WARNING: This post contains pics that may make you squeamish. So please don't continue reading if you are sensitive to that kind of stuff. The reason why it is important for me to share my lipoma story is there isn't a ton of information on these benign tumors online and I would have loved to read a post about someone's removal journey while I was dealing with it.
The spring after I moved to Rochester from L.A. (early 2012), I noticed an almond-shaped bump on my left forearm. I was very perturbed by it because I have been fairly healthy my whole life and all of a sudden the word CANCER became relevant to me. I made an appointment with my new doctor right away and had her look at it. She didn't seem to know what it was but assured me it was harmless since "many people get small bumps all over their bodies." She even had me feel a bump along her collarbone to prove how humans get more bumpy with age. She also felt that surgically removing it would leave a worse cosmetic appearance on my arm (scar) than just leaving it alone.
So that was almost three years ago. I haven't really let the bump bother me although I do notice it in pictures and when I wear short-sleeved shirts. This summer, however, I started to get a tingling sensation on my left arm and in my left hand. My hand was also sort of numb depending on the time of day and what I was doing. I suspected it may have been caused by the bump so I examined it for the first time in years and holy moly, it had grown and it was huge! It was now the size of a peach pit and I became really self-conscious of it. This summer was horrible for me because I hated wearing anything that showed my arm even though I had to when it got hot. Life has been busy (isn't it always?) and I have put off doctor appointments for over two years. I decided once and for all that once Edward started preschool, I would take some time to take care of myself and scheduled a full month of doctor appointments in September. I wanted to sort this thing out. Literally.
|The bump on my arm the day of my surgery.|
Because my insurance has changed since my last doctor visit, I saw a new doctor for my bump. I ended up going to three doctors' appointments and saw two different doctors before they diagnosed my bump as a lipoma. It is (usually) a benign deposit of fat cells and the bump itself is soft and painless. Because of its large size (and because it has been steadily growing), this doctor recommended that I have it surgically removed. I was thrilled because I have wanted it gone for a while and I was happy this doctor didn't just tell me to "live with it" like the last one. I had become so used to having a funny-looking arm that I sort of resigned to living with it. I even became very obsessed with other people's forearms and looking at them to see if other people had my issue as well. They didn't.
Because of my reported numbness, I had a nerve conduction test a few weeks later. I was poked, prodded, stung, and shocked for two hours as the doctor tested my arm for nerve loss. Thankfully, I had no permanent nerve loss and any weird feeling in my arm was attributed to a temporary change due to the bump in my arm that could be pressing against nerves. I then saw my surgeon for the first time and he ordered an MRI to be extra sure this mass wasn't cancerous. He was very concerned because my mass measured 4.7 cm and anything over 5 cm gets into the dangerous territory of increased abnormalities. I did the MRI a week later (think: CAT scan tube-like thing I had to hold very still in for an hour) and the results came back negative for cancer. Still, my surgeon says there is a one percent chance the cells are cancerous and we won't know until I have the surgery.
|This picture does not do my bump justice. It looks larger and more prominent in person.|
Three weeks later (and two days after I came back from my L.A. trip), I had my surgery. I had to be put under general because the surgeon didn't know how deep the lipoma was and it could have been very tangled up with bone and nerves. The surgery itself lasted for 45 minutes but I ended up being at the hospital for over 7 hours. The drive home was brutal as well because my surgery day was also the day of the largest snow storm in the area this season. I finally was home around 8 PM and besides some tiredness, I really didn't have too much pain.
Here is my arm after surgery:
|My arm was very hot and stiff.|
|The best part of my surgery? Someone else doing my dishes! Here is Steve's mom helping me out.|
|I had to wear a foam wedge for a few days to keep my arm safe from bumps and bruises.|
|Steve's brother's fiance brought over dinner one night.|
|Babes drew me a picture to help me feel better soon.|
The hardest part of the recovery has been having my arm wrapped up. I've been itchy like crazy and it has been impossible to find a sweater that I can pull my arm through. Also I hate to be bed-ridden so I've actually been moving around a lot despite orders to rest. I've only taken one shower in four days (gross, I know!) because I can't get my arm wet (I needed a large garbage bag over my arm for my one shower). The pain hasn't been bad at all. I've only needed a few Advil pills and nothing else. I think the anesthesiologist must have ordered me a nerve block.
|We went to a friend's house for dinner last night. I call my hairstyle What-it-looks-like-when-styled-with-one-arm.|
|At least I can get a large jacket on.|
This morning, on day four since surgery, I finally removed my wrapping. The surgeon and nurse gave conflicting instructions on how long I need to keep my incision wrapped for so I just took the whole thing off. I couldn't see the other side of my arm very well in bed so I took a picture of my incision:
|Honestly, not as swollen and bad as I thought.|
Overall, I am very happy with my incision. I knew it would be fairly large (it is about 2.5 inches) because of how large my lipoma was. The surgeon even said the lipoma was larger than he predicted once he got the whole thing out. The incision is very clean and it is pretty darn straight. I'm happy and relieved. I let the wound air out for a few minutes and then covered the whole thing up with bandaids. My arm is much more mobile now without the wrapping and I can more or less do most things for myself again. I feel free!
So the largest question remains: What caused my lipoma? No one knows for sure but I've been researching it and there are some theories. The most common explanation is a lipoma forms after trauma to the body. The most traumatic thing to have happened to my body has been childbirth and the timeline makes sense. Or more specifically, there has been trauma directly to my left arm. When I gave birth to Edward, a nurse misplaced my IV and my arm completely blew up because no one noticed my IV was shooting straight into muscle. I was swollen and bruised for weeks after.
Another possibility is Edward slept on my arm on and off for years. For whatever reason, his head always ended up on my left arm and he could stay in that position for hours. I just read today that being severely underweight could affect how the body metabolizes fat and fat storage. I lost a lot of weight after giving birth (because of breastfeeding and stress) and went from my original weight of 115 lbs to 98 lbs (I'm 5' 3''). I was very thin for almost three years and I knew I was very unhealthy because of it. Another big change before I noticed the lipoma was I moved from sunny SoCal to the Northeast. My body suffered tremendously during my first winter and I was sick for many months. I coughed non-stop for weeks and I was so thin that I cracked a rib from coughing so much. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause major metabolism and liver-related issues (which could be related to lipoma formation). Not only was my body depleted from vitamin D because of breastfeeding and childbirth, I was also in a new climate where I didn't see the sun for half of the year.
There is no clear-cut answer for why I got the lipoma but my body has been through the ringer in the last few years and the lipoma could have been a reaction to it. I just hope the doctor got rid of the whole thing and that it doesn't come back. Some people are just prone to lipomas and there could be a genetic factor to it. This has been yet another kick in the butt to always put my physical and mental health above all other concerns in life. I am thankful the surgery went well and my body is healing fast. I am not concerned with my final scar because I am just relieved the lipoma is out of my arm and I hopefully won't have any more nerve issues in my arm. The last thing I am waiting on are the lab results for the tissue. I will find out in a few days whether or not my bump was completely benign.
Thanks for reading and here's to good health!! In the next few weeks I will blog about some of the BIG changes we will see through in the new year now that the surgery is out of the way. I am excited for what is to come!
|My incision in the light. I can't wait for the stitches to come out so I can massage the scar. It is just so itchy!|
|All covered up. I'm not a freak anymore.|