Breast cancer

The day of the surgery: mastectomy with reconstruction

It started with the iv connection since one can’t eat 7 hours prior. Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t so good – maybe the needle used was too big but when the nurse tried to do it, it was extremely painful I felt I was blacking out. I had an iv before so I knew it shouldn’t be that painful. On the second try with a more senior nurse and smaller needle, it went in successfully with little pain.

Next step, I was brought down to nuclear medicine in a stretcher for the sentinel node mapping. You are placed on a narrow bed where the scanning machines are. They inject a radioactive dye into your breast then trace the locations of the nodes the ink flows to. You need this because they will need to take a biopsy of these nodes during surgery, to know if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

The doc said it would hurt a bit , like the bite of an ant , or a big ant. But when they injected, there was hardly any pain. Too good to be true. Apparently , they later advised that the dye particles were too small and flowed through without identifying the nodes location. So I had to wait while they ordered another dye with bigger particles . My husband was able to wait with me during this time . I prayed that the delay wouldn’t wreck havoc on my surgery schedule . The second attempt was successful , but not without some pain, it’s like someone pinched you real hard but the pain lasts only 5 seconds .

Then it was off to the pre-surgery waiting area where my husband was still allowed in. It felt surreal with a part of me thinking – in a while I’ll wake up and it will be over, while a tiny part was still thinking, will these be my last memories ?

My doc soon came and said the operation would take around 4 hours. I was wheeled into the operating room , similar to what you see on TV with the big lights , machines , people in blue scrub suits and masks , etc. The last I remember was the nurse recounting the case facts and my doc saying “start” …

The next instant , as if no time has passed (unlike waking up from sleep when you’re aware time has passed), I woke up in the recovery room. My left breast was in pain, I called out glad to hear my own voice (that meant I was alive !) , and the doctor came asking to rank my pain. 8.5 I said though it was really only around 8. They injected pain relievers and on it went until the pain became 6.5 (6 really) then 3.5 (3). I was also shivering from cold and they put a blower with warm air under my blanket. Then I was brought back to my room by 9pm or total of around 8 or 7.5 hours after the start of surgery.