All wrapped up

The incredible, expanding boob just won’t stop swelling, and hurting. As I get out of the shower this morning, drops of blood are weeping from the incision on my left breast. I won’t lie: That creeps me out.

I’ve already emailed my surgeon and her nurse. I write that it seems like my left breast is 30 percent larger than my right, maybe even 40 percent.

The nurse, Sarah, responds first, saying I should come into the clinic so she can take a look. Dr. Hwang calls while I’m in the shower, leaves a voice mail saying I should buy a 6-inch wide Ace bandage and wrap my chest tightly. Wear the bandage day and night for three days, the message says. Call if you have any questions.

Even though Dr. Hwang sounds calm on the voicemail, I decide to go see Sarah in the clinic anyway. Sarah looks concerned as she pulls off the bloody Steri-Strips and examines the breast, says it does look more swollen than it did on Monday. She says she’s going to call Dr. Hwang. I’ve got another appointment, so Sarah says I should keep that commitment, then come back in an hour. By the time I come back, I’m feeling sick, really sick and the pain smarts even through the Vicodin. I ask the medical assistants at the front desk if there’s a place I can lie down.

One thing I must say about major medical centers: If you can walk and sit up, they’ll make you wait and wait. But if you faint, or say you’re feeling really sick, they leap into action. Within moments, I’ve jumped the line and am lying down in an exam room. Sarah comes in, takes my blood pressure, says an assistant will come in to take my blood pressure lying down, sitting and standing. It’s a little lower when I’m upright, but nothing too alarming.

Sarah pops in, asks if I’d like a magazine while I wait. She reaches for one in the exam room rack. She looks at it and scowls, “What are they thinking when they order a magazine called “Lucky” for a cancer center?” she asks. We laugh; she leaves. I spend some time looking at purses and accessories I will never buy in a million years.

Then Dr. Hwang comes in. She looks at the breast. “It’s swollen,” she says. “But not as swollen as previously reported! You’re going to have get a lot bigger than this to impress me!”

Then she gets serious and explains: My breast has been whacked. My body is trying to fill the empty space. Often, it fills with fluid, (lymph? I don’t catch the exact kind). But sometimes, the cavity fills with blood. That’s why the discoloration has bloomed across the breast. The pooling blood has nowhere to go, and it’s percolating out through the healthy breast tissue. She estimates there’s about a quarter cup in there. She says this is not uncommon and that it will probably get better on its own. If necessary, they could go back in and clean it up, but that’s a last resort. She tells me to go get that Ace bandage and wrap myself up, or rather, have Pete wrap me up.

“It’ll be like those tube tops from the ’70s!” she says. “Here’s my cell phone number. Call if there’s excessive bleeding, more than a few drops, or if the swelling gets a lot worse.” Then she gives me a gentle hug and runs to get a plane to a medical meeting.

I feel a little sheepish. Did I exaggerate the amount of swelling? I’ve taken up all this medical time and effort, and I’m ending up doing the same thing Dr. Hwang suggested in her voice mail message this morning.

Now I’m all wrapped up like Barbra Streisand in the movie Yentl. I get to stay this way for three days. I have no earthly idea how I’m going find shirts that will look decent with all this Ace bandage underneath. I guess that’s not the point, though. I guess I should stay on the couch.

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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 wrapped up

  1. Erin M Macias says:

    All things considered, I think you were rather calm! I hope you collect these blogs and put them together to share with a publisher. I love how you bring your wit and wisdom to such a serious discussion. Fortunately, you have also shared an invaluable tool with the common folk on how to expedite a medical appointment. I hadn’t thought of fainting or lying down in the waiting room. Genius! 🙂 Big Erin

    • leftbreast says:

      I’ve done it once before: Went to the ER at St. Luke’s Roosevelt in Manhattan about 15 years ago. Said I felt really sick, they said, “That’s nice.” Then I fainted. When I woke up I was on a gurney in the inner sanctum…

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