I was driving back home from my preoperative appointment this morning, mindlessly navigating my way to I-280 and mentally replaying snippets of information about my surgery, when my attention was suddenly hijacked by the stunning sight of cascading verdant mountains framed by a clear azure sky. Also called Junipero Serra Freeway, 280 pales in comparison with other exceptional corridors I have traversed over the years like the road connecting idyllic hamlets on the Amalfi Coast or the show-stopping Hana Highway on Maui. But it wasn’t dubbed the “world’s most beautiful highway” for nothing, and if one must travel from San Jose to San Francisco by car, it serves up a periodic feast for the eyes. A welcome respite from my weightier thoughts, this comely stretch of road led me to today’s epiphany: with its ideal weather, natural beauty, and highly trained medical professionals, Northern California is a good place to have cancer.
But getting back to this morning’s appointment:
1) The official check-in time on June 13th will be 10am. My radioactive injection will be administered at noon, and the actual surgery will begin at 1 or 1.15pm. I will stay overnight in a private room and be discharged Tuesday.
2) To help avoid lymphedema, I need to exercise caution forever more with my right arm (which is adjacent to the lymph nodes to be removed). All blood draws, injections, and blood pressure checks need to be performed on the left arm.
3) I will have either 1 or 2 surgical drains for approx. 1-2 weeks post-surgery to remove excess fluid from the incision sites. Until these drains are removed, I am prohibited from regular showers, driving, or lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk.
4) Once the drains are out, I will begin a series of exercises to regain range of movement for my arm.
5) Vicodin will be prescribed for pain management at home, to be replaced by extra-strength Tylenol when tolerable.
6) The probability of cancer recurrence in the same breast after mastectomy is between 1-3% and would present as a gravel-like protrusion under the skin at the mastectomy scar line. Note that recurrence in the right breast is not to be confused with metastasis (spread to other sites in the body) or a new primary cancer (if something ever showed up in the left breast).
7) I should be feeling better 1-2 weeks out (and back to a normal routine in 3-6 weeks), though I will still need to limit lifting and exercise. It can take a good deal longer, perhaps months, for my right arm to return to its original range of movement.
8) No vacuum cleaning or weed pulling with my right arm for 6 months. 6 months!!!
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