Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Getting a few things off my chest....

Breast cancer isn't that bad. At least that's what I tell my daughters day in and day out. I will continue to tell them that and show them, it is beatable. It is treatable, there are options. I learned that lesson when I was a teen and my aunt got breast cancer. She had surgery and then she got another breast cancer. She's still here. Her mere presence keeps me going, it's a beacon of hope. Of course she has repeatedly stated she would take it from me if she could and I know she would- you cannot physically watch someone you love go through cancer without that thought. I have now been on both sides- although I pretty much feel I'm poised on a ledge still somewhat casually observing the "survivor" side. Part of me knows my aunt is just grateful to have someone to share all the boob jokes with- or at the expense of! And that's ok too.

The absolute worst of this experience was the night before. Knowing there were not one, not two, but three tumors in my breast made me want it out. It happened so fast and the speed was terrifying, yet comforting. There was simply no time to luxuriate in the loss of a breast- it had to go, it needed to go or it was going to kill me- there was no taking part of it- total mastectomy was the best option.  When I go, it will be under my terms and my terms had not been met. The worst was trying to write out cards for each of the kids, hoping the range of motion post surgery wasn't going to be horrible and hearing this tiny little whimper. Kiera had been stuck to me like glue and finally exhaustion got the best of her, Bella went to sleep hours before with a hug, a smile and the words "I will love if even if you have cancer and I will love you without a boobie" but Lily monkey lay awake unable to find the peaceful dreams. I sat with her for minutes and we cried. I hate crying in front of people. Even those who have seen me cry more times than we can count. And this little trooper and I have had our fair share of good cries together. What are you afraid of the most? I asked her.  That you won't wake up. No 7 year old should know the risk of anesthesia is that you won't wake up and me being a pragmatist- won't make promises I can't keep- but every now and then we have to fudge and make everyone feel better.  I am going to be just fine and I am going to come home as soon as I can. While I am away- I will always be here- and i kissed her curly little head and here and I put my hand on her heart. Then I told her she was one of the strongest people I had ever met and I knew I was going to be just fine because she had cancer and she had surgeries and she was just fine. When it was all over and done, we would be the cancer buddies in the family.  She actually giggled and put her little hand on my heart.

The rest of the night was a sleepless conglomerate of trying to control the anxiety. Feeling absolutely horrid I had to take away one of my husband's favorite toys. Feeling guilty that I had not left the house, the schedule, everything better organized. Fearing the great chasm of unknown the daylight hours would bring and just wanting it over. Knowing the fear in the minds and hearts of the ones I loved and being the cause of it was relentless.  The male nurse at pre op that day assured me it was going to be easier than I feared- after all I had had four c-sections and abdominal surgeries are notoriously painful. Yet 2 appointments prior- a surgical resident (who I do enjoy and is going to be a fabulous surgeon) upon my listing c-sections as prior surgeries stated- I know I shouldn't say this but I sometimes forget to consider those as real surgeries.  My quip- well hopefully all four humans that were surgically removed from my body will be significantly larger than any tumor you find.

Really the pre surgery fest of appointments is to mentally and physically wear you down so you have no other option than to let them use you as a cutting board. The day of surgery is more of the same. I was booted to 2nd case so they could inject radioactive tracer into my breast(my husband said I overused the term tatas- so we'll get all clinical- hang on til I start calling it the mammary). Those of you who know me and my breasts, know that radiation is not our favorite playmate. We realize radiation is all around us and we get all control freaky where we can. Injecting radiation of any sort is generally frowned upon in our circles. Even worse is waiting for injection of radiation for hours. It tends to f#@! with your mind a bit- despite the very perky and ever understanding oncology nurse who is waiting with you(probably because I'm flagged as a known flight risk) and the husband saying- they're gonna cut it all out in an hour anyway.  So four little "b-stings" as in boobie stings later- my husband and I watch the screen to see where the tracer goes. He is dying to push buttons yet settles for discussing what my new powers will be after being bit by a radioactive 'b".  The tracer finally shows them what they need to see- which lymph nodes drain from the mammary mound of mine - hence forth limiting the number of lymph nodes that have to be removed. All and all that's good, I guess. For this exam I have a combo 2 gown crazy outfit going on and people keep asking me if I want to change. I am going to an operating room where they will make me naked right?  Yep- So kinda wondering why I want to spend extra time changing right now. Good point.

3 hours later after whooping my husband in 2 of my least competitive games of scrabble ever and not one solid opportunity to play boob, which seemed to hang out with the other tiles, just taunting me- we are hoping we even get seen today. After watching someone else's escort eat the never ending bag of cheetos jammed in her purse and then complain about how cold it was in there. After watching everyone else come and go- it was our turn. I was ready. The surg nurse pointed out I put my gown on backwards. I smiled. I put my gown on the way they told me to in nuke med, I figured I was going to be naked for the big act- so I wasn't concerned with it- would THEY like me to turn it around? Yes. Okey dokey. Not sure why everyone seemed so amazed at the speed in which I can turn a hospital gown around- seriously? I even went into the darn bathroom- that took the most time.Hopefully all the really good people are the ones with the meds and the scalpels. jeesh. 

SO the surgery was long. I remember feeling crazy nauseous and letting them know- that apparently bought me some extra quality time in recovery- but sure beats puking after having half your chest and arm removed. I also don't know why docs bother to talk to you for a very long time after surgery.  Between the little green goblins hopping around and some really not clear dreams and memories- I had no idea which way was up. I didn't hurt, which surprised me. I remember people kept telling me to breathe. That seemed silly- why do they have to tell me to breathe? Apparently I needed the reminder. I finally managed to open my eyes. The bandage on my arm was monstrous- I hoped that hadn't gone really south so I started squeezing my hand. Couldn't be too bad- it still worked. Maybe that was residual nerve juice- best to keep trying- still worked. Each finger? yep those work.  nice. My chest was wrapped in an ace bandage- but definitely one side was not as lush as the other- but so far- not too terrible.  All I kept thinking is that I wanted to see Phil. Basically I could look at him and know where we were at. It seemed liked I was the only person left in recovery and when I asked what time it was the nurse said 8. I had lost 8 hours. Something must have gone wrong- that was much too long. SO I asked if everything was ok, no docs were hovering- which is usually a good sign. Yep, since you were nauseous we had to wait a little longer- now we just have to wait for a room upstairs.  As much as I tried, it was tough to wake up and part of me said- it's 8- time for bed go with it. I went.

I remember vague murmurs about clean nodes and a lot of silly questions. Basically anyone who asks questions from a heavily sedated person is suspect as reliable. I got asked a lot about pain. I was surprised that my arm hurt a lot more than my chest. I was relieved to see Phil and it hit me- not only did I miss Phillip's band concert- he did too. Then my chest hurt.

I was surprised that it didn't really hurt to switch beds- that simple act post c-section is torture. I couldn't help squeezing my hand- it became a subconscious tic. I tested my shoulder- it was definitely tender in my armpit- but I could move pretty well. All in all, the systems test seemed to be going well. I knew that there were only minutes before they were going to kick Phil out. It seemed unfair. I remember trying to make my case for how unfair it was since we just got there- don't they understand how awesome he is- he does their job for them? Yet I'm pretty sure the morphine stopped the brain mouth connection. Might have to use that to my advantage down the road. I remember him assuring me he would be right back and putting the pain button in my hand and the next thing I knew- it was morning.


  1. How in the world did you type all of this!? Reading this post I was switching back and forth between LOL and tears my friend. Thinking of you often, wish we were there to help. Hugs to you, your amazing hubby and the 4 monkeys!

  2. Jen, you are one amazing women with an even more exceptionally amazing family. Just keep swimming!
    xoxo Tracy

  3. Your family is one of the strongest families I know!!! You're amazing! Thinking about you all.


Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)