In April 2002, when the doctor told us my wife, Chris, had breast cancer, the first two words out of my mouth were "Oh" and a four-letter word. I felt shock and disbelief -- that this kind of thing happens to other people, not to us. I had no idea how I would handle this -- do all the caregiving, plus make a living. Right away, my attitude was, "It's her job to get better, and it's my job to do everything else." But it still seemed impossible.
As it turned out, Chris had stage 3 breast cancer and...
Infection, including redness and/or swelling of the incision with pus or foul-smelling drainage, perhaps with fever; antibiotics can be used to treat post-surgical infections.
Lymphedema, swelling of the arm and/or hand on the side of the surgery due to the removal of the lymph nodes under the arm; lymphedema often goes away on its own, but sometimes requires treatment. Treatment is usually provided by physical or occupational therapists and includes:
Manually draining the fluid
Caring for the skin
Exercising the arm
Wearing compression bandages to keep the swelling from recurring
Seroma, the accumulation of fluid in the location of the surgery; most of the time the fluid is absorbed by the body. However, the area may be drained, using a needle, if it does not go away on its own.
Other complications may include stiffness of the shoulder and possible numbness or altered sensation in the upper arm or armpit.
Before breast cancer surgery, your surgeon should provide you with information about recovery and follow-up care. Make sure you get all your questions answered before surgery.
Print out these Questions to Ask to take to your appointment so you can better understand your care.