How One Woman With Breast Cancer Is (Still) Handling a Difficult Recovery


Lesa Sverid is tired and achy from chemo but learning to take the long view.(SUSAN ASARO)Lesa Sverid, 44, of Plymouth, Mass., had two lumpectomies, a sentinel node biopsy, and a mastectomy—all in the same year. She's more than ready to move on, but says neither the pain nor the inconveniences have been as bad as she feared.

1. The drain
One of Sverid's first challenges after surgery was dealing with her drain, a contraption she was sent home with after the mastectomy that snaked out of a small incision under her arm. "As everything's healing, there's excess fluid so instead of having [the area] swell, it drains off into a clear hose," she explains. Sverid was worried at first that she might accidentally pull the drain out, but after watching her doctor remove it—and noting that it snaked inside her body a good six inches—she realized that it was unlikely she'd pull it out by mistake.

2. The needles
After the drain was removed, Sverid made two trips to the doctor to get rid of excess fluid with a syringe. "It was uncomfortable—plus for two or three days after I would deal with some minor aches and pains on that side." But the procedure itself didn't hurt.

3. The scars
As for the area where her breast was removed, "for a few months after the mastectomy it itched but you couldn't scratch it out because it was coming from inside." On the other hand, "I thought I'd have less range of motion in my arm," she says. "I thought I'd have to rent one of those electric recliners to help me get up."

Next Page: What she would have done differently [ pagebreak ]What she would have done differently: Slow down
Sverid says that if she had to do it all over again, she would wait longer to get fitted for post-mastectomy clothing. "I went in like three weeks out from surgery and you should really wait about three months," she recalls. "I was still swollen. So now I have all these expensive mastectomy bras and camis I don't wear because they don't fit right.

More about surgery

"Also, the $400 prosthetic breast is still in its box because it no longer matches up with the left breast. But I don't wear anything tight around my chest area anyway. It's still tender there, so I always go braless. I may be uneven but I'm comfortable."

More to come
It will be at least January 2009 before Sverid is finished with Herceptin treatment (not to mention the five-year tamoxifen regimen she'll be starting in July 2008). She always planned on having reconstruction, but with some radiation treatment still to go—coming on the heels of months of Adriamycin, Cytoxan, and Taxol—all that's up in the air.

"I cannot do reconstruction until at least six months out from radiation," she says. "Your skin changes during and after radiation. It can shrink and get thick like leather, I was told. So the surgeon needs to see the final outcome and make sure he can manipulate it."

Sverid has learned to take the long view. "You slow down and find patience you didn't know you had," she says. "You cannot make it go any faster so you have to let go. My biggest complaint right now is fatigue and joint aches, lethargy, fuzzy brain [from the chemo]. But I am accepting of all this because I know my body is doing a major battle and needs to rest to recover. There is light at the end of the tunnel and I will be dancing with such joy when I get there."

Visit Lesa Sverid's breast cancer blog at