In case you’ve been wondering, yes, breast cancer hurts, at least some of the time. One of the reasons I haven’t written here for a while is that I’ve been having a lot of post-surgical pain. My incisions hurt and it’s distracting. I have sharp, shooting pains in both breasts. I thought I was finished with pain. After all, I’m six weeks out of surgery. No, it persists. I’m still healing.
Breast cancer may hurt from the get-go. Some women even feel discomfort before their diagnoses. If you feel pain in your breast, see your doctor. Mine started after my needle biopsy, not during. Dr. G numbed my skin, and I did not feel the hollow needle going in. My tumor hurt afterwards, especially around the incision. I asked my surgeon if this was normal. She said yes, that the biopsy had disturbed a lot of tissue, and it was normal for it to take a while to heal. The area never recovered. It itched, and shot pain through my right breast. That particular pain went away only after my lumpectomy, when the cancer was no longer there, when all that tissue was a memory.
During surgery, nothing hurt. While both my surgeon and my plastic surgeon worked away on both breasts, I slept soundly, happily anesthetized. Waking up in recovery, my breasts bound tightly in a surgical bra, I still felt nothing. They had me on dilaudid. it did its job. My surgeon told me it would take about two days for the anesthesia to wear off and sent me home with hydrocodone (Percoset.) For two days, I felt very little. I thought, “well, what do you know? This ain’t too bad!”
Two days later, wow! Or, rather, OUCH! It was bad. My swollen, stitched-up breasts throbbed. The pain was sharp and intense. It radiated from my incisions into my breasts and right underarm. On my right torso, I had a large, purple hematoma. I was bruised and battered. It looked like I had been hit by a truck. I was rather a shock to behold. I avoided mirrors that week. Between the Percoset and medical marijuana (not at the same time!), I was able to manage the pain to a certain extent.
My hematoma was very large, covering most of the right side of my torso with a huge, deep purple bruise. The color was vibrant, but the doctors were concerned. This hematoma would dissipate, eventually, but no one could say how long that would take. Combining that with a surgical pathology report that didn’t show clear margins meant I needed more surgery. A week after my initial operation, I was back on the table.
This time, Dr. G. removed more tissue around the tumor area creating a “cancer-free zone” aka a clear or clean margin. Dr. P “cleaned up” the hematoma. Later, looking in the mirror, I could see scrub marks under my skin. He really did clean things up, scraping out the hematoma. This second surgery was not as rough on my body as the first. It was faster, and I seemed to not have much of an anesthesia hangover. After I got home for the second time, though, the pain kicked in strongly. Again, Percoset and medical marijuana made it tolerable. Nothing makes pain go away completely.
Throughout this breast cancer journey, I’ve been injected with radioactive and non-radioactive dyes. I’ve had IVs in my hand and my arms, and blood drawn at every turn. I’ve been stickered and stitched. I’ve even been tattooed. Most of the needle injections and IVs didn’t bother me. They hurt no more than any ordinary flu shot or blood draw. Of course, having been pregnant three times (one live birth, two miscarriages), I’m still used to being poked. If you’re someone who’s needle squeamish and you’re faced with this, close your eyes and take deep breaths while you’re being prodded. It helps.
So, instead of writing these past couple of weeks, I’ve been resting and watching movies. I had stopped taking Percoset about three weeks ago. But this new pain isn’t touched by NSAIDs or Tylenol. Dr. G. gave me a new prescription and it does help. What I’ve learned about pain and cancer is that cancer does hurt, but it’s okay to ask for help with that pain. Relief is available.