Lumpectomy - what to expect

I honestly wasn't sure what to expect from a lumpectomy and went into it only partially prepared!  I think I would rather have known exactly what to expect so that I knew that all of it was routine and normal!!!!  This is only my story and of course it may be different at your hospital.  Apologies if some of this is a bit graphic!

You will understand why there's a picture of a Smurfette on the right if you manage to get to the bottom!

The day of surgery!

Like most surgeries with a general anaesthetic, you have to not eat or drink on the day so you're usually getting to the stage of eating a nurse by the time you're taken to theatre! Leaving that aside though, this is what happened:-

  • I was given the gorgeous gown and paper knickers to wear (why do the paper knickers look like a baggy nappy and why don't gowns ever look "normal")?
  • This next step I understand is sometimes carried out the day before surgery at other hospitals but for me it was on the day of surgery.  I was first taken into a room that had a giant scanning machine. I don't know what type of scan it was but it looked like half an MRI scanner - so it had a bed and then a piece of equipment would go from one side and over to the other side but I was in the open - not closed so it wasn't claustrophobic like an MRI scanner can be. So I was first scanned for about 10 minutes - I have no idea what the purpose of that was. Then I had to have a colourless radioactive liquid injected in my breast!  For those of you who are old enough to remember, I had visions of me walking down the hospital corridor with a glow all around me, a bit like the Reddy Brek Kid!!!  It was uncomfortable but bearable. I wouldn't choose to have it done everyday though! I then had to hop off the machine and walk around to encourage the liquid to move around the ducts in the breast. I also had to massage it to encourage the distribution. 10 minutes later, I hopped back onto the machine to see if the radioactive liquid had moved. Well mine was being stubborn and wasn't moving so I was told they were going to move me onto the next process before I could carry on with them.
  • This was the bit that I was surprised about because nobody had told me that this would happen!  I was taken into a room with an ultrasound machine and was told that a Doctor would insert a guide wire into my breast to direct the surgeon to the right spot.  Now in my head, I had assumed that this was a tiny wire that you could hardly see and perhaps it was put in under the skin (a bit like having a marker put in at a biopsy).  Errrrr, no.  This was a wire that was about 2 foot long!  What?!  OMG!  I decided at this stage not to look - so I didn't!  I'm not normally bothered by anything like this but it was the thought of it more than it actually being done! The area was numbed up with some gel and all I actually felt was some tugging, pulling and pressure and then a click when it went in.  The wire that was hanging out of my boob was then wound around and taped to my chest!  Lovely!
  • Next stage was to have a mammogram to check that the wire was in the right place.  Oh for goodness sake, no!  Well, yes, just get on with it Michele!  So I had my boob squished and had to sit outside while they checked the mammogram.  Guess what?  The Doctor comes out and says "I'm so sorry but it's in the wrong place - I'm afraid I've got to put another one in!"   WHAT? OMG this can only happen to me.  Okay, well let's get on with it.  Back into the ultrasound room and push, prod and ouch another one goes in.  I'm now looking like you can get Radio 1 if you twiddle my wires!  Back for more boob squishing and thankfully it's now in the right place (or at least the two wires cross dissect where the surgeon needs to go)!  Phew!  To make sure the surgeon knows which is the correct wire, the Doctor then finds a pad of post it notes and wraps a bright pink one around the wire - so I now look like I'm flying a flag!  lol  I found out later that you can't just pull the wire out if you put it in the wrong place (not that I tried!) as the wires have barbs on the end that hook it in place securely so the surgeon has to cut it out!  A bit like a fishing hook I'd assume.
  • Me and my wires are sent back to the room with the big scanning machine and I hop onto the bed. This time they confirm that the dye has indeed infilitrated all areas (I've now got the music from Mission Impossible playing in my head!) and I have to lie still for about 15 minutes while they take pictures for the surgeon to refer to during surgery. I'm not sure but I suspect the dye shows the route that the cancer may take to reach the sentinel nodes and so this helps the surgeon decide how may and which nodes to remove.
  • And back in the room to await being taken down to surgery!
  • I think I was in surgery and recovery for about 2 hours - I'm not sure because I was asleep! However when I was back in my room I had a quick look and there was a bandage over both cuts but I didn't feel too sore - just some mild discomfort. HOWEVER what on earth is that just to the right of my nipple???? OMG I've turned into a Smurf! There was a huge blue patch. I don't just mean pale blue or a hint of blue, I mean BRIGHT SMURF BLUE!  During your surgery, your surgeon will inject a blue dye that interacts with the radioactive dye you had put in earlier and this helps the Surgeon to follow the path to the nodes that may/may not be affected.  Some 5 months later, I'm still sporting a blue patch but now it's more a faded blue than full on Smurf! I'm told that this will disappear in time but I've become quite attached to my Smurf patch lol  Another effect of the dye is that you actually pee the blue dye out for a few days (and weirdly, if you cry, you will cry blue tears)!  If you've ever used a BlooLoo tablet in your loo, that's exactly what your wee will look like!
  • Even though a rather large lump had been taken out, at that point my boob looked just the same as it had pre-surgery (if you ignore the Smurf patch and bandages). I later found out that my surgeon had used some lipo-filling to fill the crater! Unfortunately my body decided to eat it all up and so I do have a bit of crater boob going on but in all honesty, although I could have lipo filling again I don't see the sense when I'm going to have a mastectomy. I think most of the stitches were dissolvable but I do know there was one for me that they had to take out about 2 weeks later but that was painless.
  • You will also need to wear a comfortable (preferably front fastening) sports bra all day and all night for 6 weeks after surgery.  I couldn't find a front fastening one that fitted well, was comfortable and gave me support but in the first few weeks it was impossible to reach behind to do up so I had to pull it around to the front do up and then swivel around which is quite uncomfortable and so I quickly learned to make sure hubby helped me each morning before he went out!
  • What I would definitely encourage you to do is to use your arm as normally as you can and as soon as you can, making sure you do the exercises that are given to you. Where the nodes are taken out, you can get something called "cording" which literally feels like a tough piece of cord in your arm and can be quite uncomfortable when you stretch. I did my exercises religiously and had a little bit of cording but that seems to have gone now and I have full range and motion.