Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Truth. (and has it really only been three weeks?) (From May 20th, 2008)

The truth is, it doesn't really matter what the result is. They're going to cut open the tumor and see what's inside. They are going to look at the cancer cells and see what they really are. And they are going to look at the three or four or six lymph nodes that they took from my armpit and see if there is any cancer in there. I should know in ten days - well, ten days from the surgery date (which is a sunday, so eleven days) what was really in there, and if there is likely to be any more still in there. But in the end it doesn't really matter. If I was four years older it might make a difference to my treatment. But I am getting chemotherapy anyway. And I will also get radiation anyway. So really the only thing that will change - or could change, is if I will also get hormone therapy (which, in extreme cases means a hysterectomy) and if I will also get gene therapy (which would come before chemo).

Another truth, is that no matter how tough you think you are, no matter how much you think you are dealing with it; it still knocks you on your ass. I woke up from surgery and I forgot where I was. I had been dreaming, and I didn't think people dreamt when they were asleep because of chemicals. I know that my dreams were pretty weird, but I don't remember them. But when I first was waking up, I thought I was in my bed, and that Kurt was next to me. But only for a few seconds. Then the nurse sitting next to me and the other post op. patients on either side of me clued me in. I thought I'd be in recovery for a lot longer. It seemed like I was recovery for way longer when I had Indiana, and I hadn't even been under a general anesthetic. It went really fast, and they asked me a whole bunch of the same questions over and over, and they told me that my mom was waiting to see me, and for some reason I kept being put right in front of the nurses station so I always knew everything that was going on. The porter that came to move me to the area of the ward where I would spend the night, was very black and very african and it was her birthday. I kept seeing her smiling face zip past my bed.

I kept dozing off and when my mom came in, followed right behind, by Kurt and Rebecca, I think I had my eyes closed. But she kissed me and I know she was crying a bit. It seemed really weird because I really didn't feel like anything had happened. There were dressings on my boob and my armpit, but they were much smaller than I expected, and I couldn't really feel anything, except for the tape from the dressings. And I could see a bit of an indent where the tumor had been. It was weird to see the indent because there had been such a visible lump before.


... Ish.

The first bit of reality came when I had to pee for the first time (which was apparently a big deal, that I had to pee so soon) . I was totally freaked out about using a bed pan. I wasn't aware that there was this awesome cool thing called a commode that was basically a potty on wheels. I felt I could get to the toilet with help, and it would be a good chance to get me cleaned up. (I was still covered in iodine that made my skin all yellow, and there was this sticky goo all over my face from when they taped my eyes shut) ... Well, I wasn't ready to get up. I peed. And peed. It was totally exactly like the scene in the first Austin Powers movie, when he first gets unfrozen, and he just keeps peeing. I think I might have even laughed out loud. The pee just kept coming. Without any encouragement from me. But then I noticed that my IV was leaking, and when I stood up everything went all swimmy, and luckily Kurt was with me or I would have ended up on the floor. After that I used the commode.

The second bit of reality came when I left the hospital. My mom had hired professional cleaners to clean my house the morning of my discharge. And they were going to still be at my house when I got out of the hospital. So Kurt was supposed to bring the baby to my mom's house and the four of us would have lunch before taking me home. Indiana had fallen asleep on the way over and went down for her nap on my mom's bed, and while she slept my sister an niece came over, as well. So when Indiana woke up there were two people that she really didn't know, plus dad and gramma, and me. Well she was certainly mad at me. She wouldn't even look at me. She kept going to gramma, and bypassing me entirely. I kept trying to get her to come over and snuggle me, but not being able to pick her up made it that much harder. I finally broke down and cried. I had never been so rejected. I felt at once sorry for myself and guilty for having left my daughter for 24 hours. I couldn't even offer her milk because there was still radioactive technetium in my system. It took until Kurt took Indiana and me home and we spend some time together on the floor for her to come over and snuggle me. I'm going to be making up for that one for the rest of my life.

The final dose of reality (so far anyway) came when I took my first shower. I had Kurt come into the bathroom with me in case I had another fainting spell, like in the hospital, and I also needed his help getting the bandages off. The incisions weren't even that bad to look at. I think I always envision the horror movie version of incisions, because that's the kind we see in movies the most. Even my C-section incision - which I would only glance at for the first week - was much more freaky because there were staples, which will make any incision look like the work of the re-animator. When I got out of the shower I needed my mom to come and help me get dressed (Kurt needs to shower occasionally too) and some how that is when it hit me. I needed to sit down and my mom said I'd suddenly gone very pale. And I just cried. Probably the most that I've cried so far. And it wasn't just that my body was irrevocably changed or that this thing had been removed from me. It was a bit of loss over what I'd like to think was a pretty well near perfect set of breasts (Kurt says I have just regular breasts now, like everybody else) and a bit of the realness of the cancer setting in. But I also kept thinking about all of the people who have been coming out of the woodwork to help me during this. My friend Selena, who I went to high school with, and whom I haven't seen in ten years, offered to help me pack for the move in August.

The rest of that day, I was pretty emotional. The whole family took a nap and we started selectively answering the phone. And just made a really strong effort to be as normal as possible. The truth is, that as strong as I am; As strong as I am determined to be, it's everybody else that will get me through this. My mom, Kurt, my brother and sisters and all the friends ... It is the collective strength of these people that will beat this disease. I know now that I can't do it without them, and I feel very lucky that I don't have to.

Here's the timeline:

Week of December 19th - Discover a lump (the size and shape of an almond)that I think is a plugged duct.

2 -3 days later - visit my doctor. She feels it and right away thinks it's a milk cyst of some kind. Advises me to keep an eye on it and follow up in three months.

March 29th - Return to Doctors office for follow up. The l;ump is now the size and shape of a chestnut. She still thinks it's milk or fibroadinoma. I tell her I won't feel good about it until I know for sure.

April 18th - Ultrasound at Screening mammography clinic. Radiologist says "It's not cancer. It's not precancerous. It's definitely a fibroadinoma." Offers me a biopsy just to be 100% sure. Since I still think it's a milk thing (and don't want a firboadinoma that won't go away 'til menopause) and don't want to find another baby sitter to come back and follow up, I opt for the biopsy.

April 23rd - Very early my doctor calls me herself, and tells me that, to everyone's surprise, the biopsy showed cancer. She fits me in for an appointment to see her that day. Luckily, Kurt happens to be working in Victoria that day. We see our family doctor and then the surgeon squeezes me in, also that day. I am informed that chemotherapy will be a definite and I will have to wean Indiana asap.(after contacting Dr. Jack Newman, I find out that there is a way to continue breast feeding through chemo, but it is hard and may not work)

April 28th - Bone Scan. Show up to be injected to find out that I will be radioactive for 24 hours and should minimize contact with my 13 month old, and can't breast feed for 48 hours. I should have pumped some milk. (Dr. Newman gives me the precise information and I am able to resume breast feeding after only 30 hours)The bone scan shows "something" on my right shin. An X-ray confirms shin splints. But no tumors in my bones. I finally stop clenching my teeth.In the waiting room before the nuclear medicine reception opens there is one of those "take a number" signs. The number showing on it is "42." I take that as a good sign. (either you know what that means, or you don't.)

May 1st - Abdominal ultrasound and MRI Both of these tests are very quick. The radiologist did not come in to double check any of the pictures on the ultrasound - which I took as a sign that there was nothing to double check. The MRI is a bit more involved. They have to start an IV because a contrast has to be in injected while you are in the machine. I accidentally wear underpants with metallic thread in them. They don't burn me but the silver stripes turn copper. They recommend not breast feeding for 24 hours because of the contrast, but after looking into it further the risk to the baby is .1 % of .1%

May 2nd - I request to meet with an oncologist before the surgery to talk about time lines and breast feeding and try to make some kind of sense and order out of my chaotic life.

May 4th (sunday) - the surgeons office calls me and tells me they want to get a CT scan of my abdomen because one of the ultrasound pictures had a "shadow" on my liver, but they couldn't find it in any of the other pictures. In addition, I have an appointment with the oncologist as per my request.

May 7th - CT scan. The contrast makes me feel like I've done a tequila shot, but no fun feeling afterward.

May 8th - My first trip tot he BC Cancer Agency. We are there for over two hours. There's nothing like a 13 month old running around to change the mood in the cancer clinic waiting room. They weigh me and check my blood pressure - all the usual stuff. I find out that the CT scan showed nothing. The MRI showed nothing new. I have no tumors anywhere else in my body. Excellent news. My onc wants me to have"lots" of chemo as soon as possible. If he had his way it would be before surgery. I tell him that just isn't possible since I am still breast feeding. But, I now know I have roughly a month to wean. Dr. Newman's plan just won't be possible with the planned therapies. And besides his plan would require me to have radiation first, which probably won't happen.

May 15th - Surgery. We opt for a partial mastectomy with Sentinel lymph node dissection. I spend 24 hours in the hospital. The last three of which are spent waiting for a physiotherapist to come and tell me what I already know and read to me from a book of exercises that I already read.

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