A CLOSER LOOK AT MY SCARS AND A BRIEF SURGERY RECAP
After 2 separate surgeries I now have 4 scars on and around my right breast. Strangely I actually cherish them, they are the perfect reminder to live fully and not take life for granted. I understand this isn't the case for everyone, but wanted to share my scars more intimately for anyone who may be interested.
MY FIRST SURGERY
This was a stock standard “lumpectomy”, there was no detectable cancer remaining at the time of surgery, chemo and my alternative therapies killed it. Before I began treatment months prior they inserted a metal clip directly into the cancer so they could locate it on scans in the future. This is how they found the location where the cancer was so they could remove the correct tissue. Remembering there was no visible cancer remaining.
The surgery was quite 'simple' as far as surgeries go. They removed the area where there was previously cancer and a few lymph nodes to do further testing. The day prior to surgery they injected a tracer dye behind my nipple which is designed to travel to your Sentinal lymph node/s. A sentinel lymph node is defined as the first lymph node to which cancer cells are most likely to spread from a primary tumor. The dye then highlights it/them so they can be found and removed in surgery.
For me it was a day stay with no drainage bag necessary. Over time fluid build up called Seroma formed and I needed to get it manually drained 4 times. My surgeon did this via a syringe each week or so. It felt very uncomfortable under my skin as it built up, however never painful. Each time it was drained there was less and less fluid building up, until eventually they didn't need to remove it any longer.
I needed to do some post surgery physio exercises for quite a few months which was no issue. For me the healing from this first surgery had no real complications and was quite straightforward.
THE SECOND SURGERY
This was directly after my reoccurrence diagnosis only 7 months post surgery #1. Given I have Triple Negative Breast Cancer that is very aggressive in nature, it grew quite quickly. Often it can take much longer for a hormone based breast cancer to grow. The cancer had spread to my sentinal lymph node as it often does and they anticipate it can (hence the removal of them in the first surgery). For most people they tend to just have one. For me I had an odd location for a secondary sentinal node and it was hiding up under my collarbone. This was detected in a routine ultrasound and mammogram and is apparently very rare. *always request your ultrasound technician checks up there!
The surgery I was scheduled for was another lumpectomy under my collarbone this time, but with an axillary clearance (removal of quite a few lymph nodes under my armpit) on the chance there was small traces of cancer in them which were currently “undetectable” on scans. It was very precautionary and came with longer term risks of developing lymphedema. There were different incision sites for both of these procedures.
The cancer itself was under my collarbone, they went in and removed the cancer which was incapsulated and around the size of a kidney bean. It was the best case scenario given the situation and my surgeon was thrilled. He seemed quite confident the cancer wouldn't have spread beyond this site (which was a HUGE relief for me to hear).
They then went alongside my 1st surgery site and removed the additional lymph nodes. My surgeon placed this scar right over a natural crease line which disguises it so well, but emphasises the crease a bit.
I needed to stay overnight for this surgery to be monitored as there was more involved. I was given some physio exercises to do twice daily that I continue to do now. Other than my drain getting infected ( see below), the recovery was also quite straight forward once the drain was removed. I definitely had more restricted movement compared to my first surgery, but that came back relatively quickly considering.
MY UNEXPECTED SCAR
There was one scar I wasn't prepared for from my drain bottle I needed for the second surgery to remove the fluid. As they removed more tissue this time there would likely be more fluid building up so this was the 'smarter' decision to make. Also given I live quite remotely and it was over the christmas/new year time it made the most sense. Unfortunately for me my drain site got infected which I believe resulted in the funny shaped scar next to my original one. The tubing is placed inside at the surgery location and extends outside your body. It's attached to a bag or bottle that you have to carry around with you everywhere until it's no longer needed. The bottles/bags need to be replaced after certain periods of time.
My surgeon (even on his christmas holidays- bless him) wanted me to send him daily photos of the surgery sites and how they were going. I had a couple of trips into emergency during this time as the drain site got infected despite doing 'all of the right things'. Only one overnight stay to be monitored and then the drain tube was removed. Things got much better after that with my recovery. Drains are horrible things, carrying them around with you everywhere and trying to dress yourself and function with them is frustrating. Getting it removed felt amazing!
All of my surgery sites now have limited feeling, I can feel touch and pressure but it feels quite odd. Shaving my armpits for example I can't feel exactly where the blades are at and I need to be quite careful. t’s been 16 months since my original surgery and 8 months since my 2nd at the time of writing this post. This may change over time I'm not sure and I guess it's different for everyone.
MY SURGEON IS A WIZARD
He’s known in this field as being amazing when it comes to the quality of scars from his work. Everyone in the medical field comments how amazing my scars are which always makes me giggle. I’m grateful for his gentle hands and expertise in this area. Whilst scars don't personally bother me much, I understand for a lot of people this would be very important.
To get my scars to heal well, once I was allowed to I lathered them in SOS balm, whilst there is no way of knowing what they would have looked like without it, I genuinely feel like this product helped with my scarring hugely.
WHAT I GET ASKED A LOT
"Why didn't you just get a double mastectomy?"
I’m lucky I didn’t need my breasts removed and this wouldn’t have changed my odds much at all (much to my surprise!) Before having my initial meeting with my surgeon I was of the mentality, "just chop them off". But after having a lengthy discussion with him about this I realised honestly it wasn't necessary for me and there wasn't much evidence it was going to change my chances of reoccurrence anyway. It was a bit of overkill and could in fact come with it's own mental and physical complications. I decided to take his advice.
My reoccurrence would still have happened if I had a double mastectomy for my first surgery given the location. In fact you can still develop breast cancer on your chest wall if you have had both breasts removed. It never fully eliminates the possibility, but in some cases is what's recommended. Personally I always listened to my specialists but then went away and made up my own mind.
If anything happens again in my breasts I will 100% be removing them, but it seemed quite unnecessary in my situation so I was happy with my decision.
TO WATCH A FULL EPISODE ON SURGERY FROM MY DOCU SERIES 'LIFE ON STANDBY', CLICK HERE AND WATCH EPISODE 7 'Under the Knife'.
Or to read about my experience with Radiation Therapy click here.