Let me start with this, EVERY lump and bump will worry me for the rest of my life. It's not over just because I had surgery. If a lump forms, I'm going to worry. That being said, I'm also going to let you know that this lump I found turned out to be a suspected undulation of the implant, so you can continue reading just for the education and my experience.
At this point, I'm seven months post surgery, and overall doing great. When you have a mastectomy with implant reconstruction, you're bound to still have numb areas of the breast, like I do. When I get an itch that I need to scratch, its sometimes hard to find and satisfy with a scratch, causing a bit of a comical scene. Two nights ago (Thursday night), while lying in bed, one of these itching scenarios happened, which led me to finding my first ever lump in my breast.
You're probably thinking, "What? You can't get lumps after having a mastectomy!"
Well, yes you can, actually.
As many people may know, the risk of recurrent breast cancer after any type of mastectomy is not zero. A woman who has had a mastectomy can still get breast cancer, although there is a very low risk of recurrence. This is because it is not humanly possible for a surgeon to remove every microscopic cell of breast tissue. The goal, however, of mastectomy is to remove any gross visible breast tissue seen by the surgeon. In contrast, at the nipple all that is left behind is skin. (http://medicine.stonybrookmedicine.edu/surgery/blog/faqs-about-nipple-sparing-mastectomy-what-women-need-to-know)
There a couple types of lumps and/or hardness which can occur after a mastectomy with reconstruction, and I'm learning about all of them now, only because of the lump I discovered (See below for different types of lumps). When I found it, my first reaction, within those first couple seconds was, no, not possible. Nothing was visible from the outside; no rippling, no redness and nothing sore. I ignored it for maybe an hour, but then came back to it, making sure I was feeling what I thought I was feeling. I rubbed it, tried to roll it between fingers...anything I could do to try and decipher whether it was muscle, a true lump or my imagination.
|By User:Starr4ever:) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
I proceeded to feel all around both breasts. Smooth as butter...can't feel a single lump, ridge, fiber...nothing but smoothness. I went back to this area. Yep, definitely different. At that point, I got online and messaged my plastic surgeon (thank goodness for social media). Now, most people would say, you felt a lump, go get it checked no matter what...why are you taking time to get online? Well, I was in half panic and half denial, he's my breast surgeon and I was alone in my house. I needed to reach out, get outside of my own head, and seek advice. He said it could be fat necrosis or scar tissue, but he knows I won't have peace of mind until I have an ultrasound.
I then messaged my GYN who just completed my Oophorectomy on What's App with what I had found and my surgeon's suggestion. Again, you're asking why her? Well, it's night time, offices are closed, and she's online. I needed to talk to someone here, in Singapore, to get some sort of ball rolling. She agreed with my surgeon and asked if she should schedule an appointment with someone for me. I don't know why, but I started to doubt myself at this point, and didn't immediately respond to her. I became embarrassed. Am I overreacting? Is this all because I'm terrified it actually could be something, so I naturally want to avoid it? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? ZERO pun intended. I'll tell you this ladies, no one can tell you how to react or when to be scared when you are high risk and have gone through these surgeries to try and save your life.
I finally wrote back and told her I'd wait until my husband got home, and have him see if he could feel what I had felt. I know, why wait and why did I need him to feel too? For me, it was like my pregnancy test. I didn't believe the first one, and proceeded to take three more before believing I was pregnant. I had to wait until the next morning for my husband due to his late nights this week.
When my husband felt, he definitely felt the lump too. He couldn't tell if it was round or not, or if it was muscle or not. But he could feel something. After he left for work, I screamed the F word a few times and I broke down, sobbing like a baby for a few minutes. It doesn't help that I'm sleep deprived and my hormones are out of whack. I messaged a few close friends, just for support, because it really can be lonely when you live overseas, and I tried gathering some strength from their positivity. After pulling it together, I messaged my GYN, as well as my physician/oncologist, Dr. Tucker, and let them know that I was ready to move forward in putting my mind at rest. Because really, how cruel can the world be, after all I've been through? It had to be nothing.
I couldn't seem to get an appointment anywhere last minute. I tried my follow up breast doctor, fully booked throughout January. Dr. Tucker's office tried another doctor, fully booked. While this was all happening, I noticed my belly button incision from my oophorectomy was red, tender and slightly oozing. Two weeks post surgery I wouldn't expect this to happen. So, lets add one more thing onto the plate and message my GYN again. Bam, I had an appointment scheduled for first thing Saturday morning, 8:30am (today). I cried a lot today. It was a mixture of releasing a lot of tension from this year, disbelief that I am actually going through these movements right now and just overall exhaustion.
This morning I was on my way to my GYN. Upon examination of my belly button after the oophorectomy, I was given some ointment to use twice a day to help it heal. We then got down to business regarding the breast lump. She felt the left breast first, getting a baseline of what my new implant breasts feel like. She didn't want me to tell her where the lump was on the right breast, to see if she could discover it on her own. Sure enough she did...1:00 position, 1/2 in in size. She got me into an 11:00am slot with her breast surgeon, Dr. Woon, and I was off, yet again, to another appointment.
Upon arrival at the next hospital, it was lucky that the elevator lobby was so crowded that it began sending me into panic from too many people, because I was able to walk the nine flights of stairs which helped me focus, calm down and exhaust myself a bit. By the time I made it into the doctor's waiting room, I was too tired to panic or worry anymore. Dr. Woon called me in, went over my history of BRCA1, surgeries and other health history, then had me get on the examination table. She felt it right away, and she too wondered what it was. Out came the ultrasound, but she couldn't find a thing. Everything was smooth and clear. No cysts. She seemed a bit perplexed, so poked a little deeper until she saw some undulations in the implant where I had felt the lump. She then attributed what I'm going through to just that, undulations. Now, I'm no doctor, so of course I'm going to relay this information back to my surgeon, just so he can help me understand all this, but he's sleeping right now, so an answer will have to wait. :)
The one thing that rings in my ears from today, is my GYN telling me, "you're allowed to overreact, because its not overreacting in your case. We want you to be vigilant, we want you checking and we want to be preventive." So, while some people will never know what its like to feel a lump, thank goodness, others need to know its ok to panic and its ok to seek attention asap.
|By Burningrome (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
Types of lumps:
Fat necrosis: (I did not have flap surgery, but necrosis can still happen with leftover areas)
Occasionally there can be a phenomenon called “fat necrosis” in the newly reconstructed breast mound. That is when the fat from the abdominal flap does not receive enough blood supply in its new position and forms a scar as a result. It will manifest as a hard lump under the breast skin which can feel alarming upon detection. Your plastic surgeon can usually differentiate between fat necrosis and cancer recurrence on clinical examination. If there is any doubt, then you will undergo a needle biopsy or a MRI to arrive at a diagnosis. (http://www.bra-day.com/breast-reconstruction/)
Capsular Contracture: (remember my Victoria Secret exercises I do?)
If you had implant reconstruction and you feel hardness in the breast area, it may be the result of capsular contracture. Capsular contracture occurs when a hard tissue capsule forms around the implant. It can be small and barely noticeable, or it can become very painful and distort the shape of the breast. Let your doctor know if you see or feel any of these symptoms. (http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/surgery/reconstruction/screening)
Plain and simple, it could be a bit of scaring from the overall surgery, since there was scraping and disruption all over.
Hard lumps under the skin, around the implant. They can be mistaken for cysts/tumors.
I can't find clear/medical evidenced based information on this right now, but I read a few (ok, a lot) of forums where women find lumps and bumps all the time after mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries, most ending up to be benign cysts. Yes, it's totally plausible to continue getting these, even after you've had a mastectomy. Many of the women spoke of these being skin cysts, found in the remaining tissue after surgery.
* Update...nothing was wrong, it was just part of the implant. Everything is ok, but there's no such thing as overreaction when it comes to lumps with a family history.