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