The day after my lumpectomy I was feeling pretty darn good. My girls and I went to a movie. Having had seven children natural childbirth, I consider myself having a pretty high pain tolerance. I can't tell you how many times while sitting in the dentist's chair I've said to myself, if you can have a baby, you can do this. That phrase has helped me get through quite a few unpleasant experiences. But there was one difference. When you have a baby, you know the baby will be born and then the pain will start to go away. Not so with the next month after my surgery. My breast started to swell and soon, it was as if the doctor had inserted a baseball where the lump had been. The skin all the way up under my arm, into the armpit and around my back became numb. But it was only numb to the touch of the skin, Inside, it was very painful and on the outside, the skin felt as though it was chafed.
My surgeon said the site was looking fine. When I asked him about the swelling, he assured me it was normal and might last up to a month. I was to put ice on it. I did as I was told for two weeks and there was no change. I googled "swelling after a lumpectomy" and found that a lumpectomy can actually be more painful than a mastectomy. The site said I should be wearing a compression bra. My sister and I went to a specialty bra shop and they had them for $126.00. The problem was, I had no idea how much compression I should be applying or where it should be applied to. I didn't want to spend $126.00 only to be buying the wrong thing.
I called my surgeon's office again, told the nurse about the pain I was in, and that I didn't know what I should be doing. She referred me to a lymphodemiologist at the hospital. I arrived hopeful that finally someone could tell me what was going on. I was taken back to a small room where the lady began measuring my fingers on both hands. She measured around them, my wrist, from my wrist to my elbow, around my arm, from my shoulder to my elbow. With each little measurement, she told me she was hesitant about working on me because she was afraid if there was infection, she could be aiding the infection to move to other parts of my body. My hopes for an answer was going down the drain. My breast, arm and now back of my shoulder was aching. After getting my measurements, she said she would call the doctor's office and let them know her concerns. I don't know what she ever did with the measurements she took. Somewhere in the hospital, someone knows the circumference of my fingers and wrists.
I called the surgeon's office once again and was able to get in that day. The surgeon wasn't there, but his physician's assistant told me it didn't look like it was infected and to keep putting ice on it. The nurse wrapped me with a 6" ace bandage, but the way she had to wrap me caused the ace bandage to put pressure right through the lump. When I got back home, I took it off, put back on my bra, but made it tighter so it would offer the same type of compression the ace bandage had given me without cutting through the lump. My sister Lola kept the ice packs coming for me.
A week later, I had another follow up appointment with my surgeon. He was on an emergency surgery, so another doctor took care of me. Looking at the breast, he assured me that it was extremely swollen and hard. He said I had developed a mass of blood in the area and that mass of blood was congealing. He asked it I had been putting my HOT PACKS on it. I told him no. I told him I had been putting ice packs on it as instructed. He said I shouldn't have been putting ice on it after the third day. The ice was causing the blood to congeal more. I should be putting wet heat on it. He told me it could take up to another six weeks for my body to dissipate the clot. For the last three days, the wet heat has been making me feel better.
I decided I only have a high pain tolerance when I can see light at the end of the tunnel. My mind needs to know what is going on. As I write today, there is a glimmer of light shining in the distance so I can deal with this. Everything is going to be okay.