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Welcome to the DebiLyn Smith blog site. If you like what you read here, check out her website at www.debilynsmith.com

Monday, September 20, 2010

Part 6 Deja Vu Surgery Cancer 101

August 13, 2010 was a beautiful sunny Fall day. It was because of this fact that I ragged my husband's butt most of the way between Houston and Smithers. We were leaving late and it was so important to me to get in a four hour hike straight up ANY mountain before succumbing to more surgery the next day. I couldn't go backwards before going as far forward as I could push myself first. Just a taste of a major hike. WHAT! We have to stop for gas? How will I make it to Dr. E's office by 3 PM?
Long story short. I didn't. I did make it back down to the vehicle from Terrace's butt burning Sleeping Beauty by 3 PM to phone Dr. E's office. I am on my way. No one minded and indeed I think it was Fate because once in his office waiting room, in walks a good friend. She's here to see about a lumpectomy, which ends up being scheduled for the following week. She will need the dye and the wire and her lump was also 9mm. Wasn't she lucky? I had to hold my tongue and wish it to be so for her.I mean that with all of my heart. BUT, what fun to run into her and her husband. Dr. E has a student shadowing him and when I asked if while in surgery he could biopsy the instigating left breast and have that sample analyzed properly, he insisted on an examination. The student got to practise feeling for a lump, which even I had to say he was doing it all wrong. Ha!
The second surgery required no invasive, painful wire or nuclear medicine. A perkier, well rested anesthetist was at my side and before I knew it, the room was spinning barely after transferring me to the surgery table. I don't remember waking up in post-op but I did wake up to my own morphine pump this time, which I used right off the bat.
With the pain under control, I was fed a liquid dinner. Friends showed up with Chai tea, a chocolate sundae, flowers and fresh fruit. Perfect. A sleeping pill put me down for the night even though, yes, more babies.
The tube jutting out of my side is so revolting I almost threw up the first time I have to look at it. It looks like a rubber hand grenade and it collects clots and fluid that leave my insides and travel down a skinny tube to the collecting bulb below. It will end up flushed down the toilet.
I have special surgical band aids on both breasts that stretch the skin tightly together, sealing the incisions firmly before protecting them against any outside bacteria. My right nipple now points severly right and I look oddly disfigured. I wonder where that student was when that band-aid was applied?
Am I starting to finally see some humour in all of this?
Today is Day 6 of Post-op and I still have 10 movies I rented left to watch. The best place in my world is flat out on our couch. The straight back gives me an arm rest so that my operated arm can sit away from my body. The drain hangs down by my side. I try to get up and walk every day, do some chores, but rest in between. I have to do something to wear off the indulgences I imbibe in everyday now.
Thank goodness I thought to get my long hair whacked off last week. I didn't want to cut it but I can now wash it myself using the one arm. My sister sent me a one handed book holder that I am greatly enjoying (as well as a web cam so we can Skype, a book I wanted to read, cards and our family Treasure...a soft cuddly bear named Homer, who sat by our Mother's side as she passed away).
Morale improves daily. Thanks everyone for the constant support.

Part 5 Getting The Next News Cancer 101

And yet another surgeon I have never met before enters the room. Dr. F will deliver the news which is all good because I don't know him. It will be easier to hold a firm dislike and grudge against the person that can so easily kick the wind out of your sails. The lump was removed with a clear margin, but only a 500 macron margin on one side, which is not the best. Also, a tiny bit of cancer was found in one of the 7 lymph nodes removed. He also mentioned the "C" word (Chemo) which Barry said, "he means future drugs." Barry was thinking Tomoxifin. Dr. F was thinking Chemo. Okay, so at this point I am unsure of what this all means. So I spend the next few hours making up cute scenarios. Just a wee bit of cancer probably means radiation of that node area. Right? Maybe they'll take more out, right? Or maybe , probably I can skip more surgery because it's such a wee bit, a small tumor and I'm so lucky. You said that, or someone said that, who said that? Someone said that. I'm lucky. None of this should be happening anyway.
Then I meet with my friend Dr. V. It was right to the point. Possible full mastectomy. The surgeon will probably recommend going for that clear margin. And Chemo. Once in the lymph nodes, you go for Chemo.
I started to cry at this, but kept on talking as I pulled Kleenex from the box. "But it was only a bit..." and the usual arguments only I could come up with. Arguing with cancer specialists. Does that make sense to anyone else? Is this how I was supposed to learn this lesson in life, the hard way again? Make it so that my arguments would eventually sound ridiculous, even to me?
I left smiling and telling my friend I would see her on the weekend for a jog. I had to hold the breast firmly with my arm or hand as I ran, but I could still run.
It wasn't until I got to the vehicle that the reality hit home and thankfully I have a BF up the road from the clinic. I fell apart in her driveway, great racking sobs mostly from the fear of it all. I had skipped over every Chemo section in all the literature. That wouldn't apply to me. I just had a BIT of cancer. It was just the positively worst news. Or so I thought at the time.
The hardest part through most of this has been the waiting in between. Now we had to wait for an Oncologist to tell us the next plan of action. We picked having a Kelowna oncologist, which means doing Radiation out of that centre.
That plan came through the first of September. More surgery. Dr. E phoned and wanted me back to Terrace for more breast tissue and more lymph nodes. This time I would have a drain attached to my side for 2 weeks to remove the fluid from my lymphatic system. The good news? The breast could still be saved.
Forgive me if I no longer jump for joy at anything a Dr. tells me anymore. To tell the truth I was all psyched to head straight to Chemo and blast any cancer cells still in my body the heck out of there. In fact, take both breasts off and reconstruct a higher, firmer set, then send me to Chemo where I will find the most amazing, life-altering wig and become the most exquisite cancer-free creature, indeed. What do you mean more surgery? I am finally healing. I am just starting back to jogging twice a week, and I did laps this week at the pool. How can I possibly go backwards again? Especially when it is all too fresh in my head. It hurt. Remember??

Part 4 Post Op #1

My eyes are closed but I am talking. It doesn't REALLY surprise anyone. I am coming out of the anesthetic and mumbling on about my mother and the left versus right breast dilemma. Funny, after the scope procedure last month, I came to talking about picking Morel mushrooms.
I'm rolled into a room with 4 beds, which I will fortunately (I think) have all to myself overnight. I'm now on Demerol but it isn't cutting through the pain and I squirm the 25 minutes for it to kick in, but it's not enough. The nurse calls Dr. E and gets me a prescrip for Torodol, an anti-inflammatory and together the meds manage to sooth me. Barry arrives with a Chai Tea latte, such a treat to go with my first meal of soup, salad and sherbet. It's after dinner already. What a long day. My throat is raw, they say from a tube that was in it. My left arm is hooked up to an IV bag and my right arm is too sore to move very far. That is from the sentinel lymph node removal. The wire is no longer sticking out of my breast. I had been so scared someone would accidentally rip it out. I can't see any incisions as everything is neatly covered in clear bandages with small white gauze strips in the middle of them.
MP Nathan Cullen's newborn twin boys keep myself and the nurses up most the night. Add that my IV stand beeping when its battery runs low and the bed across the room sounding off because...what? It was lonely? Not a lot of sleep, so am anxious to go home. I am cleared by Dr. E by 11 am and so homeward bound we go.
The hardest, sorest part is the underneath of my right arm rubbing anywhere close to the trunk of my body. The nerves beneath are positively on fire. I have to keep my arm away from my body at all times.
Fast forward another week to my first inspection with Dr. E. Everything is healing nicely. We leave for our train/ferry trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands a few days later. Some hiking, walking, fine noshing at little eclectic eateries for five days. It helps take my mind off what might lie ahead.
We return to messages on the machine from the hospital. The pathology report is in and a surgeon will see me tomorrow in Smithers to give me the results. They are not at ALL what we'd hoped for.

Part 3 Discovering Cancer 101

I can't convey the weight of attending your mother's ash spreading after being freshly diagnosed with breast cancer. Determined to keep this news from my children until after the occassion was over and everyone was safely back at their homes and into their own routines, I nevertheless spilled the beans to my sister who after one look at me said, "What?" There must have been that "deer caught in the head light " look on my face. My brother and his wife caught on as well.
Breaking news of this magnitude is never easy. You can't tell how the reciprocant will react. My daughter took it the worst, which is to be expected. I know she didn't think of it at the time, but this will now affect her life as well, how she is handled by the medical profession with maternal cancer looming behind her. My step daughter put on a brave face- she lost her mother to lung cancer in 2000. My son and step son are men. Keep them posted. Cheer up. You'll be fine. That's what I thought too. This would be over as soon as you can say "heal from surgery." Right? My son's girlfriend's mother went through this. Diagnosed, surgery, radiation, living day-to-day until hopefully the golden prize of the five year "clear" mark. We would have a scar party when we finally got the chance to meet.
On August 9, 2010 my husband and myself travelled to Terrace and booked into a hotel. We were to see Dr. E this day before surgery to sign the consent form and to go over any last details. I had a page of questions. How many nights in hospital? Can I prearrange no fat meals? Are there private rooms (yes, at $160 extra). How big will the scars be? Does the hospital have hair dryers? "You won't need to wash your hair," he tells me. He may know a lot about surgery, but really, what could this man know about a woman's hair? (In the end, I never had a shower. It was the furthest thing from my mind after surgery. I know, it's a recurring lesson I need to learn!)
At 6:20 am without usual adornment of make-up and jewellery, I walked into the Emergency area of the Terrace hospital. Upstairs in the Nuclear Medicine dept my right breast was injected at 4 quadrants with blue dye. I was taken to surgery where I was braceletted, weighed (149 pounds)and asked about false teeth (prove it) and diseases. Back to Nuclear Science for x-rays of the right breast to see where the dye went to. I carry the hard copy of the images by hand back to the surgery holding area.
Next I'm off to ultrasound to have a wire inserted with the use of ultrasound. This is so the surgeon can find the exact spot where the tumor lies to extricate it. Oh, oh. Dr. Pain again. I tell her this is her chance to atone for that painful biopsy. With my permission, a student was allowed to attend. With breast tissue as dense as mine, Dr. Pain, after three attempts, had the tech hold the breast in two hands while she again attempted to drive the wire deep into the breast to the tumor site. With alligator tears rolling, toes clenched and curled and all breathing stopped, the student was told to leave the room. This was getting ugly. "I suppose failure is not an option," grumbled Dr. Pain under her breath. With surgery pending within the hour, I guessed not as well. Again, then again she tried until searing pain pierced something inside of me, was drawn backward, then pushed through again. It was in place. I had to ask them to leave me for a minute to get myself back in place. But all that did was unleash everything I had kept pent up for the past month. The Why Me, the WTF,had my mother been in this much pain, what was ahead of me, more of this torture or not. It all came out in torrents. The tech helped me to mop up and personally rolled me down the hall toward surgery, where two nurses came looking for me.
Once behind the surgical area doors, I was questioned again by nurses (Alice) and a grumpy anesthetist who had been on call and up all night. He wondered about the strokes in 2002 and I told him they now figure they were a result of taking ritalin for my ADD. And who diagnosed the ADD? I couldn't remember,I have ADD remember? This made the nurse laugh and I was out a split second after. I went to sleep feeling like a silly old woman. (How can these morons be trusted with their own bodies!)My husband later reminded me it was not one but two separate diagnosis from psychiatrists that recommended the Ritalin.
We'll wake up together in the next Blog sequence!