All dressed up

You don’t think about how much your arm moves against your torso until the surgeons snake a lymph node out of that area and you have an approximately two-inch incision in your underarm. (Doctors like the Latin “axilla.”)

Someone has medical-ized the Post-it note idea to create all sorts of marvels: Steri-Strips that pull one side of an incision toward the other like elegant, human strapping tape, and make it all heal more neatly and scar-free. Dressings coated with plastic something so that they don’t stick. Some sort of human Saran Wrap stuff made by 3M (I’m sure that’s not what it’s called, their PR people can complain to the management.) that is thin, moves with your body, keeps the water out and does not come off.

Well, it does not come off until your arm moves against your torso for a week. Then it starts to peel a tiny bit, then a lot. Then, in the shower, it comes off completely. You pull back the Saran Wrap stuff and the nonstick dressing to reveal an incision longer than you’d like to think about, held fast by two Steri-Strips. You put a Band-Aid over it, just because that seems like the right thing to do. You can’t really find the right size or shape of Band-Aid, so you make do.

Then, the next time you take a shower, the bandage gets wet. So you pull it off. Off come the Steri-Strips. You’re left with yourself, and a long incision. It looks OK, but it hurts. The next day, it hurts more, and despite the antibiotic ointment, it looks angry.

You call your surgeon’s office. The nurse says, sure, you can come in and I’ll put on a new dressing.

As she’s doing it, she says that, really, you could probably take off the dressings at this point.

But I’d rather not. It may be psychosomatic, but I’d like to keep my new incisions under wraps until my followup appointment with the surgeon next week. I’ve got new human Saran Wrap and strapping tape and nonstick padding and I feel all dressed up.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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2 Responses to All dressed up

  1. Keltie says:

    I remember a Stanford classmate, a chemical engineer, who was trying to choose between two job offers. One was very lucrative, with a defense contractor. One was less lucrative, with a medical research project focused on developing adhesives for dressings that did less damage to the skin. He chose the latter – you may want to thank him, too!

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