Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm Not Dead Yet!

Prior to all this cancer nonsense, my husband and I, along with our good friends, Don and Ginny, went to see Spamalot - the musical version of Monty Python. There's a scene where a grubby medieval man tows a cart piled with dead bodies, and yells into the street, "Bring out your dead!" A dead man gets thrown on the cart, but suddenly revives with a song and dance (accompanied by his fellow corpses), "I'm not dead yet."

Thirteen days after my surgery, I'm happy to announce that we kicked cancer's butt. It is gone, I'm still standing and I'm not dead yet.

The whole surgery experience reminded of having a baby for the first time. You're not in control anymore. It's a big, surreal, drug-induced blur with pain. The doctors and nurses call the shots, and you hope for the best. On the day before my surgery, I was asked to come in for a little radioactive isotope injection. Sure, I said, I have nothing better to do.

Chelsea and I drove to Indy for the procedure. This time my breast was injected with this radioactive material. No one had told me it was a shot. I thought it was going to be another IV. Oh well! I was released for a three-hour furlough, while the radioactivity coursed through my body heading its way to my sentinal node (the first lymph node the breast tissue fluids would drain to). The mission of the procedure was to map which node to target and remove during surgery. I asked how long I would be radioactive, and the nurse assured me that it was only going to be through the next day, when the doctor removed everything. Until then I was Nuclear and could set off geiger counters. The nurse gave me an ice pack to stuff in my bra to help with the pain from the injection site. Honestly, I felt like Dolly Parton. I was also instructed to "massage my breast" frequently during that time period, which was tricky to do while still being socially acceptable. She said I could ask others for assistance, but I declined.

Our three-hour furlough was spent eating and shopping for a graduation dress for my daughter. Big day coming up - her graduation from pharmacy school, alongside her brother who was graduating from ag school, too (but didn't need a dress).

Back at the operating room, I was was put in another machine whose screen lit up like the night sky, sparkling stars indicating where I was radioactive. My sentinal node glowed like the North Star. The nurse took a Qtip dipped in radium and painted it under my armpit. The screen showed the streak it made, and she matched it up exactly with the internal reading, like a puzzle piece. Taking a purple marker, she drew a circle where Dr. Schmidt would escavate the next day.

The evening concluded with Happy Hour at the Embassy Suites and a great family-style dinner at Maggiano's with our family.

The next morning at 7 am sharp, I returned to the doctor's office. What a way to start the day, a mammogram before you get your coffee. Heck, coffee wasn't allowed, nor anything to eat or drink. Immediately following, a different doctor inserted a hollow needle in the breast, located the radiated area and injected a blue dye to point out the cancerous cells. At least that's my understanding. In the hollow needle was placed a thin, pliable "piano wire" that locked onto the metal marker that was there from my biopsy. Who comes up with these procedures? Very bizarre, but they seem to do the job. All wired up, we proceded to the hospital.

The whole operation took only one hour, recovery another hour, and that was that. I had a lumpectomy and a lymph node removed with some very impressive anesthesia. I'm happy to say that the pathology reports came back very positively negative (no more cancer). I'm no longer sore, but I have a terrific scar under my arm. Scars are tattoos with better stories. I will have to receive radiation treatments next month, every day for five weeks. Then hormone therapy (pills) to take for five years, just in case.....

Tomorrow I start back at the Salt Mine, as my boss, Mike, fondly refers to work as. The DRAIN is still in place, but I can do most things save drive, play tennis, carry heavy items and vacuum. I hope the vacuumming restriction stays in effect for at least two more weeks.

All for now ~ Keep dancing, no matter how many legs you have.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen"

I repeat this Memorare to remind myself as we approach Mother's Day, that Our Holy Mother is always there with open arms, ready to listen and help. Well, I have an earful.

Today marked the Last of the Tests - which I passed with flying colors, as I had hoped. The previous MRI was a trip, "Just imagine you're in a spa," advised my friend, Ann. Okay, a bizarre medieval spa where you lie down on your stomach, breasts dangling from circular cutouts, with your head in a toilet seat while hooked up to a intravenous tube pumping dye in your bloodstream. It was VERY LOUD - I had been warned, but was still surprised at the racket. My previous spa experiences didn't include jackhammers at my head, nor dentist's drills, or the annoying honk honk honk of the kiddie ride horns.

"Now hold COMPLETELY STILL," the distended voice of the radiologist said, as a series of hammers started pounding.

I held my breath and nearly passed out.

"Can I breathe?" I gasped, when the noise stopped.

"Yes, just breathe normally, but don't take deep breaths," the voice said.

How do I breathe normally? It was if I'd never done it before. Forty-five minutes later, the noise stopped and it was time for a chest x-ray.

"Do you smoke?" No. "Do you have allegies?" No. "Do you take any medications?" No. "Do you have an insulin pump?" No. (I'm thinking I'm too healthy for all this nonsense.)

"Take off your shirt and put on a hospital gown with ties facing backwards, and another with ties facing the front," says the x-ray technician.

What can you do, but follow their orders. I complied, held my breath as they shot their radiation my way, and got dressed.

The next day I got news that there was a "shadow" in the chest x-ray. Come back next week for a cat scan. I heard, "Go away, and come back tomorrow." Will I never get to see the Wizard?

Today, a week later, I had a CAT scan. More paperwork, more questions, more blood. CAT scans are interesting. As opposed to my MRI which was in a tube, this looked more like a big, thick metal ring where I was wheeled in on a cart. I got to keep my clothes on, but still had a needle in my arm pumping in a solution that made me warm all over, to the point of feeling like I wet my pants. Very odd. Like the sensation one feels the first time they sit on a heated car seat.

I looked up at the rotating gear mechanism, which sounded like a dull roar of an airplane engine, and saw a sticker that read, "Laser Radiation. Do Not Stare at the Beam." What the? I could just imagine the doctor saying, "Your chest is clear, but you burned holes in your retina."

After some much needed retail therapy with Ann and Joanne at the Dress Barn, we headed back to the doctor's office. Dr. Schmidt was charming and personable, and most of all reassuring. "I've got great news for you - nothing to worry about," he said as popped his head into the room.

When he returned, he explained the imminent procedures: pre- and post-surgery, radiation, and the DRAIN. This is really going to happen. Next week, no less. This is the best possible set up I could have. Snip snip here, snip snip there, a couple of laser rays, that's how we treat the cancer cells so they shrivel and go away. I was really hoping for a miracle to dodge this bullet. I would be happy to give Blessed Pope John Paul all credit. It's a win-win situation! But no.

My friends have been wonderful - helping me through each step. Like Mary, they offer comfort and support when needed, peppered with laughs and love.