When Elizabeth Edwards announced in March that her breast cancer had returned, her peers -- other breast cancer survivors -- expressed a range of emotions. Topping the list was empathy for Edwards, whose cancer had spread to her bones. There was also pride in her bravery: She chose to be open and honest about an intensely personal health issue. Others found themselves reliving their own diagnoses. And, of course, many could not help but give way to gnawing worry about their own health. Edwards' announcement...
Talk to your doctor about all these possibilities before you have your surgery. The medical staff will keep an eye out for problems while you're in the hospital. Once you’re home, you’ll need to know the symptoms of problems:
Infection. Look for redness or swelling of the incision with pus or foul-smelling drainage. You may have a fever. Usually, antibiotics can treat these infections.
Lymphedema. Look for swelling of the arm or hand on the side of the surgery. This happens to some women after the lymph nodes under the arm are removed. It may go away on its own, but you may need to see a physical or occupational therapist. Treatments may include:
Draining the fluid
Compression bandages to keep the swelling down
Seroma. You may notice swelling from a build-up of fluid at the site of the surgery. Usually, fluid is absorbed by the body. If it doesn’t go down on its own, your doctor may need to drain the area, using a needle.
If you notice any of these symptoms, let your doctor know right away.
You may have pain and stiffness in your shoulder as you recover. You may also have numbness or unusual sensations in the upper arm or armpit. Usually these side-effects go away with time.
Complications of Reconstructive Surgery
Many women opt to get their breast reconstructed right after their cancer is removed. Problems can stem from that operation, too. They include:
A leak or rupture of your breast implant
Scar tissue around your implant
Before any surgery, your doctor should give you information about the procedure, recovery, and follow-up care. Read it over, and get all your questions answered beforehand.
When you understand the surgery and the possible complications, you’ll be better able to care for yourself and catch problems early on.