Blog: Erica Russell Watson ‘All-clear after six-monthly check-up’

Erica Russell Watson

Six months on from my last blog and I am checking back in with my progress! In my last article I was waiting for the operation to fit the spacer or expander to stretch the skin after my mastectomy in preparation for the final reconstruction. I got the call and went into hospital on 4th July earlier this year.

The operation went well but I didn´t expect the recovery to be quite so sore or to be in hospital for nearly a week. The first 48 hours were the hardest because the spacer is fitted under your pectoral muscle and the skin that has grown post mastectomy is literally stuck to your ribs! Separating that skin away causes quite a bit of trauma.

Breathing was tough to start with as I experienced a crushing sensation through the lungs. That being said I improved greatly each day and would be out of the hospital after five days. I had to be extremely strict with myself and not move my arm or separate it from the side of my body as this could cause the spacer to move or dislodge.

The spacer is a balloon like pouch with a magnetic valve to enable the doctors to fill it with the necessary liquid to start skin expansion.

As always I had a funny experience whilst in hospital. The lovely girl I had been sharing my room with was given the all clear to go home leaving me wondering who my new room-mate would be. It turned out to be a lady from an inland village. I gleaned that she had had a wart removed from a private place! Not that I needed to ask because she and half the village that had come to visit her were shouting about it!

They were all aware that it was a minor operation and that she was meant to go home the same day. However she had other plans! Preferring a warm bed, free meals and TV to going back to work the next day, she decided to put on the most outstanding act to convince the doctors she was too ill to leave the hospital!

Her village friends alerted her to the fact that the doctor was on the ward and coming her way. So from skipping around like a two year old she leapt into bed and starting mumbling incoherently. The doctor told her she was perfectly fine to go home but she started wailing and thrashing around also citing that she had missed her bus so wouldn’t be able to go even if she wanted to! Miss Bedblocker sat tight and in the end the doctor let her stay for the night.

I admit to not saying anything but didn’t fancy a set-to with the rather rough looking group she had with her! I drew my curtain and tried to rest.

Once out of hospital I took things easy for a while becoming accustomed to the ´foreign body´ in my chest. Six weeks or so after the operation I went to see my surgeon to assess my recovery. My scar had healed very well so they started to fill my spacer, which had a capacity of 700ml, at three-week intervals with 100ml of saline solution each time.

The doctor used a magnet to locate the opening in the spacer and then marked my skin so they could safely inject the fluid without bursting the pouch. This procedure doesn’t hurt but you feel a tightening sensation as you progressively move through the sessions with your skin pulling hard over your chest and lungs making it difficult to breathe for the first few days after the injection.

This sensation does ease however as your skin gives and stretches. I did have to have some liquid drawn off in A&E 72 hours after the final injection as it was extremely uncomfortable. The relief was instantaneous. Just keep moisturising and remember that it will all be worth it in the end!

My skin has stretched sufficiently and I am now on the waiting list for my reconstruction. I have also been given the all-clear at my six monthly oncology check-up so onwards and upwards. My journey continues.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.

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