any body image crisis as I actually like my scars. Some women are very different and feel damaged or mutilated.
The worst part for me was the Nuclear Medicine staff on the morning of my surgery who gave me an radiotracer injection into my breast under the general nipple area. The technician lied to me and told me if was the same pain level as a local anaesthetic and claimed I did not need any pain relief. The pain was excrusciating - I felt like it took the top of my head off. Every muscle in my body spasmed. I involuntarily urinated and defecated a little in my underwear. Tears poured out of my eyes automatically without any intention to cry. I needed three months of five times a week phsyio on the shoulder closest to the injection site as the contractions from the painful injection was so bad, it locked the shoulder in a weird position. I then had to sit around for 6 hours waiting for surgery essentially in shock from this.
My tip - ask if you are having the radiotracer injection to light up the sentinel node before surgery and if you are INSIST on being given adequate pain relief such as EMLA cream one hour before, lidocaine injection first [I can tolerate a lidocaine injection no problems but the radiotracer is a million times worse] and/or the green tube with pain relieving chemicals you can suck on. I had to laugh cynically months later when I found out the university animal ethics research committee requires female dogs who are given this same radiotracer injection have solid pain relief first, yet our Protocols for Nuclear Technicians who do the same thing to humans do not. The reason it is mandatory for dogs by the way is because the pain from the radiotracer injection into the breast is considered is classified as cruel and torture when done to a dog without anesthetic.