Things I Have Learned Since My Mastectomy

Before my mastectomy, the only times I’d ever spent the night in a hospital, I’d brought babies home. Well, one each time I was there. Anyway, this cancer foray has allowed me to add “surgery” to my hospital resumé. So far, I have only had two surgeries in my life—the port installation surgery and the mastectomy plus expander. The port surgery was a quick affair—under an hour. The mastectomy was about five hours long. Obviously, the mastectomy plus expander was the more major of the two. Having such limited experience with surgery, I have learned much about surgery, and myself, these last few weeks.

  • Meds      I was a fairly boring teenager. I mean, I was a little loud, smoked, and I had sex. However, I never got naked and ran around outside. I didn’t steal. I didn’t drink. I didn’t do drugs. Because I leaned towards the practical in my teen years (Meaning, I was more likely to think something was fucking stupid to do rather than I was immortal.) medication does the trick for me now. I haven’t built up any tolerances. I was prescribed Percocet for pain and Valium for muscle spasms. If I take both of them at the same time, I have one of two reactions—sleepy or silly.

I want a napsilent bob




  • Drains Suck      Most drains come out in a week or two. My first one came out during the second week. My second one didn’t come until week four. Drains look gross, are hard to hide, and just generally get in the way. I was so tired of accidentally pulling on them when I adjusted my shirt, pants, moved around in my seat, etc. This happened multiple times a day. Again, drains suck.
  • Cleanliness      Contrary to what my lazy weekends look like, I don’t like being dirty. I wasn’t allowed to shower until my drain came out. It lowers the risk that the drain site will get infected. So I’d run a very short bath, sit, and wash from the waist down. Then I would awkwardly try to turn—without putting any weight on my dominant, right arm—so I could wash my nearly non-existent hair. There is something so sad about a grown woman splashing around in two inches of water.

panda splashing

  • Sleep      I have two modes—”passed the fuck out” or “did a dog bark down the street?” I miss a solid night’s sleep. I’m still in that stage where I’m sore most of the time. Most movement hurts. I move a lot when I’m settling into sleep. I’m kind of like a dog—gotta spin a few times before I relax. It’s driving me crazy that I haven’t been able to sleep on my right side for weeks. I will naturally start to turn right when I’m half-asleep, my brain yells, “Not that side!” and I’ll jolt awake. Unfortunately, jolting hurts too.
  • The New Boob      Directly after the mastectomy, I had an expander (I discussed what that is here) implanted. Ever since, I have dutifully gone in every week to have fluid put in it to expand it. The first time there were 50ccs of saline injected. I’ve had 60ccs injected each week there after. The expander is nothing like the actual implant. This thing is HARD. There is nothing natural feeling about this thing. Like, I could bounce quarters off of it. It really reminds me of those punch balls I’d have as a kid.

These always became a weapon at some point.

  • The Nipple      I realize that I was very fortunate to be able to keep my nipple. Most people are not so lucky with their mastectomy. However, because it is not that common, I didn’t really get any kind of warning or found much literature on what it would look like after surgery. When I first saw it, I wasn’t sure that I was happy that I’d kept it. It was flat. Like, run over by a truck flat. Like, Dali flat.
  • spider-of-the-evening

    Spider of the Evening, 1940

    It was just kind of slack like the rest of the skin. So now you know, nipples get their punch from the stuff below the surface. Thankfully, as the expander has been filled, it has started to look my normal again. Meaning, I’ve always been pretty symmetrical—in color, shape, etc.—and it looks like I will be again.

I will be meeting with the radiologist to discuss radiation options tomorrow. I don’t want radiation, so if I can avoid it, I will. Basically, if he says it will drop my risk for reoccurence by anything above 10% I will do it. But if it is only a percentage or two difference, I’m not going to do it. The few points I might save, I could lose in potential long term damage.

Six weeks out and I’m doing alright. Still pretty tired and sore, but my total range of motion is nearly back. I’m hoping that the fatigue really will go away—I’ve been fooled a few times—so that I can go back to work. I miss my job! We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

7 thoughts on “Things I Have Learned Since My Mastectomy

  1. I am glad that you are feeling better! I totally get the pain med thing. I am in another world when I take Claritin for my allergies so actual pain meds make me completely loopy. After my hysterectomy I was convinced that I heard the nurses say that they gave me Tylenol for the pain and that I had went to the bathroom during surgery. Thank God my husband and my best friend were there and they did not let me leak my findings to any of the hospital staff. I still remember exclaiming “Tylenol?!?! I could’ve gotten some out of my purse!!”


  2. Putting in a prayer for you so that you can soon be on the road to recovery. I must say congrats though. You are lucky you came through so far and you are one awesome and positive lady. I wish you the very best as you go along. Blessings to you.


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