It’s the day of the big chop.
I’m having my surgery done at York Hospital in the day clinic. Luckily I’m a morning slot, so the starvation isn’t too bad, considering I have to wake up at 6:30 to be there for 7:30. Who’s hungry at that time? Well, actually, I am.
It’s my sister (the doctor) who tells me: “You’ll be in theatre by 9, that means you won’t get too hungry, and that’s always the worst bit!” Of having an operation? I hear her slipping into GP mode with that line.
“Oh sis, I bet you say that to all the sickos.”
I’d had an appointment with my surgeon a week previously. We’d talked about ways to get the bugger out – three options.
Numero Uno – go straight for the sucker. Cut over the lump site (about 2cm to the right of the nipple) and wap it out. Simples.
Pros: least amount of bruising, most direct option.
Cons: mega visible scar.
Option 2 (I’ll try and get this right) – a ‘periareolar incision’ – basically cutting around the areola.
Pros: Kind of hides the scarring – I mean, it’ll be just like a pencil line round what’s already there, right?!
Cons: Loss of feeling to the nipple (“Sorry dear, were you trying to stimulate me? I hadn’t noticed!”) and, in my case, probably a more noticeable scar than most considering my entire body is a blob of white. My complexion varies between pale and very pale. And palest.
Option 3 (you can tell from the way he phrases this that it’s his fave):
Inframammary incision – going down under. The idea is to hide your scar in the natural curve of the breast.
“And it’ll become more disguised with time, with the natural dropping of the breast.”
Me, light-hearted: “You’re saying my boob’s going to drop?”
He doesn’t see me wink because he’s too busy drawing fun pictures of my boobs and where he’s going to slice them open.
He looks up, serious: “Your boobs are definitely going to droop.”
Pros: best way to hide the scar.
Cons: lots of bruising – it would be the furthest ‘way in’ to the lump. He kindly explains (with liberal gesticulations) how he would make the cut, slide his hand ‘in’ and ‘up’, then ‘pop’ the lump out.
And now all I’m seeing is this guy elbow deep in boob flesh.
Nah. No thanks. You look way too excited at the prospect.
Even more background-background-info:
In October I had my tonsils out, which was one of the worst things I’ve ever had done, and I’ve had a hell of a lot of bad luck with my body. It probably didn’t help that I was very blasé beforehand (“Oh, it’ll just be a sore throat”), but the real problem I had was with the anaesthetic. I had a really rough time coming round, spending just under an hour in recovery, being able to hear doctors talking about me, but not being able to come to full consciousness. It was horrible at the time, and had made me terrified to go under again. Therefore, when I first found out I had to have the surgery, my first response was asking if it could be done under local anaesthetic. I’m no wonder woman but I have a pretty high pain threshold, and I would do ANYTHING to avoid general anaesthetic so soon after that experience.
The answer was no, so I decided to punish my surgeon and make him do the periaereola incision, since he quite obviously wanted option 3. If I wasn’t getting my way, then why should he? Plus, in my head, less bruising and easier access = less anaesthetic. Also I decided to go all body-proud on him: “I’m a strong, independent woman yo – go slice me right across my boob – see if I care! Hell – take the whole thing off – every body is beautiful, and no scar will make a difference!”
And do I hear a timid mention of partner’s preferences? “OH NO YOU DIDN’T! He has to think I’m beautiful whichever what way!”
I didn’t actually say it all like that, but that’s how it happened in my head. At this point, mentally, I’m also standing on his desk and snapping my fingers in his face. And the nurse in the room has joined my revolt, flinging off her own bra, standing on the desk with me.
A few days before the surgery I changed my mind. I know, it was kind of embarrassing for me, especially with his smug voice on the phone: “yes, I think that’s best.” Gr. The reason for this was the fact that I found out it wouldn’t affect the amount of anaesthetic involved – which was my only real fear – and I was just being deliberately contrary in opting for the more noticeable scar. The phrase ‘cutting of my nose to spite my face’, comes to mind. Though it’s more cutting off my nipple to prove some random point about feminism and body image that wasn’t really even a point at all.
So, back at the hospital …
In the day ward there’s no space for Mummies, so I’m feeling a little teary pre-anaesthetic. It’s a strange set up if you haven’t been to one before: I’m on a normal looking hospital ward, but there are chairs where the beds ought to be. Obviously post surgery I’m wheeled back in on one, but it feels odd to be in hospital without a bed to begin with. What is comforting is the other women in the ward – an immediate sense of camaraderie and sharing that makes everything more bearable.
So I’m kitted out in one of those oh-so-sexy hospital gowns, and the surgeon arrives to play colouring-book on my body.
“Oh dear,” To the nurse – “Do you have a permanent marker? I forgot mine.”
Doctor: “It’s all relative.”
“Here’s where I’ll make the incision – and I’m just going to draw a massive ‘B’ on it too – just to make sure I get the correct side.”
Right. Comforting, that is. And B stands for Booby?
No. Biopsy. Taking out the lump directly and nothing round it. Got’cha.
Then the inevitable forms – heart rate – pulse – blood pressure – yada yada endless generic tests. No caps, crowns, metal plates, or hand grenades inside me to make your life difficult doctor, no.
The anaesthetist also comes round each patient. Unbeknownst to me at my pre-op assessment my Mum had told the nurse that I thought I was going to die. Thus, my lovely anaesthetist does everything she can to put me at ease. She changes the ratio and types of drugs she’s going to use to put me to sleep and wake me up, given my previous experience. I can’t say how grateful I am to her for this, and for being so kind. She even whacks me with a sedative to calm me down in the anaesthetic room, when my leg is shaking so violently that I knock the notes to the floor that she has rested there.
“I’m just going to give you a large glass of wine straight into you Charley to calm you down; do you like wine?”
“White wine please.”
“White wine it is.”
She is quite wonderful.
I’m sure everyone already knows this, but the way they put you to sleep is through a cannula – a small tube that they insert into a vein – usually in your hand. Normally it’s really quite painless – just a scratch and strange sensation, but unfortunately my veins decide to be ‘wiggly’ today, and I end up a bit of a pincushion. Honestly, though, the bruise left by the failed cannula attempt is far larger and more colourful than the one left by the operation. So if you’re having to have a lumpectomy – really, don’t worry.
Obviously I can’t tell you too much about the operation itself, seeing as I’m asleep. I was told that it could take anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour, but I presume mine lasts around 40 minutes, given that I went to theatre at around 9:15 and am back on the ward by half 10, including time in recovery and being given the anaesthetic.
And, most wonderful of all, when I wake up, I actually wake up. Straight away. I feel a little groggy, and desperate for a cup of tea, but in the grand scheme of things really quite fine. The breast feels heavy and bruised, but nowhere near as painful as I expected. It’s sore to move my arm, and I spend the next few hours feeling nauseous and sleepy, but that’s just down to the drugs.
I’m discharged at around 4pm, and what I’d neither been advised about nor realised myself (ridiculous for someone who calls themselves a lingerie blogger) was BRA. If you have to go for breast surgery, make sure you’ve sorted this out in advance. Luckily, my saviour-bra turned up in the post that same day at home (amazing considering it had only been posted the day before), but that still meant I had to endure the 45-minute car journey without one.
You’d think, perhaps, (I did) that any kind of pressure on the site would be painful, but that really isn’t the case. The same rules of lingerie apply, and I imagine for bigger-busted ladies it might be worse. You still need the support of a bra, even more so, after surgery: especially if the wound (as in my case) is on the underside of your breast. If you haven’t sorted out a proper post surgery bra ahead of time, then make sure you take with you something NON-UNDERWIRED to wear after. Although in my opinion, nothing could replace investing in a proper surgery bra – one that front fastens, meaning you don’t have to strain the wound by fiddling around behind your back, has fully adjustable straps, is non-wired but fully supportive, made out of the right kind of material, and sits (like a long-line bra) far below where the pain is at.
I couldn’t have managed without the silver post surgery bra from Royce Lingerie. Literally, as soon as I walked through the door it was out of the packet and on me, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. But I’ll review it properly in my next post, alongside some advice on how to cope best after surgery.
Remember to remember to stay calm – it’s never as bad as the panic forums make out.
Specifically, this one:
Some useful websites and links:
What to expect from a lumpectomy (breastcancer.org)
We still love Coppefeel
And we certainly recommend the Silver Post Surgery Bra – worth it’s weight in gold.