Mastectomy. One of the most vile words in the English language. At least that’s how I feel about it. Not a pleasant thought comes to mind when someone says this word. But here’s the deal. I’ve been hearing from women lately who are about ready to have mastectomies. So here are my few words of encouragement for you.
1. You are very brave. You may feel like you don’t have a decision in the matter, but you do. You could seriously tell them to get lost. But you will be brave, and you will go and you will lay down, and you will allow them to put needles in you and allow them to drug you, so they can do their job…..and just the fact that you arrived at the hospital means you are very, very brave.
2. The wait is excruciating. I can’t say this is the worst part, because you will have an incredible amount of pain afterwords, but anticipating deformity is nothing anyone finds especially kind on the emotional well-being. Once it is over, you can get busy getting better. Of course, I waited 6 months for my surgery because IBC is treated with chemo first. So my wait was a bit longer than normal, so I remember it well.
3. Your armpits and shoulders will be incredibly tight and sore, where they aren’t numb. My friend Mary came to visit me the day after my mastectomies. She had a mastectomy a few years earlier and she graciously swung her arms around for me to show me that complete movement was attainable. You will need to be diligent and you will probably need to request physical therapy. For some reason doctors don’t really offer this up. It should be as standard as talk about reconstruction but you know our culture…..looks above anything else! I had barely any movement in my arms after my surgery, and just a few days ago Mary and I were talking about that tight muscle or tendon in the armpit that was excruciatingly tight after the surgery. We were commiserating together. Her answer was massage. Gentle yoga is also really great. You can get complete movement back, just give it time and keep stretching! And a lot of the numbness in the armpits will decrease as well.
4. Don’t wait too long to look. My doctor quickly took off my gauze and I was a little angry at her because this was only a day after my surgery. I really felt like I wasn’t ready to see. But now I look back on it and I do believe she knew what she was doing. She was giving me a glimpse of my new reality. And I needed to come to grip with my new reality. I needed to see and accept the change in my appearance. There’s no sense waiting around to emotionally accept your new normal.
5. Lymphedema is not as common as it sounds on the internet. I don’t know the statistics, but I remember reading on the internet about how it was so common and looking at gruesome pictures that made me SO scared! And no one can promise you that you won’t get lymphedema Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason and it will just show up. But you can keep your weight down, exercise and take precautions, and hopefully it won’t happen. I know very few women who have serious lymphedema after mastectomies, so I hope this brings you some peace of mind.