I am melancholy. The emotional weight of this diagnosis mixed with some relief is hitting me now that some of the physical discomforts have subsided. I was blind sided by the diagnosis. I worked so hard to keep my chin up. I was able to work through the first phase of chemo. I walked, did yoga, watched my diet, did all the "right things" to help my treatment, dealt with insurance companies, recovered from a severe car accident, more insurance issues, chose a care team, managed many appointments every week. Parenting duties didn't slow down. Then the nausea and fatigue from the nasty second phase of chemo hit. Whew, it was exhausting. Now I'm physically starting to feel better and the emotional side of all of this is slowly making itself known. It may take some time to "come out of the cave"--squinty-eyed and slowly stumbling, opening to the light. Also, I have been following quite a few other women who are also on a journey with cancer. All different cancers, all different life situations. Some are friends, some acquaintances, a distant cousin, a patient of mine, some strangers that I now consider sisters in the struggle...At the same time I received such welcome good news about the response to my treatment, others have had difficult news--Their nodes weren't clear, they suffered complications from their treatments, there are no more options for treatment and one dear women entered hospice care. It's so very sobering, humbling and difficult to rectify all of the conflicting emotions. Why them, why me? Why not them, why not me? My heart goes out to all of these companions of mine along this road. Love, Peace, and Comfort to all. (Prayers for Deb C., Deb M., Debbie, Michelle, AnnaLee, Maria, Ginger.)
Here is some detail about my surgery....On Thursday we headed to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. (We dropped Jonah off at the airport on the way--he was flying to Phoenix for a baseball tournament with his grandparents.) We checked into our hotel suite. Zeb drove from St. Olaf College to meet us and hang out with the girls while we were in appointments for the afternoon. The long awaited (dreaded) blue dye injections were much easier than expected--4 small bee stings on each breast to mark the sentinel nodes. We walked a few blocks against a frigid wind where one of my sisters joined us for dinner at Mango Thai. We splurged on pumpkin curry, sweet green curry, excellent pad Thai, shrimp and pea pods. I tucked into bed early with Svea because I had an early curtain call and I knew that I would get my best sleep before midnight (if I awoke I might be nervous).
I woke at 2 am to the bells of St. John's church--they chimed every 15 minutes and were both soothing and jarring at the same time. I was remarkably calm as I anticipated the morning events. I drifted in and out of sleep. My alarm rang at 4:30 and I headed to the shower for my toxic chemical wash (for the second morning in a row in preparation for surgery). At 5:00 I woke Tim. We readied ourselves in dark silence, moving around the sleeping children. I kissed them all goodbye, whispered sweet, wise things to them and headed out the door into the maze of underground tunnels. One foot in front of the other. Surreal.
The admissions area of Methodist Hospital was already buzzing. We were shown to a private prep room. My port was accessed. I was asked many, many questions. I felt calm. After an hour, I left Tim there and was wheeled by cart to another holding area. My anesthesiologist greeted me and we discussed the procedure. I asked about Propofol (anesthetic). I asked for all the anti-nausea meds they had. My reconstruction surgeon came in to draw on me with purple marker to help guide the main breast surgeon. Purple initials by both surgeons on both sides to assure proper procedure. My surgeon, Dr. Boughey, accompanied me into the OR. The anesthesiologist gave me a little Versed then placed an intravertebral block which gave me extra pain control for 36 hrs. I was cozy under warm blankets. I purposefully envisioned Florida beaches so that I might dream of them while asleep. (I did). I was put to sleep with meds through my port, so I was unaware of IV's and all other preparations. Very easy.
5 hours later I woke up in the recovery room. The nurse cracked up because before I even opened my eyes, I said, "What do I need to do to get out of here?" I wanted to see Tim and the kids right away because they wouldn't be allowed into the recovery room. I asked her what the procedure had been and if everything had gone smoothly. She told me that they had to take some lymph nodes. I asked her how many? "4 lymph nodes on the right side." I said, "Perfect!" She was relieved because she thought she was giving me bad news. I knew that this meant they had tested the sentinel nodes on the right and found them clear and didn't need to take any more. Whew! Immediate relief. Within 45 min. I was in my room with Tim and Zeb and they ordered sub sandwiches from the local joint. I was so hungry since I hadn't eaten in 24 hours. I was surprised, but the nurse said I could eat whatever I wanted, so I joined them.
I felt great. No serious pain. I had 4 drainage tubes, 2 on each side coming out of the side/rib area with drains attached. I was happy to see the girls. They came to visit with 2 of my sisters (one had spent the night with us and the other had driven down early that morning). They had been shopping for swimsuits and swimming all day. Tim went back to the hotel room to tuck Svea into bed while my sisters kept me company. Then they tag teamed so Tim could come sit with me while Esther and my sisters had a "girl party" back in the hotel room with movies and Skinny Pop (pop corn). The night was long and a little uncomfortable because of the crazy, pumped up squeezing air socks I had to wear for clot prevention. I was ready to leave in the morning as soon as my surgeon did rounds. She said she was very happy with the results and how smoothly everything had gone. Discharged home by 11 am Saturday.
Sunday was smooth. Then Monday I started throwing up and we wondered what was wrong. We wondered if I had been exposed to the flu or if I was having a weird reaction to the meds. By evening I had figured out that it was an allergic reaction to the antibiotic I had been given. Other than this bump in the road, everything has been smooth. In the midst of this on Monday, the doctor called to tell me the final pathology report--Totally clear! No cancer anywhere even on a microscopic level. Nodes clear, nipple clear and even the large tumor site clear. Total response to the meds (and prayers, etc.).
The reconstruction has been started. I have expanders in place. I am sore. No radiation needed (because my nodes are clear and the cancer is gone.) It will be a long process of slowly filling the expanders with saline. Because of the neoadjuvent chemotherapy (before surgery) they were able to watch the tumor shrink and they knew the therapy was working. But, this also left me very depleted before major surgery, so I will be off work for a full 12 weeks. I can't lift or push or pull. No housework for at least another month. I will have frequent visits to Mayo for ongoing reconstruction efforts and visits to my oncologist at the U of MN for blood work and Herceptin infusions--an antibody the targets the cancer cells to get rid of any micro metastasis. (It's not chemo--It won't make me sick or affect my hair, it's just an insurance policy to help avoid recurrence down the road.) I will go back to work in April. I need more surgery in May and I'll be out 4-6 weeks from work again. I will have a few more small procedures throughout the summer as well, but I won't need to take off more time from work for these surgeries (nipple construction and tatooing). It will be a full year of treatment. This is what they told me to expect.