It has almost been a week since surgery and I can definitely summarize it in one word: ow.
I was starting to feel very down about how slow the recovery has been. I was successfully off prescription painkillers on Sunday, but then had a major setback Monday and have been needing them since. For me, getting off painkillers is significant. Of course, it means my pain level is less, but it also means I sleep better (prescription painkillers screw up my sleep), can think more clearly and can get back to work at least for a few hours at a time.
So, it has been hugely disappointing that I’m not feeling well at this point. Then, my surgical nurse called with some test results today, asked how I was doing and said, “You know, a lymph node dissection is the hardest surgery you’ve had.”
REALLY? “Harder than a lumpectomy, even harder than a mastectomy. It is really a painful surgery.”
I was so relieved. I had been thinking this, even saying it to people, but it was hard to believe – thinking maybe my memories of the other surgeries had gotten fuzzy with time. But I seem to recall going back to work (from home) for a few hours a day a week after my second mastectomy.
Everyone around me acts like I’m a bad-ass for doing this, but I’m really not. After every surgery, I went back when I could hack it. I took naps when I couldn’t. I took Tylenol as needed and it made me feel better. Sure, I could have taken a few weeks off and relaxed, but I was terrified of not being able to feed my kid and pay my mortgage. Times have not changed.
In fact, with each surgery or procedure I’ve endured, I’ve become decidedly more wimpy. It took them an hour to find a vein to start an IV before surgery last week. And when they did, it was the top of my foot. The last thing I remember before they knocked me out was not the anesthesiologist telling me to “count backward from 10″ or to “say the alphabet backward,” but me very loudly crying “SHIT” and “FUCK” as my foot was probed and the young assistant surgeon patting my arm and telling me I’d feel better in a second.
I’m not hesitating to take the medicine I need to control pain, but it’s disappointing. I’m bored, depressed and need to get back to work.
So, it was a relief to hear today that this is normal. This surgery sucks. Think: very sensitive area with lots of nerve endings and several muscle groups coming together. Many movements set off the pain.
Furthermore, I still have a drain and probably will until Monday or Tuesday. The nurse confirmed – as I had suspected – that the drain in this super sensitive area is aggravating the pain. I have to get below 30ml of drainage in a day. Today was 120ml, down from 245ml the day I came home. Ugh.
I shouldn’t complain, but I would like this to feel better now.
The results are in … mostly
The nurse also shared the results of my pathology from the surgery. Of the 31 lymph nodes removed, two were positive for cancer – the largest measuring 2.1 cm. I take this as a good sign.
My tumor is ER/PR+, which is the same as the original, but the HER2 expression is not yet clear. This is different from the original in 2006, when I was HER2-. They are now doing what is called the FISH test for further evaluation. If it is positive, that will indicate a change in my tumor (which is possible when a tumor leaves it’s original location) and I will end up with Herceptin as part of my treatment plan. I don’t really see this as good or bad; it’s just an important thing to know for treatment. If it has changed, it would also indicate a level of aggressiveness that would help explain the recurrence (after surgery, chemo and tamoxifen).
I see my surgeon and oncologist on Aug. 12 and will have a full treatment plan then. My educated guess is radiation (starting soon), ovarian ablation (soon), an AI and, if HER2/FISH is positive, Herceptin.
I will try to remember to explain this better next time. I’m too fuzzy right now to explain it all.