Thursday, September 11, 2008


One of the frustrating parts of recovering from a double mastectomy is the inevitable swelling from the lymph node removal. I had a total of 8 nodes removed and since my drains were removed, there's been swelling across my chest with a good deal of it concentrated under my arm.

I got tremendous relief last Friday when my doctor aspirated the fluid. 90cc's later and I could place my arms against my side again. It's alot like having a tennis ball shoved into my armpit. What's most annoying is that as the fluid gets retained, the pain radiates from under my to the lower part of my shoulder blade. It's rather uncomfortable.

Lymph node removal screws up the draining of the lymphmatic fluids. Remove a few nodes and it's like swiping out a few necessary filters for this system that it functions in the transmittal of cells throughout the body, among other things. It can also transmit cancer cells, which is why lymph removal is an integral part of effective cancer treatment.

Once some of this system is removed, it's up to the body to adjust to the loss. During a mastectomy, drains are installed to release the fluid buildup in the body cavity. After a week or so, these drains are removed. Then comes the body having to deal with the buildup of fluids.

I've dug around the internet searching for something to ease this transition that my body is going through. I'm not finding much practical information. Just basically how to cope with it never going away. I've read that good arm care is great, watching heat and cold, and compression garments are important but I've found very little on basic comfort during the immediate time after drain removal.

I have found that my arm is terribly weak. Writing is a definite chore as I cannot control the pen very well. My hand gets so tired so fast. I can't lift my arm high at all, just shoulder height actually. It's pretty annoying. I felt like a million bucks when I was drained last week!

So what to do? I do my exercises (arm lifts in various directions), I color with my daughter because this is strengthening my arm, and I take it easy. I lift nothing that is heavy and only unload the dishwasher of the things that fit in drawers and the lowest cabinets. Folding clothes is a painful affair so I don't do much of that. Worse case scenario is that the incisions will burst if the pressure becomes too much. I am way far away from that point but getting sick of being all swollen.

However, I do think I might be making a phone call to the surgeon tomorrow for a draining. I have a mediport installed during a surgical procedure on Tuesday so I can start chemo on Sept 23. I'm praying my doctor will roll his trusty sonogram machine in the operating room and drain my fluids while I'm snoozing under general anesthesia.

I so want this swelling and my pain to be under control before I start chemo.

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