In fifteen hours, I’ll be at Irvine Medical Hospital to check in for my surgery.

Following check in, I’ll be injected with a tracking dye which needs several hours to take effect. (No, I don’t remember how the dye works.) I have a 9 a.m. mammogram. Then I go to the OR holding area where they monitor my vitals, do whatever else they have to do, start an IV and give me the drug (sodium pentothal?) which is supposed to put me to sleep but always takes a second shot thirty minutes later when I’m still bouncing off the ceiling.

Surgery is 1 p.m. and should be finished in three to four hours if no complications. Afterward, I’m back in the holding area for ninety minutes to make sure I’m okay. Estimated time of release is 6:30 p.m..

The surgery: (If you’re squeamish, or think medical specifics are TMI, skip several paragraphs down to the * * *)

I was given a choice of three surgical procedures:
1. A moderate lumpectomy, which would excise the area around the original tumor;
2. A larger lumpectomy, which would excise a larger area, and would be in conjunction with reconstruction; or
3. Mastectomy, which is total removal of the breast.

All three of these options involve removal of my first three sentinel lymph nodes. If cancer has spread to any of these lymph nodes, then my entire underarm lymph node system will be removed. I had this surgery in 1998, and it’s a bitch.

I chose Door #2, because it removes a larger area without going to mastectomy — which I would need if the surgical margins contain cancer cells. I’ll have a large pot hole in my upper breast, which is where the plastic surgeon is required. Fatty tissue from the bottom of my breast (aka, post-menopausal gravitational hang) will be re-positioned through my breast to fill out the top. (Free breast lift with every lumpectomy! Such a deal!) Then I’m sewn back up.

The biopsy takes five to seven days. I’ll find out the results on September 16, when I see both my oncology surgeon and the reconstructive surgeon.

                                                       * * *

I’m not looking forward to this. I don’t like being drugged or unconscious and especially not cut open. Even though the best precautions will be taken, I worry about staph infections. This surgery isn’t considered high-risk, but something can always ricochet wrong.

I don’t usually spend a lot of time worrying about what-ifs, but I’ll be drugged and unconscious and cut open, and not in a position to fight back if anything goes south.

I am not looking forward to this.

Les asks for the umpteenth time if the surgery is necessary, especially since the tumor has shrunk to almost nothing. Yes, because there still may be cancer stem cells (which don’t respond to chemotherapy because they’re not fast-growing) in the area where the tumor originally was, and these stem cells have to be removed before they grow.

Then he asks if I really want to go through with it. I look at him with weary eyes, because this too has been answered Ad infinitum. No — but a team of experts believes that chemo-surgery-radiation is my best chance for long-term survival, so yeah, I’m going to do it all. I was in remission for 17-1/2 years after the last bout of cancer, and I want another good round of life.

No, I’m not looking forward to this — but I’ll set my alarm and go to surgery tomorrow and hope for the best.

One more barricade down. Add the scars to my story of life.

P.S. — I promised to print this yesterday, but I got so many emails and messages wishing me good luck (and I answered all of them!) that blog writing didn’t happen. I am awed and grateful for your love and support.

Author: MeredithLaskow

Artist, writer, and unrepentant nerd girl.

12 thoughts on “Pre-Op”

  1. Very real and informative, Meredith. I love your “joy” at getting a “free” lift…what a silver lining?! Who knows…the surgeons might want to do some fancy techniques to show off what can be done. Anyway, as I just told you on the phone, “Good luck!” and I will be thinking of you all day. Talk to you again soon. Lots of love.

  2. Know what you are going through. It is the waiting. It is the unknown. I opted for #2also. Fortunately for me, the dye went to one lymph node which had no cancer. Right now it is out of your hands and in the hands of your surgeon who by now you have complete trust. My prayers are with you and I wish you nothing but the best and an easy surgery. God bless. ♡

    1. Sharon, my surgery in 1998 was 2 years before sentinel node surgery was introduced, so all 17 lymph nodes were cut out. The surgeon will know tomorrow if the sentinel nodes are clear, and if they’re not, the rest will be removed after the main surgery. Thanks for your prayers ♥

  3. Hi Merry. Ive been looking on FB all day to see your pre surgery post. I kind of figured you would write a post! I know you will get through this! You are so strong and I’m so proud of you! Just stay positive – and don’t dwell on the what ifs. I’m sure you have a good team of surgeons! It will all be ok! 😊 I will pray for you!! Please have Les email me to let me know how you’re doing. (By the way I have the complete opposite reaction to the drugs. I go out as soon as they put them in my arm).
    My only question is – would a mastectomy prevent the cancer from be able to return? Love Iris ❤️❤️

  4. I’m going into prayer vigil made for you for the next 24 hours…and on throughout the entire waiting time. My heart, love, care and hopes are fervent and profoundly with you in spirit and love. Xoxoxoxoxoxxoxoxoxoxo

  5. Iris, medical studies conclude that there’s no clinical advantage to mastectomy (which wouldn’t require radiation) vs. lumpectomy plus radiation in a case like mine. However, when the cancer is more widespread or further along (Stage 4) then mastectomy would be recommended. Also, if my biopsy shows that the cancer spread more than what it seems now, then I’d need mastectomy. However, if I don’t need it, I’d rather not have it.

    Les will be in or around the hospital all day, but he still hasn’t decided whether he’s taking his laptop. Currently he thinks not. I’ll leave your email on my desk and have him write you when we get home.

  6. Meredith, thanks for explaining the procedure. I really had no idea that this is needed, even after chemotherapy. I can understand Les’s concerns… not wanting to see you suffer any more. But your will to live can move mountains, and it will move you to health too. You are in my prayers. God bless you my friend, and speedy recovery!!!!

    1. Thanks again Angelika! Unless you or a loved one have an illness/ailment, most of us are blissfully unaware of all the procedures surrounding it. As uncomfortable as all of this is, I’m willing to suffer short term if it means a longer cancer-free life. Of course, nothing is guaranteed.

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