A breast cancer patient’s journey – Blog Post 9 – The Operation

Ruth Taylor
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Ruth Taylor, 45, is a mum of two who was diagnosed with breast cancer back in May 2016. We are honoured to share her journey from initial diagnosis, informing her family, through to chemo and radiotherapy. She hopes to raise awareness and educate others about breast cancer, while firmly kicking cancer back where it belongs. This is the ninth instalment in her guest blog.
After my high from completing the Dirty 30 challenge, the next week went fairly quickly and I was surprised that I was feeling more excited than nervous on the Sunday afternoon, when it was time to go into the hospital.

My mother is a retired anaesthetist and I have had a number of operations in the past, so I was quite familiar with what to expect with regard to my hospital stay and so I was in a fortunate position that it did not scare me.

Preparing for the operation

After locating the ward that I would be on, I was very pleased when I found that I was in a room on my own rather than on a shared ward.  When I commented on this the nurse told me that Mr Massanat insisted on his patients having their own room if at all possible and that he would be along later to see me.  So after answering a number of general questions regarding my admission and having my blood pressure and temperature checked, I was left to settle in and I unpacked the few things I had brought with me, realising that I could not possibly manage to read all of the magazines and books that I had chosen, particularly as I had also downloaded a number of programmes onto my phone on BBC IPlayer with the intention of chilling out to a spot of Live At The Apollo as a bit of light entertainment.

The room was warm and comfortable and I unpacked my wash bag in the bathroom, which had a wet room with shower, which was spotless.  It would almost have passed as a Travelodge room if it weren’t for the tell tale signs of the cardboard bedpans under the bathroom sink and the metal bars that could be raised on the side of the bed!!  Andrew stayed with me for an hour or so and then when tea appeared at about 5pm he said his goodbyes and I was then on my own, left with a tray of some fairly bland but perfectly edible food for company.  I made a point of eating everything, as I knew that from around 10pm I would not be allowed to eat anything until after my operation and so I knew that the more I could eat now the less hungry I would feel.

Soon after I’d finished my dinner Mr Masannat breezed in to the room.  He looked different dressed in jeans and a jumper, to the suit I had seen him in previously at his clinic and I was pleased that he had come to see me himself, rather than leaving one of his juniors to do the pre-op visit.  He took his time to go through the procedure with me again and then took out a marker pen from his pocket and once I had taken my top off, he marked with some lines and crosses where he would make the incisions on my breast and under my arm to remove the lump and some lymph nodes.  It amused me that he also added a big arrow on the left hand side of my chest down towards my boob commenting that this was to make sure they got the right one, with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye.  I asked him if this was supposed to fill me with confidence and he chuckled and said “you will be absolutely fine, you are in very safe hands”. 

His calm and warm manner did make me feel relaxed and I was very pleased that he had such a reassuring persona.  He explained that I would be taken to get an injection into my nipple before I went for my anaesthetic.  This was a special liquid that would spread through to my lymph nodes and they would be able to see which ones it went to first and these would be the ones they would remove, which would then be analysed to see if the cancer had spread to them.  Once they had the results from this, they would then know if any further surgery would be required.  He advised me that I was second on the list and so would be taken down to theatre in the morning and depending on how I reacted to the anaesthetic I might get home later that evening or the following day.

Just as I was settling down to watch my IPhone, another man appeared and introduced himself as my anaesthetist, Dr Read.  He asked if I had been told about my procedure and I confirmed that Mr Masannat had only just left.  Dr Read asked me lots of questions about my general health and whether I had had an operation before.  He seemed mildly surprised when I rattled off a list starting with  the toe I had had straightened, an operation on my knee, my ectopic pregnancy some 15 years earlier and that I’d had my gallbladder removed in 2007.  I thought it was wise to let him know that when I was born I had a hole in my heart, as I remembered the anaesthetist who removed my gallbladder got rather nervy about this, but Dr Read seemed unphased and after establishing that I had not required treatment in childhood and that it had seemed to close up of its own accord, he reassured me that all would be fine and he explained that he would see me in the morning and would put me to sleep by injecting the anaesthetic into the cannula that had been put into the back of my hand. 

After listening to my chest and asking me a few more questions, he took his leave and I was left on my own to think about the impending operation.  I tried not to dwell on thoughts of what if something went wrong and I never woke up and I focused on the positives that by this time tomorrow the lump and all of the cancer cells would hopefully be removed and I would be a huge step closer to full health.

The morning of the operation

That night I slept reasonably well.  For years now, I have always woken at least once in the night and so I thought I had done pretty well only waking twice.  The room was at the end of the ward and so it was very quiet and as I was not allowed any tea or breakfast before my operation, I was not disturbed by anyone bringing me food.  The nurse came and did her morning checks and I could feel myself starting to get a bit edgy as I looked at my watch for the umpteenth time and wondered how long it would be before things got going.  At around 9:30 a familiar face appeared at my door – my husband’s niece Julie had promised she would come and see me.  She was a medical student in her final year at Aberdeen University and she was working in the hospital.  It made me laugh to see her with her stethoscope hung round her neck – I could remember when she was 8 years old playing with her cousins and now she was as good as qualified as a doctor, where had those last 20 odd years gone!?!  She chatted away, asking about how the kids were doing and updating me on her latest news and I laughed when she admitted she was still getting lost sometimes when she was trying to find different wards in the hospital.  Soon she had to say goodbye and shortly after she had departed the nurse came in and asked me to get into a gown, as I was going to be taken down for my injections at 10:30. 

So, this was it! I bustled into the bathroom and pulled off my pyjamas and donned the gown, quickly getting back into bed, so that I could pull the covers over me – I felt like I was still naked despite the gown covering me.  Not long after, a porter appeared at the door with a wheelchair and said he was taking me downstairs.  I told him I was fine to walk, but he said that it was procedure that they take patients in a wheelchair, so feeling even more self conscious siting in the chair in my gown, he wheeled me along the corridor and into the lift and he soon deposited me outside a room where a nurse told me I’d be taken through in a minute or two.  Soon she returned and wheeled me through where another nurse was standing by a bed. 

They asked me to lay on the bed and explained that I would have three injections into my nipple that would put the special liquid in to me that could be traced through to my lymph nodes.  One of the nurses looked apologetic and warned that the injection “would be a bit nippy” but that she would be as quick as she could.  The other nurse stood at the side of the bed and took my hand as nurse 1 approached the bed with the prepared syringe.  Not a good sign, I thought and I braced myself for what was to come.  Although it did sting and was certainly unpleasant, I did not find it as painful as I had expected which was a great relief, as I had not realised they would need to give me three injections!

It was all over very swiftly and soon the same porter was wheeling me back up to my room.  Once returned, I phoned Andrew to let him know that I had had the injections and that I would be heading down to theatre soon.  He promised he would come in straight after work to see me and so he would be with me around 4:30pm.  Fortunately, once I had rung off I did not have long to wait and I was soon being taken down to theatre on my bed and I was wheeled into a room where Dr Read greeted me.  He started chatting and asked me where I lived and when I replied Insch, he commented he had friends near there and he was going to theirs for a dinner party at the weekend – and when he mentioned they were into Arts & Music I asked him if it was Martin & Sheila Waterhouse, a couple I knew from years ago when I broke my arm and they kindly gave me a lift to work every day while I was in a plaster cast, as at that time they both worked for the Council in Inverurie.  We were so busy chatting, I didn’t really notice him start to inject me with the anaesthetic and I remember drifting off to sleep thinking what a small world it was!

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