A year ago today I was at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia having surgery for my breast cancer recurrence. It’s so hard to believe it’s been a year already. 2020 was one of those years that flies by and feels like like 100 years at the same time. So much has happened in the world that this anniversary wasn’t even on my radar until I was updating my 2021 calendar.
David and I had gone down to Philadelphia the day before, trying to enjoy ourselves for a bit and enjoy a nice dinner before I had to start fasting. The day of surgery included a whole lot of hurry up and wait, as we waited about 4 hours or so before things got started. Having a procedure done at a big teaching hospital is a very different experience than our local hospital, including lots of attention from nurses, anesthesiologists, residents, and surgeons. I did have two surgeons for this event – the oncology surgeon removed the cancer, and the plastic surgeon made everything look pretty.
The surgery went much longer than planned because they found more breast tissue than they expected. The plastic surgeon had expected to do a simple liposuction and remove the excess skin, but the prior surgeon had left behind 1-2″ of actual tissue. I wrote at the time that my Penn surgeons were shocked and horrified by this, but since that time, I am finding that it is more and more common. Most surgeons are in there to just remove the cancer, and that’s it. This makes no sense to me, especially when you ask and expect a specific result, AND especially when you are having a prophylactic breast removal. If there’s no cancer in it, how does the surgeon decide how much to take? All I can say is, if you ever need a mastectomy and expect a certain result without reconstruction, definitely go to a big city hospital and make sure you get someone who understands what you want.
Some day I may be brave enough to share before and after photos on this page, but not yet. I know women who share pictures very comfortably, but every time I think about it, I chicken out. Right now, my chest is enormously improved (and flatter) than after my first surgery. The only thing that takes some getting used to is that my rib cage is pretty exposed on my right side (the cancer side). To ensure I had clear margins, the surgeon was extra cautious and removed as much as she could. Now I basically have a rib cage with some skin over it. There’s not much, if any tissue, in between. So sometimes I freak out, thinking it’s a lump, and then I trace it and go “ok, it’s a rib! Whew.”
Following my surgery, I had drains to care for at home for a few weeks, a most uncomfortable situation. But outside of that, I am grateful that I did not require chemotherapy or radiation. I am just on my daily dose of Aromasin for 5-10 years. So far, the side effects are completely manageable.
So January 21, 2020, I restarted my clock. One year down.
The longer you can go cancer free, the better. I made it 7+ years after the first go-round. I’d love to break that record, and then some. But the fear is always lurking.
IMDb: One Year (2010)