It is November 19, 2016 and I have a piece of flexible plastic tucked in a small incision under my left arm. It stretches down to a plastic collection bulb which hangs almost to my knees when I don’t have it safety pinned to my clothes to keep it out of the way. A variety of colors of fluids have been finding their way from my armpit to my knee for the last week; bright red, pinkish red, yellowish. And each day I squeeze the tubing to empty all the liquid into the bulb. Then I measure the amount collected by squeezing it into a measuring cup; chart the results; clean the measuring cup and seal everything to begin collecting again.
If you have been here yourself or with family or friend you recognize the necessary follow up to a mastectomy. Where I once had a slightly flabby left breast, I now have stitches which are healing nicely but the missing part is more than noticeable. My left arm has never been a problem during this recovery. Not true for my right arm. Three days after surgery I began having a stiffness in the right side of my neck; difficulty in swallowing; and a throbbing ache in the top half of my left arm. Trying to lift my head or move my arm was reason for audible groans however much I tried to control them. I called the surgeon’s nurse and was told this all might be due to positioning during surgery.
Ten days after surgery I see the surgeon and show her the series of varicose veins now appearing on my right side above my sole remaining breast. “Well, that’s not right” was her comment but her focus remained on her portion of my anatomy, the now invisible left breast. That side seemed to be doing well. To her benefit, she did immediately refer me to radiology for scans of the bulging veins and the place by my right elbow where the swelling and stiffness had also settled. Even without an appointment, I got seen quickly and told to go home and wait to hear from the doctor.
It was my oncologist, Dr. Miles, who contacted me next – about two hours after the exam. Actually it was her nurse, Jody. Blood clot in my jugular was the diagnosis. Daily lovenox shots into my belly was the treatment. I explained to Jody that when she said clot, I thought stroke and that was way more fearful for me than the word cancer. She quietly talked me off the ledge explaining that the treatment I was giving myself at home was the same I would get in an ER and was standard for this condition. It took about three days but the swelling and pain did subside. The fear about the blood clot did not.