It’s exactly a month since my operation so it seems a good day to report on how my recovery is going.
There’s been considerable progress since the previous update on 3 January (Post-op progress report No 2: A bit of a moan). In a nutshell, it’s going well, although it’s still early days. I’m so much more mobile than I was a couple of weeks ago and everything is healing well. Today I drove for the first time since the operation, and was delighted to find that apart from the odd twinge in my upper arm I was absolutely fine.
I’ve stepped up the range of arm, shoulder and abdominal exercises I do, and also the number of reps I do of each. I do my abdominal exercises on the floor now rather than on the bed, with no fear I’ll get stuck and not be able to get up (Post-op progress report No 1: Biting off more than I can chew)!
My various scars are all looking good, or in the techie speak of the oncologist in her latest letter outlining my progress, “physical examination revealed excellent healing”. I have four scars:
- one where the breast meets the chest where they made the incision for the mastectomy and reconstruction and where the “flap” they took from the abdomen for the reconstruction is attached
- one under the arm where they removed the lymph nodes
- one around my tummy button, which had to be detached from the abdomen skin and then reattached
- and the pièce de resistance, the hipbone to hipbone beauty. The plastic surgeon removed the last of the original dressing from the abdominal scar when I saw her this afternoon and declared herself happy with it. There’s a small areas where it’s opened and that still needs a dressing. The scar on the whole is surprisingly thin.
While I have no control over how I’m healing, I can’t help feeling quite proud of my body for doing so well. It’s the least it can do after letting me down so badly by getting cancer in the first place. I’m also rather gratified that, as I’d hoped (Just generally falling apart), the results of the bone mineral density scan I had before starting hormone therapy showed that I have strong bones for my age. This matters as the treatment I’m on increases one’s risk of developing osteoporosis (Breast cancer does indeed “come with baggage”); it’s good to know I’m starting from a relatively high baseline. All that tennis and running and whatever other weight-bearing exercises I did in the past clearly paid off.
On a more trivial point, three weeks to the day after my operation I managed to get back into my jeans; up until then I’d been wearing trousers with elasticated waists. And yes, with my surgically shrunken midriff*, the jeans are MUCH looser round the waist than they were before!
For all the progress, though, there’s a long way to go. There is still considerable discomfort and soreness (pain?) around the upper scar areas and the upper, inner arm area is still very tender. It’s still tight around the abdominal scar and that affects general mobility. I still have to take care getting out of bed, for example; in fact it occurred to me this morning that I may in fact have forgotten how one normally gets out of bed! There are lots of things I’m not even allowed to do yet with the operated arm. Yesterday, I reached up to get something from a high shelf in the supermarket and was quite dismayed to find I couldn’t get anywhere near it and had to use my left arm instead.
It’s the cording in the lymph vessels under the arm (A busy week with welcome news – “no further surgery necessary”) that’s restricting my arm movement and the miracle-working physiotherapist spent the best part of a 45-minute session this morning working on that. She and the consultants all tell me I’m doing well considering it’s less than five weeks since the op.
Fluid is continuing to collect in the breast/underarm area. I’ve now had fluid drained from the two areas where I was operated on a total of four times: on the third attempt, 200ml was finally extracted from my abdomen (A busy week with welcome news – “no further surgery necessary”) and to date from the underarm/breast area on separate occasions I’ve been relieved of almost 400ml, 100ml and, just yesterday, around 280ml. This will eventually settle down but it could build up again and require draining several times in the meantime.
I still tire easily. I regularly sleep for more than ten hours (albeit with interruptions quite often at around 5.30am from the numbness and tingling in my right foot that’s a side effect from the chemo and then again when the boys are getting ready for school and Andy for work). Getting ready in the mornings – showering, dresssing, first set of exercises – takes time. I’ve had a couple of evenings out and have been wiped out the following day.
Importantly though, it seems I’m on track to start radiotherapy – essentially the final stage in the hospital-based treatment of my breast cancer – in early February. I had my first meeting with the oncologist who’s in charge of my radiotherapy earlier this evening and we agreed that I’d have my radiotherapy planning session on 25 January, with a view to starting treatment on 4 February.
On balance, then, a positive progress report. Reading over this post, though, I’m concerned it sounds too negative given that my physical recovery is clearly going well. The fact that I’m tired probably has something to do with it. Today was a long day, with three different appointments – the physio, the plastic surgeon and the new oncologist. They all went well, but I did find myself thinking on the drive home from the last one that I’d had enough and that it would be nice if it were already all over. With everything else that’s happening (In Glasgow again, but for the saddest of reasons), I guess it’s not surprising I feel less upbeat than usual.
*I can joke about this now that the operation’s over and the recovery is going well, but before my op I really did find any talk of free tummy tucks quite offensive. You ladies who are reading, what would you rather be? Fit and healthy with a bit of surplus tummy fat or a breast cancer survivor with a flat tummy? I defy anyone to choose the latter.