Life After Surgery

It’s been two and a half weeks since surgery.

I’m healing well and doing my version of ‘taking it easy’ which, it seems, is nothing like what my surgeon or my husband had in mind. It seems that their version involves a lot of reclining and sighing. Not me at all!

I’m not being stupid. For the first week I didn’t lift anything heavier than five kilos and I’m doing my physiotherapy twice a day, as instructed. On the advice of my surgeon I’ve now replaced the tape that was on my wound (which fell off in its own time and no, I did not help it!) with something called ‘micropore tape’ which will apparently help to improve the appearance of my scar. This comes in white or skin tone and in a couple of different widths. Initially I was changing this every day but I think I’m just supposed to leave it on. It also makes the wound more comfortable when I’m on my back as it helps to reduce that pulling sensation.

I’m wearing a bra pretty much all the time, unless I’m showering or swimming. I was able to swim this week and wish there was a way I could just move into the pool until I’m healed. It’s so nice to float around in the water.

My breast after surgery feels hard and lumpy in some places and is tender in others. This is normal. I’m so lucky to have the support of the Breast Care Nurses from the hospital. They ring every so often to see how I’m going and they’re available to answer questions. Having a hard lump post-surgically is unnerving because it reminds me of the way the tumours felt post-biopsy. I’m just healing.

I also have these strange sensations in my breast. Some of them feel like stretching and pulling, which you expect, but there’s also an odd sensation like an electrical current arcing through the tissue. Once again, completely normal.

Showering involves supporting my breast with one hand and using the other to wash. Leaving it unsupported is still very uncomfortable and not advisable because my wound is on the top of my breast. The weight pulling on the wound in unpleasant and will be until it fully heals. I’ve figured out that I can dry off by bending forwards at the waist for short stretches of time; just long enough to dry the bits that I can’t reach with one hand while supporting my left breast with the other.

I had a couple of flat days after my pathology results. Not surprising. I was pleased that I was able to lift myself out of that with a combination of yoga, positive thinking and the support of my friends and family.

I was hoping that taking acetyl l carnitine might help to relieve my peripheral neuropathy but it seems to have made it worse. I suppose there’s the possibility that the pain is a sign of my nerve endings rebuilding but I’ve decided to stop taking it for now. I’ll avoid any supplements until after my radiation. If I’m still having problems with my hands and feet I’ll try some ginkgo biloba supplements once I’m out the other side. In the mean time I’m finding my best friend is my acuball. You can have a look at them here:

My daughter bought me the little one from Rebel Sports as a Christmas gift and it’s now my constant companion. Whether I’m rolling it between my hands or between my feet and the floor, it’s helping with the numbness and the pain. You don’t need to pay nearly $60 for the whole kit. You can buy the balls individually and I’m finding that just the mini ball is all I need. You might also be able to find balls designed to go in the dryer that look very similar and do the same thing. Try the $2 shop!

I’m still getting night sweats and shouted myself a new set of Egyptian cotton sheets at the sales. I need to change them more often these days and you really can’t beat good cotton for helping you to stay cool. I’ve also moved a stack of hand towels to my bedside cabinet and there’s a clean one on my pillow every night. I treat the night sweats the same as a crying baby. Wake up just enough to respond. Try to stay in that place where you’re not quite awake. Do what you need to do and then go back to sleep. When I’m particularly restless I’m plugging in to my iPod and listening to Sacred Earth. You can hear their music here:

Glorious for relaxing, yoga or just getting everyone in the house to chill out. I find that even if I can’t sleep, just relaxing and breathing is restful, and certainly better for me than gnashing my teeth over my inability to sleep.

My hair is growing back. I have a short, white, pixie do at the moment and I’m told everyone gets white first thing after chemotherapy. You can see the new hair starting to grow under it. At this stage it looks very dark but I’m expecting it to be the grey I had before treatment. So far, no surprise curls. My eyebrows are also returning and now look strange to me after so long without them. I have tiny eyelashes and a very strange sensation in my nostrils as my nose hair returns. Goodbye to not shaving my legs and goodbye to my very interesting half Brazilian. Both have been fun.

I’ve read up on radiation and what will be involved. I’ve reread the information on triple negative breast cancer, recurrence rates and mortality. The best advice this week came from my Mum; “You can spend your time worrying about the risks, or you can live. The best months of your father’s life were the last ones because he decided to just live. So just live.”

This week I got back to my regular yoga class, I did some shopping, I made great salads for a barbecue with dear friends, I hung out with my daughter for a while and talked about university and moving out, I pulled some weeds and harvested potatoes and miniature capsicums from the garden and I curled up next to my husband and enjoyed the way he feels and the way he smells. I nursed our old, blind cat and hung washing for the first time since surgery. I enjoyed the sensation of strength and movement returning to my body. Just living.

Yes, yes, probably not anyone’s idea of taking it easy!

I also looked in the mirror and tried to imagine what my breast will look like when I’m fully healed. I remembered there’s still six weeks of radiation and the possibility of skin burns and blistering and changes in the shape of my breast tissue. There will be fatigue and there may be more pain. I remembered what my husband says about pain: If you’re alive to feel it then be grateful you’re alive.

I am so very grateful.

Things could have turned out very differently.

If I hadn’t got that letter from Breast Screen.

If the technician hadn’t readjusted me in the machine and thereby caught the tumour.

If I hadn’t been given the name of my very brilliant surgeon.

If I’d been born in another country.

If I’d been on my own, or married to a different person.

So many reasons to be grateful.

My husband has been so supportive and because I know that it would make him very happy to see me do it, I’m going to spend the rest of today doing not very much at all. Taking it easy.

He wants to see me doing much more of nothing once radiation starts.

We shall see.


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