Yesterday, one day shy of 2 weeks post-operation, I had my second drain pulled, and as my surgeon’s PA said as she was pulling it out, that marks the end of surgery.
Compared to chemo, it was no big thing. First of all, it all happens so quickly. Then the pain is readily manageable with the medications given, at least in my fortunate experience, and so the physical distress is manageable. The drains, while certainly a bother are at the same time an opportunity to measure your healing process, something that is very appealing to the scientist in me (see graph :-).
What is perhaps the most difficult part is the rather abrupt, and largely irreversible, change to your body. With chemo the changes you encounter are gradual, and in most cases largely reversible. I had, and still have, numbness in my feet, though it is much less than it was a couple of months ago. My hair is just now beginning to look like it might be thinking about coming back. The changes in my nails are growing out nicely. But after the surgery my chest, armpit and upper arm became abruptly numb, and will stay that way. And no matter how much I knew this was going to happen, from talking to my doctor, discussing it with my wife who had a mastectomy 5 years ago or reading, when it happens to you, as they say, its different.
I will readily admit that as a man, these changes in my body are significantly less impactful than for a woman. The male breast is just different than the female in its importance from a body image perspective, and also practically – it is not easy to spot that I am asymmetrical under my dress shirt and jacket. But the impact is still there.
It is an odd feeling. The skin over the chest and in the armpit where the breast and lymphatic tissue is gone is numb, and touching it feels a bit like touching an arm or a leg that has gone to sleep. You have a sensory dissonance, as the hand reports feeling warm skin but the chest feels only a remote pressure. Then in my upper arm I currently have hypersensitivity, meaning that at first it is painful to touch the skin. With some gentle contact this painful feeling recedes in a few seconds. Then there is the constant reminder that comes from the contact between the under arm and the chest wall that occurs naturally as you move around. It says you have changed.
My biggest concern from the change to my body is that the range of motion of my right arm needs work. Extension beyond the horizontal (think arms out as if you are pretending to fly) is painful, and need that range back to be able to get back on my motorbike safely, not to mention swim and throw the ball with my son. I am having a consult with physical therapy today, to get started on that process. Later this week I meet with my radiation oncologist and we will start planning for the next step.