Breast Cancer Operation Day!

The nights always seem so long when I do not sleep. Luckily, that does not happen often.  I did not sleep well on the night before my operation. I was scheduled to be at the hospital by 7.30am on April 30. It was a grey morning and I suspect my mood was grey too, but the staff could not have been kinder. I filled in my pre-registration form and my husband waited with me until I left reception. I do not know who was more scared, him or me.

When I went through to the waiting area nurses gave me a bag to put my clothes into and put on a hospital gown and sat with the other women waiting for surgery.  I flicked through papers as the television in the waiting area played Jeremy Kyle. It felt like it was going to be a long day, but somehow it flew past.  Of course, Mr Kyle had his own battle against testicular cancer in 2012.  He credits his wife, Carla for helping him through the treatment.  I have no doubt that the unfailing care and support of my husband, David, were vital to my recovery too.

During the morning I was taken for additional X-rays, ultra sound checks and went into the nuclear medicine department to have a wire inserted into my tumour so that Mr Osman would be able to find it easily during the operation. The various visits to different departments helped to make the time pass more quickly.

Mr Osman took the time to come and speak to me before the operation. He explained to me that the purpose of the operation was to remove the tumour from my right breast and also to remove 2 lymph nodes from under my right arm. The purpose of removing the lymph nodes was to confirm whether or not the cancer had spread.

Lymph is a clear fluid that travels through your body’s arteries, circulates through your tissues to cleanse them and keep them firm, and then drains away through the lymphatic system.

Lymph nodes are the filters along the lymphatic system. Their job is to filter out and trap bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other unwanted substances, and to make sure they are safely eliminated from the body.  

Also traveling through the arteries is fresh blood, which brings oxygen and other nutrients to all parts of the body—including your breasts. Used blood leaves the breasts through the veins and is pumped back to the heart and lungs to be refreshed. Lymph must also be refreshed and recycled. Lymph drains away from your breasts through the lymphatic system, which is made up of lymphatic channels and lymph nodes.

When Mr Osman asked if I had any questions for him, he apparently meant questions that related to the surgery and not this week’s lottery numbers. That being the case, I do not know enough about medical procedures to know what to ask. I had no questions for him. I was even given a menu to allow me to choose my evening meal. This was a nice touch.

Most of the rest of the day was a bit of a blur. I remember being shown to a hospital bed and sitting reading and doing puzzles. I remember the anesthetist coming to speak to me and explaining what she would be doing. I remember she seemed very young! Then I have no clear recollections until the porters came to take me to theatre.

I do remember being in the theatre before the anesthetic took effect. Happily, I remember nothing thereafter until I smelt the evening meal, but I was still too tired to open my eyes, never mind eat the meal. When Mr Osman came to see me after the operation and to re-assure me that all had gone well.

The highlight of the evening, of course, was visiting time when my husband came to visit. I remember being given a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits. I was quite insistent that my husband should have a biscuit.  I also remember holding his hand, so that when I fell in and out of consciousness he could not leave without me knowing. To be fair to the man, he showed no signs of planning to leave early! When visiting time did, eventually come to an end and by then I was a little more awake and hungry. I am vegetarian and the nurses were so kind and got me some cheese and crackers to eat. The nurses could not have been more considerate or helpful.

I did not sleep well, probably partly because of the anaesthetic and because of the strange surroundings. I was also disturbed when the nurses came around and shone a torch at the beds to make sure the patients were settled. It was meant to be non-invasive, but struck me as a little strange.

The following morning I had the choice of having breakfast in the ward or in the waiting room. I chose to have it in the ward and then when the doctor gave me the all clear, I got dressed and phoned my husband. I waited for him to come to pick me up and take me home. It was lovely to be back.

Valerie Penny

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