From “SLAB” to “Frankenboob”

On 19 January, I had surgery to remove my lump. The terms around it were wide local excision, lumpectomy and finally rotational mastopexy. My lump was in the lower outer quadrant, just. The surgeon made a big long cut from under the nipple, down and under the breast and back up again…I think. I’d need to run back to the mirror and look again to be real precise. The bandages were only taken off yesterday and to be honest I don’t like looking at it currently. Part of the reason for that is that the surgeon had to cut around the whole of the nipple and then move it. Right now it all looks a bit foreign, but I think it will look OK. For now I am happy not to look too much.

My friend had an operation on her toe and called it “Frankentoe” afterwards, so when I saw the boob I couldn’t help but remember that and quickly adopted “Frankenboob.” Thanks Julie!

Before the surgery, they told me it would be a big deal and I didn’t want to believe it. I figured the advice was general and some people are a lot older and perhaps frail or unfit, so I related the NHS advice to the Transport for London journey planner when they give you walking time estimates. So, when TfL tells me it takes 15 minutes to walk to a station or stop, it usually takes more like 5-7. I thought I am above average being a healthy, strong rower. In fact the surgery was a bigger ordeal than I thought, as it took about 2 hours compared to the 1 hour I expected, and the amount she needed to cut and shift was more than I thought too.

When I woke from the general anaesthetic, I was in a huge amount of pain, shaking and freezing and my heart rate apparently shot up (but nothing like what it does when I’m about to blow at the end of a 5k test on a rowing ergometer, so it wasn’t all that dramatic either). I’m not really sure how long it took to manage the pain. It felt like a long time, but things do when you’re in pain. I had terrible nausea afterwards and eventually vomited (in front of the whole ward of course) but then they gave me anti-sickness medicine and within 20 minutes felt quite OK.

While the breast itself has been painful, the bigger problem has come from the sentinel lymph node biopsy. I am stunned by the effect it had on my arm which quickly becomes lame. I was so surprised because they only needed to take out one. It seemed so minor a thing to do.

In the first days I couldn’t grip or lift much of anything. There was general pain in the arm and simple things like using a keyboard or texting were exhausting. That’s all getting better now. I continue to have pain in the side and back of my arm and on my back around my shoulder blade. Nerve pain, I think. It feels like a combination of burning and freezing at the same time, and sometimes I get goose bumps down my arm and something like shivers.

It has all been more trying and exhausting than I expected. For example, walking has been difficult because my heart starts racing and I need to stop, and the motion of walking makes the breast hurt quite a lot. I did a test run into work today (2 Feb) and it was a trying experience. Being at work would be fine, but the act of walking between various public transport stations is painful.

I had my follow-up appointment yesterday (1 Feb). The results were good. They were not worried about the above ailments, it’s apparently normal and they seemed happy with how Frankenboob is healing. The margins around the tumour were clear and the lymph node was clear, which is GREAT! A little not so great news was that what they thought was a grade 2 (out of 3) tumour has turned out to be a grade 3. So, they have sent off a sample of the tumour to California for something called a Oncotype DX test, which involves testing genes to see if I need chemo and if I would respond well to it.  At least if I have to have chemo now I will feel better about it. I’ve had (perhaps the false) idea that chemo is (at least sometimes) given without knowing who will really benefit from it.

It’s hard to understand much about cancer. I have a hard time understanding why when they’ve removed the actual cancer with clear margins and negative lymph nodes I should need any further treatment at all, but I guess it is a question of what the statistics show on recurrence and it’s migration to other parts of the body. I learned that cancer cells, compared to liver cells, or any other organ’s cells, aren’t sticky and easily break away and take little trips around the body. Cancer’s a sneaky little bastard.


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