When I was nursing, my breasts were often full of milk. When my husband, the alien, said something off-the-wall in the privacy of our home, I would squirt him. I also appreciated the comfort of nursing.
After the mastectomy my breasts again filled with fluid. I knew it wasn’t milk. Not only did I not have a recent childbirth, all my milk ducts were gone. There are only two other bodily fluids that can be in breasts: blood and lymph. Blood tends to discolor the skin and it clots. My skin was blue from the dye to detect the sentinel lymph nodes, during the lumpectomy the week before. It’s a blue that might look good on a blouse – not a bruise blue with green and yellow borders.
The only other fluid I figured it could be was lymph. Lymph has its own circulation system that carries proteins, white blood cells, and fluids that move between cells. It’s a major part of the immune system. But since 8 of my lymph nodes had been removed, part of that system had been damaged and the excess lymph was pooling where my breast used to be.
The day after my mastectomy (this is an out-patient surgery unless you want reconstruction) a woman called from the hospital to ask how I was doing. I told her about the lymph building up in my breast area. She asked, “How do you know it’s lymph?” I had no desired to give this woman a course in biology. I wanted to know what to do about it and I wanted her off the phone. So, I said, “I don’t know that it’s lymph. For all I know it’s soup.”
That seemed to pacify her. She told me to wrap an elastic bandage around my chest when I’m not in the shower, and to show it to my surgeon at my one-week checkup.
The pressure built and built – like a breast that needs to nurse. By the time I saw my surgeon, my missing breast was a big as my remaining breast. It filled the cup on my bra. My surgeon took one look at it and got out a huge syringe with a thick needle. I freaked. She made no comment – just jabbed the thing into me below the incision line. All I felt was a little pressure. No pain.
“Did it go numb?”
“Of course it’s numb.”
Then I remembered – my shoulder is still numb in areas affected by the collar bone repair and my thigh is still numb near the hip replacement scar. While my self-image is that I’m one of the healthiest people on the planet, my insurance company would tell a different story.
I watched. The surgeon kept poking that syringe into me, filling it up and draining it. “Why are you watching?” asked the surgeon. “Why not?” I asked. “Men don’t look,” said my surgeon. “They always look away.” I looked away. When she finally finished, she’d removed at least a cup of fluid.
The same thing happened the next week. Another cup.
The third week it was down to half-a-cup.
Even if I can’t feel it, I don’t like needles going in instead of fluid squirting out.
I went for my vacation. About 2 weeks into it, my breast was huge again. I wasn’t sure I could make it 3 weeks. Then the fluid started to thicken and my former breast began to shrink.
I had expected to be flat where my breast was removed. Now it’s sticking out about an inch from my chest and the edges of it feel like scar tissue. I guess it’s time to go get fitted for a mastectomy bra.