From a firm Breast Cancer diagnosis to surgery Team Dahl had one week to make a battle plan, clear my palpitating heart for surgery via a cardiologist, and be briefed by my surgeon. We got it done. Together. With a dose of adrenalized panic thrown in for good measure. I got the dog groomed, my hair cut, cleaned the house, and did the laundry ahead of the May 11 date. I made Steve get his hair cut so he’d look cute when I woke up. Grocery shopped and stocked up on pop and heavy items. Bought and hid Dove milk chocolate to binge upon. Changed the bed. I was ready to launch.
The night before I slept like a baby…my special talent. I may have taken a picture of my upper torso that will never see the light of day. I had no clue what the “after” to my “before” would look like. Yeah, I did it. I might have had one sip of water at 5:30 too, a clearly gainst the “no liquids after midnight” order. Always the rebel.
We checked in at 9 AM, and were sent to Day Surgery, Second Floor. They weighed me immediately. CURSES! Had I know, perhaps I would have worn a flimsier outfit. Or I could have gone sweater and boots; more weight, more drugs. Then we were ushered into our own little room. Blood and vitals were monitored, medical history was reviewed over and over. An IV was inserted. Then we waited.
First stop, Mammography.
The radiologist, guided by a mammogram technician WHILE THE BREAST IS IN THE VISE, inserts wires into it and forms a pie slice of tissue where the cancer is located. That is where Dr. Hagen would excise the sleeper C cells. Of course, I have dense breast tissue, which is why my mammograms are hard to read. The wires met with resistance and some detours. There was a minor failure of the novocaine. The poor radiologist was a bit flustered. It is a game of “higher/lower” “left/right” between the nurse on the monitor and the Doctor. He muttered to me, “If you hate me at this moment, wait until I am injecting radioactive contrast dye into the nipple in an hour.” Ulp. I swear, ignorance is bliss. I thought the dye was going into me via my arm IV. Duh.
Finally, a wedge shaped map of the cancerous tissue was formed by the wires. The ends dangled out my right boob; they taped a styrofoam cup over them to keep me from snagging them or pulling the guide wires out. Off I went, mulling the impending radioactive dye. I didn’t want to hate anyone, especially a doctor with a syringe full of blue radioactivity. I was placed into a holding pattern because the patient before me took extra time, hiding in a little room where I wouldn’t be embarrassed by the cup protruding from my chest.
The dye that I speak of is injected because it travels to the lymph nodes that are charged with intercepting breast cancer cells. The first few, or sentinel nodes will absorb the crazy blue juice, create an neon map to the excision site. A lymphadenectomy removes them for study. This will stage the cancer. This is a separate slice, in the armpit. The dye provides precision and prevents the over-harvesting that can lead to lymphedema.
Soon I was taken to nuclear medicine, and plopped on a low table. Right arm, strapped up. Dr. Hagen had given me a prescription for numbing cream, and told me to frost my boob like a cupcake first thing in the morning. (Not covered by insurance. Not expensive, but Good God, Men in Charge…What if it was your ball sack being injected with blue radioactive dye? ? Double cupcakes of lidocaine would be covered by insurance, I’m thinking.) At any rate, Dr. H for the WIN. Bless her; the injections were not terrible. The blue dye with radioactive tracer was injected in 4 or 5 spots on my areola without incident after a vigorous cleansing of my “frosting.” (probably accompanied by silent cursing of Dr. Hagen. I cancelled the cursing with my gratitude prayers.) A 30 minute PAUSE, then films were taken. The nuclear radiologist narrated the route of the dye. The sentinel nodes lit up. Victory. She isolated where the nodes were. Corresponding Sharpie Marker tattoos in my armpit would direct Dr. Hagen’s incision.
I strained to decode whether the dye was telegraphing a cancer/no cancer present diagnosis. They must have seen stress in my face, because they assured me that this was a locating procedure, to enable harvest without overreaching. The lymph nodes would get a first look in the OR during the lumpectomy. If the first two were cancerous, they would take a few more. Then they would all be sent off to be biopsied for a more detailed analysis and staging. Well, ok.
I was shuffled back to Home Base. More waiting until the surgical suite was available, cleaned from the last procedure.
Next, a quick hello from Dr. Hagen, who signed the correct breast. Good insurance. Next, the anesthesiologist did his check off. A BIG Steve Dahl fan. So excited to meet Steve. Disco Demolition attendee. OMG!!! My breast would be flopping around a FAN. Praise HIPAA. And my loss of modesty. Boob Bare, Don’t Care. The IV was started. I was wheeled into the surgical suite, swarming with machines, bright lights, rock and roll music, (no disco) nurses galore. Arm strapped up, warm blankets placed as an antidote to the cold temperature in the O.R. and then LIGHTS OUT.
Soon…Recovery…I’m waiting in a circular recovery area. Dr. Hagen says the lymph nodes looked good. Best news. Cookies, juice. Our friend, Dr. Don Higgins stops by to smile and give me a thumbs up. Then I went back to my little room. My boys were there: so sweet, so worried, so relieved. Steve. Backstopping all of us. It was Friday, and we sent them off to their families. I got dressed and put my skedaddling shoes on.
By 8 pm, I was home contemplating my good fortune, and the comfort I felt at Amita LaGrange. They took amazing care of Steve last year. This year, I was surrounded by their positive energy and excellent care. I woke in a Game of Thrones bra that compressed the area and held the dressings. Not sexy, but protective. I thought I’d wear it forever. (No) We watched the season finale of Blue Bloods. Eddie and Jamie are in love. Happy days.
Upstairs. Into my pajamas. Tramadol, Tylenol, Advil and Aleve on a 2 hour cycle. No lifting. No problem. Sleep on my back. No problem.
I’m only telling this story to demystify the process. It was an ordinary day, with a medical procedure in it. I was either too optimistic or too dumb to be scared, but I was wise enough to be grateful. The stories that will follow will all be of moments that made me smile. I hope they will make you smile, too, and that you will learn how much kindness means to someone navigating a bump in the road.
I just needed to set the table for some moments that I will always remember.
Next up: back in time to the familial reveal. My Boys.