Phase Two – Cut it out!
Wow it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I’ve composed many many posts in my head which I intend to get to before long. Posts about my existential crises, about what I got wrong about cancer in my first few posts, the cancer books I’ve found most useful and entertaining, and a list of stuff I can do while I wait out radiation and grow some hair. But those posts are for another time. I want to stick to one subject today: breast surgery. I’m going to try to be pretty detailed while it’s fresh in mind and hopefully it will help people about to go through the same thing have a better idea of what to expect.
So, here goes: I checked in for my lumpectomy (also called “partial mastectomy”) at 7 a.m. The plan was that my daughter Callahan would come with me and my husband would stay home and get our daughter Allison off to school. Then Callahan would go to her college class in the afternoon and Gunny would pick my ass up after surgery was over. Of course none of this played out quite the way we planned. Allison had a minor meltdown in the morning. She was “Sad about that thing” (That thing being the cancer and the surgery and probably the disruption to her morning routine). Daddy asked her if she wanted to help get Mommy checked in at the hospital, if that would make her feel better. It would. So we took two cars to Overlake Outpatient Surgery.
I got checked in and the woman looked at the schedule and told us I’d probably be ready to go home around 4 or 4:30. Well, that threw a wrench in Plan A. Plan B was Callahan would return to the hospital after her math class got out at 3:30 so Gunny could pick Allison up from after-school chess club. I kissed Gunny and the baby goodbye and Callahan and I went in the back. I lay down in the bed and the nurses asked me about allergies and what medicine I was on etc. The only thing I’m on really is magnesium. I thought my supplement days were over when Dr. Captain America deemed my hemoglobin high enough for surgery. But I got an email from him last Friday telling me to double up on my magnesium dosage for a total of 1600 milligrams per day. Here’s the deal with magnesium: it makes you poop all the poop in the world. Which is probably why, even though my appetite is back and I’m as physically idle as ever, I haven’t gained a pound since my last round of chemo. It’s like bulimia of the butt. Honestly (and here I am describing shit to you, so what else could I be but honest?) I don’t think my body remembers how to manufacture regular poo. It’s like the enzymes or whatever is responsible for shit-creation are hanging out in my guts and some sushi or hamburger appears and one of ’em says “Food, huh? Uhhh what are we supposed to do with this?” and another one (maybe wearing a tiny construction hat) takes the tiny cigar out of his mouth and jerks a thumb towards my ass and mutters, “Ehhh, just liquefy it and shoot it out the back.”
Um. Anyway, the nurses set up an IV line in my hand and take my vitals and all that. I was tired and kinda punchy and suddenly so very grateful I hadn’t gone off the deep end and insisted we cut off my boobs. Surgery is weird and scary enough…at least I wasn’t saying farewell to those murderous twins. After a while of hanging out in that room, it was time for me to go to the Breast Center (where I had the original mammograms and Turdy (the breast tumor) and Turdy Jr. (the malignant lymph node) were discovered) to get some frickin’ wires put in to guide my surgeon Dr. Superman. I was kinda hoping it would be a fun reunion with Dr. Moviestar, but no such luck. I was hoping Callahan could come in the room with me, but they wouldn’t let her. Mainly because they’d just taken delivery of this massive new machine that looks–I shit you not–like a battle mech.
About seven feet tall, it has these arms that reach out on either side of you, and these plates that flatten your tits into flesh pancakes. There was a grid with markings and the doctor, after getting my boob squashed into the right position, took a surgical pen and marked my skin at position B-10. My response? “You sank my battleship!” Then she stuck lidocaine in my boob to numb it. That stung like a mo-fo. Then she followed that up with a teeny but hollow needle and threaded a single tiny wire through. One end was right on the metal clip Dr Moviestar had dropped in when he took the core biopsy of Turdy. The other end of the wire stuck out of my boob. I looked like a hedgehog with one lonely quill. The doctor liked that idea. She also loved the hat my friend Kiki made me. Being a knitter herself, she recognized quality work. I really wanted to get a picture of my boob wire, but by the time I was reunited with my phone, I’d been gauzed and taped up. We moved into an ultrasound room for the next part: locating the clip Dr Moviestar had put in Turdy Jr in my armpit. The doc had discussed this with Dr. Supe and he’d told her that if she couldn’t find the clip, no biggie, no wire, he’d find it with the radioactive tracer. Well, she couldn’t find the clip and guess what else she couldn’t find? Turdy Jr. That 4 cm asshole was GONE. I saw for myself on the screen.
I was feeling pretty good. The wire bit was over. They wheeled me back to outpatient surgery where I waited almost an hour for Nuclear Medicine to be ready for me. Callahan was exhausted and I felt guilty for wasting her time since it wasn’t looking like she was going to get to actually see anything cool. So…I sent her home to nap before class. Because I’m a dumbass. When Nuke Med was ready for me, it turns out she COULD have come with, and the tech, Gail, had trained at the exact same program at Bellevue College that Callahan is hoping to get into. AND Gail is friends with the director of the program. So I fucked that up and feel like a stupid, stupid asshole. So, remember me telling you that I was going to have a shot of radioactive tracer in my areola? And that the tracer would flow to my lymph nodes so that Dr. Supe, during surgery could run a Geiger counter over my armpit and see which nodes were cancery and take them out?
Wrong. First up, as the doctor told me, the tracer doesn’t go to the cancery bits like a moth to a flame. It shows which lympnodes are draining from the breast as opposed to another area. These little breast dumpsters are where the cancer would spread. Okay, now I know. The other wrong stuff? It wasn’t one shot…it was FOUR. Not in the areola, but at the perimeter, where the skin changes color from regular skin to nipply color. The placement, as the doctor put it, was three, six, nine and noon. It actually didn’t hurt that bad. Gail held my hand. When the shots were over they had me hold a heat pad to my boob and massage it so that the tracer flowed to the lymph nodes more quickly. I babbled about being radioactive or become SheHulk or an X-man. They were probably glad to get me out of there.
Back in my little room it was still 45 minutes before my surgery was scheduled. I dozed a bit and screwed around on Facebook via my phone. The anesthesiologist came in to introduce himself, the nurses hooked up the IV (fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea stuff). Then Doc Superman came in and after I flipped him a bit of shit about the one nuke shot actually being four. He went over what he was going to do: Take out the Turdy clip in my right boob plus a little bit of surrounding tissue, then Geiger my armpit and take out up to four lymph nodes. He initialed the right breast (so, you know, he got the correct boob), and said, “See you in there, kid.”
When I had the surgery to install my medi-port back in late April, I have no memory of the actual operating room. I think the anesthesiologist started me off in the wait-around room with a sedative and I was out of it by the time they moved me. But this time, I was totally alert. The OR was big and REALLY cold. Besides the anesthesiologist there were three nurses in scrubs and masks and I started to get a little nervous. It was REAL. Then I scootched off the gurney bed onto the operating table which is ridiculously narrow! Like skinnier than a dorm room bed. Probably 2/3 the size of a twin bed. Dr. Feelgood put a sedative in my IV and an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose and…
…woke up in the recovery room. Dr. Supe told me everything went great and he’d only had to take two lymph nodes! That’s really good because the more nodes that come out, the higher the risk of this super shitty (and often permanent) swelling and pain called lymphedema. Supe asks who’s picking me up and I say my daughter. Then I look at the clock and it’s only 2:00. Callahan’s about to go to class. So I tell him my husband. Supe has the number and gives him a call.
I move to a new room that has a recliner instead of a bed and the nurse gets me a Diet Coke and Saltines. (I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since 10:30 pm the night before and I was HANGRY). I get my phone out of my stuff and post some updates to Facebook while the nurse calls in a Percocet prescription. After a while she goes to the waiting room to look for my husband. He’s not there. They ask me to call him and I do, obviously waking him up. Dr. Supe had just told him surgery went well, but didn’t mention that he needed to come get me. So he hauls ass to pick me up, feeling terrible though it was no fault of his!
We picked up the baby from school and when she saw me in Jeep she said “MOMMY!!!” We went home and I crawled in bed and Allison gave me this picture she drew for me.
Gunny picked up my prescription and a Big Mac. It tasted like heaven.
I can take it off and shower on Saturday (48 hours after surgery), but can’t take a bath or swim for three weeks. It’s sore, but really not too painful. The only annoyance so far (besides the sweaty funk I’m sure is brewing inside the boob burrito) is I can’t sleep on my right side. This morning I peeked under the bandage at Turdy’s gravesite. It doesn’t look too bad! My armpit is kinda numb.
So what’s next? On Monday or Tuesday Dr. Supe will call with the pathology results. That’s when I will find out if there is any cancer left in me. I’m feeling optimistic and am fully expecting to hear that I am cancer-free. And then, friends, we are going to PARTY.