Heading off to hospital for the lumpectomy was a very new thing. The last time I was in hospital was almost 21 years ago when I gave birth to my youngest daughter. Both my childbirths had been natural with no drugs or other interventions. I had never had surgery before, the closest thing being a couple of stitches in my finger when I was a teenager.
I was a little bit nervous, but really, I saw this as such a minor surgery that I wasn’t really worried about it. The hardest part was going to be staying overnight in hospital. Sometimes this is done as a day surgery, and I am sure that had the operation been done earlier in the day I would have been able to go home. But it was scheduled for 8pm.
I had been fasting since 12pm, and I was already hungry when I arrived at the hospital at around 5pm. It didn’t help that as soon as I was settled in my room, dinner was served to all the other patients and I could smell the food wafting down the hallway.
I was happy that I had the room right at the end of the hallway. I was hopeful that meant there would be less noise during the night to keep me awake. I am not a great sleeper at the best of times, and with noise and light I had no hope. Those, of course, ended up being the least of my worries.
The wait seemed to take forever. It was after 7pm before the nurse came in and started getting me ready. I had a small moment of panic when she weighed me because the scales showed I was about 4kg lighter than my scales at home! I know, normally this would be a good thing, but what if I wasn’t given enough anaesthetic for my actual weight?
It was then time to don the surgical gown and socks. Now it was all starting to get real! But then there was more waiting. I wasn’t collected from my room until about 8:30pm. By now Simon was starving, since I had said he could go and get food once I left, thinking it would have been an hour earlier.
I was moved first into a holding area, where the anaesthetist came to talk to me. There were lots of other people around checking things, and every time a different one approached me I was asked the same things – name, date of birth, what surgery are you having. By the time I went to sleep I think I had answered this at least a dozen times.
I was covered with a heating blanket to warm me up. It was like having a big hairdryer poked under the blankets. It was so nice, I would have liked to take it home with me since I am always cold.
When it was time to go into the theatre I walked in and climbed up onto the operating table myself. Now was when I really started to freak out a little inside. The drip was put in, I was introduced to everyone in the room, we all joked around a bit, and I was soon given the drugs to relax me, then put me to sleep.
As soon as I awoke I was alert. I was in recovery and was keen to see all that was going on around me. My oxygen mask was removed and obs taken. I checked out my breast, and it was neatly bandaged over the nipple, all looking quite inoffensive. I was not in any pain at all, but I didn’t expect to be because there was plenty of local anaesthetic to get me through the next couple of hours.
Quite quickly I was ready to go back to my room. But of course I had to wait a little longer. I had been the last patient in theatre for the night and there were still others in recovery waiting to go back to their rooms. I had to wait until some of the staff members were free to take me back, but it didn’t seem like more than about 20 minutes after I woke up.
Back in my room I was starving. I had ordered a post-surgical dinner, and asked the nurse to bring it. It was shift change though, so they were all busy and said it would be a few minutes. Simon left me to eat and get some sleep (HA!) as my stomach rumbled in protest.
About an hour later the nurse came back to do my obs – and to tell me he would be doing them hourly for the next four hours. It was 11pm, so that meant I was getting woken up each hour until 2am. Oh great! I was also offered pain killers, but still I had no pain so I declined. I had to remind him again that I was hungry and still hadn’t eaten.
During these obs I also said I needed to use the bathroom. Earlier the nurse had said the first time I would need to be escorted by a staff member to ensure I was okay. I must have been clearly okay though, because now my nurse unhooked my IV and said I could go by myself. Yay for small miracles. Lucky really because I seemed to need to go nearly every hour during the night.
Finally the food came and I scoffed down a sandwich, some fruit, some yoghurt and a cup of tea. I was now ready to get some sleep – but then I realised that the next obs were only 15 minutes away so I may as well stay awake.
To while away the time I started to read. My obs were taken, and I was not far from the end of the book, so I decided to finish it. Well, in the end I didn’t got to sleep until after the 2am obs.
I dozed then until I was woken up at 5am for the next obs. I was also greeted with intravenous pain killers this time – but again, I was not in pain and I didn’t see any point in taking them if I didn’t need them. I was again starving. This was really surprising because I had heard so many stories about people feeling nauseous after surgery but I wasn’t at all. Breakfast was brought to me and I got one mouthful in my mouth before the nurse came back to do obs and check me again. I was almost through my now cold breakfast when the surgeon arrived to check on me. Jeez, no wonder no one gets any rest in hospitals!
All was good and by 8:30 I was ready to head home. I was just missing my driver! Discharge was between 8:30 and 10am. Simon arrived to pick me up at 9:55. I was starting to think I would be sitting in the waiting room when he got there.
All in all it was an easy and relatively pain free experience. I needed to sleep for a day or two to recover from the lack of sleep, but that was the worst of it. Now I had to wait for the results.
My follow up appointment with the surgeon was in two weeks, but he had said that I could go and see my GP the following week to get the results if I wanted them sooner. He would be in the UK at a conference so couldn’t tell me himself.
I knew as soon as I walked into my GP’s office that the results were not good. And then she asked where my husband was! Definitely not good.
Yes, I have breast cancer. But the best kind (if it’s possible to say that!). What I have is called Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) which basically means there are some cancer cells, but they are contained within the milk ducts and are not spreading anywhere.
DCIS is considered Stage 0 breast cancer. Many people with DCIS will never get invasive cancer, and some will live with it all their lives and never know. Other cases will become invasive – and there is no way to know what it will do. So the best thing to do is to treat it.
As my surgeon had warned, my GP had little knowledge on what would happen next. I would have to wait until I saw the surgeon again to make a plan.