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After the Mastectomy: Unveiling and Staging

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After the Mastectomy: Unveiling and Staging

Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#8 in a series)

The mastectomy process doesn’t end when you leave the hospital. The weeks that follow involve many physical and emotional changes.

After the Mastectomy: The Unveiling
I was surprised to learn that the task of removing the bandages from my chest would be done at home. It was suggested that I step into the shower first to loosen the bandages and remove them there. I wanted to be alone anyway.

Being the pragmatic sort, I set aside two hours of crying time and not a moment more. Although we’d done some online sleuthing and saw photos of mastectomy patients, I wasn’t at all certain what I would look like just 48 hours after surgery.

Before stepping into the shower, I washed my face and put in my contact lenses so I could see properly. Showering after a mastectomy requires some thought, due to the drain hanging out of your side. We were advised to make a necklace out of string and then to hang the drainage bulb from it. Awkward.

I washed first, allowing the water to flow over the bandages. Finally I began gingerly pulling away at the edges. It didn’t hurt — in fact, I had no feeling at all in the area. No photo could have prepared me for the shock of looking down and seeing nothing where a breast used to be.

My beautiful little breast was replaced with a scar beginning in the center of my chest and reaching far under my arm, which was rather concave and misshapen. It appeared to be the best outcome, considering the potential for side effects. The doctor was able to use dissolvable stitches.

I couldn’t yet move on to the bandage on the drain, as tears began falling and I whimpered like a wounded puppy. My husband had been on the alert and entered, asking if I needed help. I cringed as he pulled aside the shower curtain. My loving husband was about to see my new physical state for the first time.

He was, of course, loving and nurturing. He didn’t miss a beat, looking directly at my chest and underarm, then into my eyes — with no sign of anything but love. A slight wave of nausea came over me as he helped remove the drain’s bandage.

After a few minutes, the whimpering was over and he helped me out of the shower. The post-surgery instructions recommended some air drying, so I took it to heart. I wrapped the towel around my waist and propped myself up on the bed directly in front of the mirror. I stared, trying to wrap my brain around this new look. I knew it wouldn’t stay that way and it was probably the worst it would ever look. It would heal and improve over time. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of my left breast, standing alone and looking absolutely regal. I knew at once that I would be okay. A breast for a life. Not a bad trade at all. Total crying time? About ten minutes.

Right from the first day, I was able to strip and empty the drain myself. Jim was schooled in the procedure, but I preferred to do it myself. His caregiver role turned out to be less than anticipated, other than taking on more of the household chores for a few weeks. Over the next two weeks, I worked at balancing moving around appropriately and resting.

Next: The Pathology Report and Staging the Cancer

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Ann Pietrangelo

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis and Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. She is a freelance writer and member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo

21 comments

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12:00PM PDT on May 7, 2011

Are they still doing this?? How barbaric! It has been almost forty years and BILLONS of dollors later since my aunts went through this. WHERE is that cancer money REALLY going?

10:24AM PDT on May 4, 2011

Thank you for so eloquently sharing your story. I will use your comments about your "team" and how the nurses' attitudes and compassion were of help to you when I teach my nursing students about the art (vs the science) of nursing. I will also think of you if I ever get breast cancer myself. Thank you for many things.

8:51PM PDT on May 3, 2011

My admiration and respect for you wonderful women who have had to experience this awful disease and have displayed such strength and courage. My admiration and respect also for the partners who have honoured the 'through sickness and health' part of their vows; bless you all, you are an inspiration.

2:56PM PDT on May 3, 2011

*** AMMIREVOLE *** *cat

10:32AM PDT on May 3, 2011

I guess you can say that I am very lucky. They found my breast cancer at stage 1 with clean margins and clean lymph glands. So, I had a lumpectomy, radiation and for 5 years, a medication called Arimidex. I have to see the oncologist and the surgeon every 6 months for life.

9:28AM PDT on May 3, 2011

I wish I had the support you had. It's been 5 years since my double mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and yes, I'm glad to be alive. However, my boyfriend at the time couldn't look at me when my bandages came off, nor ever after. Of course he wasn't around long after that. I realize that was his problem, not mine, but emotionally it scarred me worse than the 16 inches of physical scars across my chest. My family lives 3,000 miles away, and the only thing that got me through all this is my cat, Radar. Animals are amazing! I consider myself a warm, outgoing person, but I still won't open my self or body to a man. Yes, I've been through counseling, but nothing seems to help. It seems that I only read about wonderful men who help women through breast cancer. Does anyone have the same story as me? I know I'm a stronger and better woman now, but it's been a lonely, long journey. One of these days, I'm sure I'll have a relationship again, but right now, after 5 years, I'm finally happy alone, but not lonely.

8:22AM PDT on May 3, 2011

Living with a scarred and misshapen body is not an easy adjustment, but you seem to have handled it wonderfully well. And you are very lucky to have a husband who is loving and supportive. I have not gone through what you have (and count myself very lucky for that!), but I have experienced surgery and an iliostomy that I thought would totally turn my husband away from me. Never once did he falter! His love and support are what got me through. I imagine you feel the same way about your husband.

7:21AM PDT on May 3, 2011

I had my left breast removed 2.5 years ago. I had cancer cells in my "sentinel" lymph node, so lost 18 lymph nodes as a precaution. I did not have reconstruction. I'm glad to be alive of course, but I still don't like seeing myself in the mirror. Horrible disease, on so many levels. Thanks for sharing your story.

7:13AM PDT on May 3, 2011

Also, women need to get rid of amalgam fillings. They are extremely toxic, being 50% mercury. Mercury vapor escapes the fillings, gradually accumulating in your body. When you eat a little is scraped onto your food and then is ingested, and absorbed by your digestive tract. Find a good, holistic dentist experienced in mercury filling removal. Cilantro and organic vegetable juices will help remove the mercury from your body, or you can do chelation under a doctor's supervision.

And avoid root canals as well! Root canals harbor very toxic bacteria, more toxic than botulism. This anaerobic bacteria lives in the dead tooth, in tubules so narrow white blood cells cannot enter to kill them. Also, root canals contain metals that interact with mercury fillings, making the mercury far more toxic!





One study of breast cancer patients showed 98% of them have root canals!

Root canals can be removed, but it must be done very carefully by an experienced dentist. I believe there are also treatments that can be done by a dentist, to kill the bacteria safely, but you would need to check on that.

7:04AM PDT on May 3, 2011

It's lovely your husband is loving and accepting - but then husbands should be - " in sickness & in health " right?

It's such a shame so many women these days are having their breasts amputated. Breast cancer used to be very rare 100 years ago, now it's 1 out of 7 get it in North America.

And after amputation, the docs offer radiation and poison. Chemo drugs kill healthy cells, permanently injure vital organs, destroy immune systems, the very things you need to fight cancer! Getting chemo increases a person's chance of getting leukemia by 5 - 10%. And the original cancer has a good chance of returning in some other part of the body. Then what - the docs offer more chemo - or send you home to die.

We cannot avoid getting a certain amount of toxins into our bodies with the world being so polluted these days. But there is much we CAN do - eat only organic food, wear organic clothing, detox our livers and bowels, take supplements, avoid stress, meditate and/or pray. Also, we can avoid bra-wearing so that our lymph systems can more easily drain toxins out. Constrictive bras, especially underwire bras, are closely related to high risk of breast cancer.

Cancer is BIG business. Big Pharma makes billions on it every year. They don't want a cure. They like things as they are.

Take charge of your health. Investigate how cancer works, how it can be prevented, how it can be defeated with natural means. Read Cure Your Cancer by Bill Henderson.




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