Numbness and pain …
I’ve noticed that lately I’m a lot more aware of these appendages on my chest, which have no feeling, and my surgeons continue to remind me “are not breasts” even though they look an awful lot like breasts, and when you touch them, they kinda feel like breasts. But alas, they are not breasts, in that they do not have any of the fatty breast tissue in them. That was all taken away when I had a double-mastectomy to remove the last bits of cancer in my system – December 17, 2014. Although I don’t remember much of that day (I was wheeled into the operating room at 8am), I shall never forget it.
Lately, I seem to be much more aware of the numbness in my fake breasts. I’m particularly aware of the area where my new breasts brush up against my upper arms. My upper arms can feel that something is there, but the breasts don’t feel the upper arms. So it all just feels kinda wrong. I actually caught myself bumping into a cupboard in the kitchen today – the cupboard door made contact with my breast, so I didn’t feel it.
I’m also numb in a large portion of the front of my stomach – where the donor tissue was taken. I have a scar that goes from one hip bone to the other. I can feel the outside 2 or 3 inches of the scar – the part that is actually over my hipbone, but I cannot feel the middle of my belly. In some ways, I’m feeling like I’m loose more feeling rather than gaining it. That more of me is numb now than it used to be. I’m also starting to feel some pain along the incision in my belly. I’m particularly aware of it on the part of my stomach between my new belly button (which is pretty cute BTW) and my stomach incision. The pain comes and goes – and it is not bad pain – in that I don’t need to take any meds to block it – it is an awareness pain. I find that rubbing my belly helps – perhaps it is a way to help the brain make the connection between the new nerves and the physical location of the sensation. I don’t know, I just know that when I get that feeling along my belly, it is eased by rubbing.
I’ve also had a couple of times where I’ve had an itch on my not-breasts. This is really difficult to manage. The itch feels like it is coming from the skin on the breasts, but I don’t have any sensation there – which means that scratching it does nothing. It is horribly frustrating – it is an itch that cannot be scratched.
One of the times when I am most aware of the numbness is when I go for a swim. I find myself hesitating going out to the pool – in part because it just feels really weird. I am thankful for my reconstruction surgery – such that I can wear the same swimsuit I wore before my mastectomy, and I don’t need to worry about prosthetics. I’m afraid that prosthetics would have been one too many sources of inertia that I’d never actually get to the pool. As it is, I can spend a good hour between the time I decide I’m going for a swim and the time I actually get my swimsuit on and walk out to the pool (thankful that I don’t actually have to go any further to swim or I’d never actually get there).
So tonight, with my ankles unhappy with me, I was happy to hop in the pool (rather than biking or walking). It was weird walking in. There were kids playing in the pool, so I tried to walk in (one hand on the railing so as not to lose my balance) without making funny faces as various parts of my body first get exposed to the cool water (the pool was pretty warm tonight, which made it easier). I recall from before, that stepping into the pool involved a shock at the belly line and again at the booby line – that is, when the water first approaches the belly and the breasts respectively. I no longer get that shock – the impact of the cool water on my belly and breasts just isn’t there. If the water is cold, I will eventually feel the coolness in my bones/flesh – but I don’t have that direct cold sensation on my belly or breast skin.
One thing that being in the pool does, is it helps me figure out what I’m feeling and what I’m not feeling. I recall when I first started to get neuropathy, that I found swimming to be an odd sensation. Climbing into the pool highlighted that I couldn’t feel the water on my skin. I could feel the coolness of the water, but I couldn’t feel the actual water. Similar to how rubbing my belly when it hurts helps my brain figure out where those new nerves physically are – hopping in the pool helps me appreciate the boundaries of my numbness.
Wow, this post just made me realize that most ppl will assume once ur “done” with active treatment, ur “done”. But ur not. Partway thru the post i had a “would u rather” thing in my head, “would u rather feel numb or feel a constant humming pain?”
Hugs (would u not feel hugs on ur chest? Does it feel awkward? Been wondering about this for a while)
It is an interesting question. In the breast cancer community, you learn to do ‘gentle hugs’ because many people are recovering from surgery. In that community, you hug with the shoulders and your breasts don’t touch. After my first surgery, when I went to visit my parents, I had to tell people ‘gentle hugs’ so they didn’t hug me hard. Now I can do normal hugs again. I don’t really notice the lack of feeling when hugging – in part because it is more the transferring of love that is felt. When I was in Ottawa in May, I got lots of hugs from friends and Unitarians .. I never once thought about the lack of feeling … I always just felt the love 🙂 It is sure nice not to need to do gentle hugs …
Thank you for sharing your diep flap experience. I had a double mastectomy diep flap reconstruction in September of 2012. I had stage 0 multi focal dcis. After one biopsy and three lumpectomies I still did not get clear margins. I did not get chemo, radiation or side effects like neuropathy or hair loss. I feel very fortunate or lucky depending on the day. However I like you have/had lots of numbness. It is less and less every week month and year. My stomach also was very tight like the leather on top of a drum. I felt like I was always holding my stomach in. I’ll never forget the day while drinking bottled water a few drops dripped between my new cleavage it was bitter and sweet at the same time. A very weird sensation. Sometimes I wonder if I really knew how numb I was going to get would I have made the same decisions. Ultimately yes I am very satisfied with my own skin on my own chest that pretend to replace my twin breasts. They were my friends. And they were very useful. I could really relate to your share about them and swimming. I teach swimming lessons at the ymca. I had five c-sections and already had a growing scar above my pelvic bone from each addition to our family. I nursed those five children for 16 years. My breasts were purposeful passionate useful and a part if me. Now they are gone but I have a lot of muscle memory and great memories of how they helped me personally, sexually with my husband, nutritionally for our children and now that they are gone I am aware of their absence. It’s not the fat tissue that I miss but really my nipples and the physical sensations. They were a part of my sensuality, femininity, identity, and just a part of me. They were mine and now they are gone. It is a loss that I am dealing with and letting go of but thank you so much for articulating your/our feelings. I told my husband that I wish I had more of a heads/breasts up before the surgery. I am grateful you are shedding light on our losses. And educating other men and woman who might be following in our footsteps. I am so grateful to be alive and recovering physically, spiritually and emotionally from this experience. Thanks for listening and blogging.
thank-you Diana for your comment. I it is timely for me to hear. I too find the numbness in my stomach particular at times. I’m getting feeling back slowly in some places but not so much in others. Every time I bump into the counter while doing dishes I notice the lack of feeling there. I seem to ‘bump’ into things that way. And of course lying on my stomach on the massage table is an odd sensation – but I’m happy that I CAN. I know some women with implants that are not able to lie on their stomach which would kind of suck.