I am currently in limbo land. I’ve pretty much recovered from my surgery and am now awaiting my next treatment, which is chemotherapy. So to keep me busy I thought I’d write about my experience of the Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy. It may be helpful to anyone else about to undergo the same thing. The sentinel lymph node is in your armpit, it is the first lymph node in the chain of nodes which drain lymph fluid from the breast. It is part of your immune system, and its purpose is to drain away any bad stuff. I’m not entirely where the bad stuff ends up but I guess the body gets ride of it somehow. Very clever!
So, in order to check whether the breast cancer had spread to any others parts of my body, the first port of call is the Sentinel Lymph Node. They need to remove it, then test it. But first they need to find it! And they do this by using radioactive fluid and a massive scanning machine. I had to attend the Nuclear Medicine Department at my local hospital. DH came with me; he is my driver and rock of support. On the drive up there we were quite jovial making jokes about me going radioactive and wondering if I will turn into the Incredible Hulk. On arrival at the Nuclear Medicine Department I was greeted by a man who did actually look like a mad science professor, which was rather disconcerting! He handed me a shopping basket containing 2 hospital gowns and took me to a cubicle, just like a changing room at the swimming pool, where he instructed me to remove everything to the waste and then put on both gowns, the second one back to front to ensure I was completely covered. Then I should return to the waiting room. At this point I was rather worried that the mad professor would be the one carrying out the procedure. There was no way he was coming near my boobs!! I let out a massive sigh of relief when a nice young nurse called me in. I laid on a chair/bed thingy (like being at the dentist) and exposed my left breast (I’m getting used to this now). The nurse was very professional yet warm and friendly. She explained exactly what she was going to do, which was inject my nipple 4 times around its edge with radioactive fluid. Before starting the injections she warned me it may sting a bit and I’ll feel ‘pressure’ as she is injecting fluid into a place where there is no space for it! They use very fine needles to minimize any discomfort, but it did smart a fair bit, especially on the last one. As soon as the injections were done she told me to massage my boob with my whole hand, round and round. This took the pain away and encourages the flow of the fluid from the breast up to the Sentinel Node. That was it, all done, for now. I was told to go away for 3 hours and come back to have x-rays taken. As the hospital is 30 minutes drive from home, we decided to spend this time exploring a more local small town and we had a lovely lunch in an Italian restaurant. It was Valentine’s day, so I felt pleased that at least we had managed to have a meal out together and raise a glass to Us, despite all the drama of recent events.
Once the 3 hours were up I returned to the Nuclear Medicine Department, waited for about 5 minutes before called through, obviously I had to half undress again and wear the now familiar hospital gown. The same nurse showed me into a large room which had what looked like a giant polo at one end with a narrow bed, almost like a conveyor belt, running into its centre. I had to lie down on the bed and then at the flick of a switch the bed moved down towards to the centre of the ‘polo’. Attached to the front of the polo is a large box which comes down over your chest, really close to your body and stops about a centimeter away from your chin. This is the ‘camera’ part. The machine is actually some kind of Gamma x-ray machine which was donated to this hospital by the ‘Friends of ’ said hospital, a charity – makes you wonder if it would be there at all, without people giving to charity. Anyway, so I then needed to lie still which 4 pictures were taken, each taking about 5 minutes each. It was all painless and I actually really enjoyed the lie down. The Corrs were playing softly in the background! The nurse marked on me where the sentinel node could be found, according to the pictures – X marks the spot. She also showed me on her computer, the node was a bright light of radioactivity shining out from the screen. So these pictures along with the X marked near my armpit are what the surgeon used the following day to locate the all important Sentinel lymph node.
I then went home and started stuffing myself silly with goodies, as from midnight I was on nil by mouth ready for my operation the next day.