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Healing post-lumpectomy – 3 months later

13 Jan

November 16, 2011

Surgery takes its toll, as I’m sure anyone who has gone under the knife will tell you.  With a lumpectomy, it’s not so much the outer scars  which feel like an issue right now as the stitches inside my body.  I can monitor the external scars and address them as I see fit, but I can’t visualize the inner wounds/stitches/scarring.  These are the ones I worry about a bit.

This past weekend I did a really long drive and near the end of it I was worried because my breasts were hurting quite a bit.  I thought there was a good chance the pain was caused by a combination of more heavy lifting than usual accompanied by wearing a bra that wasn’t sufficiently supportive, but I was still concerned enough to finally call my surgeon’s office and leave a message.

On Monday I got a return call from the physician’s assistant.  I learned something new.  I had had “twinges” of pain that I would feel from time to time.  They were intermittent but concerning.  She informed me these were normal and could be expected for up to a year.  They are indicative of the healing of damaged nerves.

What a relief.  Too bad they didn’t tell me that earlier so I wouldn’t worry.  Don’t you think that would have been helpful to know?

I do wish there had been more information given about what to expect post-surgery.  I mentioned this to the P.A.  She told me that they did give quite a bit of info to those who have had mastectomies, but apparently not to those who’ve only had lumpectomies.  And that’s why I’m glad I’m doing this blog!  So you all can learn through my experiences!

I went online to see what I could discover about healing following lumpectomies, and the truth is there really isn’t much information out there.  I looked both online and in the books I have about breast cancer and nowhere yet have I discovered anyone talking in detail about recovery from lumpectomy surgery after the first couple of weeks.  Everyone in the clinical field seems to think recovery will be pretty quick and easy.  But looking at discussions on the site, it appears there are many women who have swelling and discomfort for several months after the surgery.

For instance, they suggest only that one refrain from heavy lifting or jogging for a couple weeks.  That’s absurd!  Especially for women with larger breasts.  Even with a good support bra, I’d be extremely afraid of jogging.  My breasts still feel way too fragile for that.  My goodness, I still can’t even give good bear hugs without hurting a teeny bit.

What I have discovered is that a sports bra or the surgical bra they put on me in the hospital gave support to the breast tissue, but also created a lot of sensitivity in the nipple area.  Nipples are obviously sensitive areas anyway, but when they’ve been impacted by surgery, they are even more so.  Thus, supportive bras will feel good to the breast itself (especially for larger-breasted women) but may not feel good to the nipple.  My nipples didn’t stop being hyper-sensitive until about two months after the surgery.

As far as lifting and heavy physical activity, I think we need to tune into our intuition.  Among other things, I am a massage therapist, and I was very wary of doing massage again because my right arm/hand is dominant and deeper work most definitely uses muscles in my chest!  The site of my incision is pretty much directly lateral to my right nipple, therefore it is a little lower than most of the pectoral muscles.  However it would most definitely impact the serratus anterior muscles which are involved with a pushing kind of motion.  I was also aware the lifting and pulling motions would impact my breast tissue.

This intuition was born out a few times recently.  I moved at the end of September and into the early part of October.  I tried not to do too much hugely heavy lifting, but I certainly lifted my share of boxes and smaller furniture.  I tried to remember to keep my arm close to my chest so as to not overly stress the chest and underarm muscles, but occasionally I would be caught up in doing things and would be less conscious.  In addition I moved to a place in the country and my landlord asked me to assist with the raking and some other activities that did put some stress on my arm/chest/breast area.   After these activities I started feeling more shooting pains in the underarm area, as well as fatigue/discomfort in various places in my breast.

Apparently any “shooting” or tingly intermittent pains are related to the regrowth of the nerves.  It’s called neuropathic pain.  It makes sense that there would be odd sensations during the regrowth and healing of nerves.  But again, couldn’t they have freakin’ warned me of this so it wouldn’t be a surprise?  What’s up with that???

Other aches in my underarm area I believe are more muscular in nature as my body adjusts to using muscles that I’d been resting for a few months.  I read about one woman who obtained a prescription for physical therapy.  She said the physical therapists were extremely helpful and knowledgeable and spent quality time with her answering questions and making suggestions.  So for any of you larger-breasted women who have physically active or strenuous lives (including things like looking after toddlers or working on a farm), you may want to ask about physical therapy.

All in all, I’d say I’m healing well.  The lumpectomy scar is lighter now and the hardness of the tissue underneath the scar has diminished significantly.  As far as my left breast (where they had removed a milk duct as well as the nodule inside it), the scar is barely noticeable, as the color of the areola disguises it perfectly.  There is a very slight indentation where the milk duct was removed, and the nipple lists ever so slightly toward the scar, but unless you were looking for it, I doubt you would notice these things.

I am really grateful to have had such a skilled and conscientious surgeon.  And once again, I am so grateful to have my breasts, scars and all.

And, oh yes, I’m glad also that I appear to be cancer-free.  Let’s not forget that!  I guess sometimes I’m afraid to count that chicken.  (Is that the right metaphor?)  I don’t want to let my guard down and become complacent.  But for now, oh am I grateful.  May I use this experience to get healthier and healthier and healthier.  There is a lot of life yet to be lived!

Be well, my friends.