This is the view from the west wing of the sixth floor of Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It's like its own little medical research city in the middle of beautiful downtown Buffalo. (Can you see the frozen edge of Lake Erie in the distance?) It is a also a hospital and is where I had my surgery and then stayed over night to begin my recovery. It's a pretty good place to be if you have to have cancer. They seem to know what they're doing. And sometimes, if you are really lucky, when you leave there to go home...you don't have cancer anymore.
That is the news I left my room on the sixth floor with on Wednesday morning---at least the preliminary news before the final pathology report. During my mastectomy the surgeons did a sentinel node biopsy and it came back negative. They inject the site of your cancer with a radioactive blue dye and watch it travel to the lymph nodes. The first node that it reaches is the sentinel, or first, node...and the thinking is that if the cancer has spread it would arrive at this node first. Makes sense to me. SO they remove this node and biopsy it to see if they find cancer...and mine was all clear. That's what they said. I don't think my day could have turned out any better. That is about the best case scenario; you go into surgery with cancer and you come out without it. місія виконана... (that is Latvian for 'mission accomplished." Latvian just seemed cool at 2 a.m.)
The thing about cancer, any kind of cancer, is that it's different for everyone. It's not like the flu. You know, how everybody who gets the flu can expect a high fever, muscle aches, congestion. Cancer isn't like that. So when I tell you how it was for me, it is certainly not the norm...because there is no norm. For instance, my room mate, who was a few years younger than me and had the same surgery and surgeon, slept through the entire 12 hours we had together. I on the other hand never slept at all. We spoke briefly in the morning before I left, and she was feeling miserable. I felt horrible for her. I felt almost guilty for feeling so good. I was ready to go home; she said she really felt like she needed another day. Everybody's different.
I feel very, very lucky.
I was really nervous before my surgery about anesthesia. About being medicated in general. I am not good at the medication thing. When my anesthesiologist came in that morning to talk with me and get my IV's started I just flat out said "I am really nervous about this. I am asking you to not give me any pain medication during surgery that would alter my consciousness." He didn't flinch at that and said he understood and that he could give me enough ibuprofen to rival morphine as far as pain relief goes, and that after surgery I could continue on that unless I felt I needed something more. I was relieved. I went to sleep happily after he slyly started running the la-la juice into my veins while having a conversation with me. I'm not brave folks; I am terrified of narcotic pain medicines after an unforgettable experience with them when I had an emergency c-section 22 years ago. That experience has followed me on my medical charts as having an allergy to morphine, ever since. They always try to give me something else, and I always refuse. And I have to say that the Motrin has been just fine. I came out of surgery alert, no nausea, no drowsiness or dopiness and I was out of bed in a few hours and hungry and eating solid food 12 hours later. (Nurses who smuggle you food in because it is too late to get anything and your docs have not released you to solid food yet are AWESOME)
I feel remarkably well. I mean, it hurts and I am uncomfortable at times but it's supposed to hurt when your skin and muscle are cut into, body parts are removed, and then you are sewn back together again. But I was home in just over 24 hours and feeling very very happy that the whole surgery thing was behind me. I am bandaged up pretty good...the most frustrating thing is that I cannot take a real bath or wash my own hair...and I can't lift my right arm over my head or lift anything over a few pounds. I can't take the cap off a child-proof bottle. I can't bend down and clean the cat box (heh heh) but I can type and make coffee. I can wash my face. I can get dressed by myself and all that jazz. I can empty the little plastic hand grenade drain coming out of my rib cage all by myself. I can make tea for my friends and eat their delicious homemade mac and cheese, Greek salad, lentils, fresh veggie juice, scones, (even though I can't hold a plate or a bowl and eat with my left hand very well) etc, etc, etc... and I can smile whenever I think that besides the upcoming year of implant procedures, I am really done with the cancer thing. They tell me my risk is only slightly higher than any other woman who has never had cancer before. And of course I know that once you have had it, it will be lurking somewhere in your subconscious that you might get it again...the people I now know that have been through this tell me so...it's always going to be a part of your life...but not a very big part, not like it was when everything was still so uncertain. I am one lucky woman to be able to say "I don't have cancer anymore."
The implant feels very tight and there is a lot of pressure in my chest. I have no feeling under my arm. The incision site burns almost all the time, but not in an unbearable way. It hurts, but it's definitely not unbearable. Migraines are unbearable. I had migraines for many years. This is nothing like that. And to be honest I don't feel terribly weird to not have a breast on the right side. It is somewhat padded with dressing and tape right now, but I have not felt the need to wear anything to fill it out when company is here or when I leave the house. I didn't know how it would feel, and I wrote about that before. But you know what? It doesn't feel anywhere near as horrible as I thought it might. I am the same person I was when I had a matching pair...and the lone survivor looks really great and is doing just fine on its own. I am still content with my decision to have the implant, and we'll see how the next year plays out as far as that goes. It is a gradual process and I will know what it's like to have a lop-sided chest for a while. Right now I am feeling like I'll just let it be that way, that I don't feel the need, yet, to wear a prosthesis or stuff my bra. And maybe that will change. But for now it feels just fine. In a year from now when I have a matching pair again, if I am not comfortable with the implant I can always have it removed. But my gut told me to give it a try. It seemed like the right thing to do, for me.
I have been lucky in my recovery to have my mom staying with me, and my daughter being home most of the time. I have had a steady stream of friends come to visit and bring me yummy food and things to cheer me. My house feels happy and vibrant and full of good energy and therefore so do I. It is a real gift to have those who love you nearby and so amazing about helping you through something like this. I am very, very fortunate.
So that is my update for now. Thank you to all of you who have written to me and sent your thoughts and good wishes and prayers. I have no doubt that all of the positive thoughts and energy and prayers put out there for me have made all the difference. Thank you. Really really really.