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.