Surgery does not cure lymphedema. There is still no cure for this condition. There are several different types of surgical interventions possible, depending on the severity of the condition. My lymphedema is still fairly “young,” which means there was a good chance that my lymphatic channels are still functioning. As a result of this, Dr. Champ determined that I was a good candidate for: “combined vascularized lymph node transfer from the supraclavicular lymph node basin, extensive scar excision of the right axilla, lymphaticovenous bypass anastomosis right forearm, fluorescence angiography to assess flap perfusion.”
In lay person terms, two procedures were performed. The first was to transfer a blob of tissue containing several lymph nodes from my clavicle (an area that can spare a few nodes) into the axilla, where my nodes were removed during cancer treatment. This procedure has a theoretical risk of causing lymphedema in the donor site, and this does cause me some angst; but Dr. Champ has performed this procedure many times and has NEVER had a patient with that complication. I decided it was worth the risk.
For the second procedure, the lymphatic channels are connected to my venous system in multiple places on my arm. This allows the lymphatic fluid to get dumped into the veins, detouring around the overloaded lymphatic system. While on the operating table, Dr. Champ had to assess my candidacy for this latter procedure, using a fluorescent dye injected between my fingers. In the end, he was able to perform this bypass in five locations (with four incisions), which was great news. (My hand was blue for days!)
Two weeks prior to the procedure I was told to stop taking Tamoxifen. My surgery was scheduled for 7:30am on Friday, February 21. Tad dropped me off at 6am and then went home to get the kids and bring them to school. My only very minor complication was that the location where the pre-op nurse put in my IV was uncomfortable. The anesthesiologist was able to put a new one in a better spot while I was unconscious, so that was nice.
The surgery took about four hours, plus about 1 hour asleep in recovery. As usual, I definitely remember my time in the recovery room (everyone is always surprised by this) and took my now-traditional recovery room selfie. They soon wheeled me into my ROOM WITH A VIEW. The rest of the day passed uneventfully – lots of napping, reading my book, and of course sending questionable emails and texts in my drugged state.
A couple of times over night the nurse had to come in to take vitals, etc. Dr. Champ showed up for rounds at 6:30am. Each time the visitor was impressed with my ability to sleep so soundly in the hospital – I had NO trouble with that, LOL! I did bring ear plugs and an eyeshade, which definitely helped, and I highly recommend! Dr. Champ also commented that I have “very good anatomy.” I don’t really know what that means but it sounds like a compliment so I’ll take it!
The next day, Tad & Lane arrived around 10am. They’d been at Fiesta Island doing a rocket launch and getting soaked in a downpour. Apparently the rocket exploded – lots of excitement in the real world! And the “it takes a village” also kicked in – many thanks to Paige’s lovely friend (shout out to Luna and Sabina!) who invited her to sleep over Friday night. They went to a Girls In STEM Fair on Saturday while I recuperated.
I think the anesthesia they used was pretty kick-ass because I had lingering grogginess for several days; the upside was that I basically had no pain either. The little cuts on my arm are pretty superficial. The clavicle area was particularly numb – Dr. Champ told me that nerves were cut, but they will grow back. The axilla area, just below my armpit, was more uncomfortable, but still completely tolerable. Both primary surgical sites had a drain installed, however I was able to shower immediately which was nice.