The Mastectomy

I’m lucky that my surgeon’s previous job was at a women’s hospital in Chicago, where she mostly performed mastectomies. Lucky too, because I live in a small city with a pretty good hospital. All my friends, family, and colleagues tried to convince me to go with the famous surgeon and the big teaching hospital 45 minutes away, but I really wanted to stay close to home.

So, I had 2 weeks of not knowing if it was cancer and one week of knowing and preparing for surgery. I did not have any life-changing revelations or insights. Colors did not seem brighter.  Butterflies did not flutter down to tell me how precious life is.

I got tired of telling everybody close to me what was going to happen and why. After two days of breaking the news, I told people it was OK to tell others. The surgeon thought maybe, if I was lucky, that I wouldn’t need chemo or radiation. But the only way to know for sure is to wait for the pathology report-it all depends on the size of the cancer and if it has spread to the lymph nodes. So I hoped for the best planned to be back at work in 3 or 4 weeks.

The weekend before surgery was a whirlwind of cleaning, shopping, and laundry.  I had to stop drinking and eating Sunday night at midnight, that meant no coffee Monday morning before surgery. And surgery wasn’t until 11.

Since there were tests and injections first, I had to be at the hospital at 7.  I was led to my curtained area and told to put on a pretty, purple warming gown.  (It had vents that looked like where you plug in your vacuum cleaner hose, warm air could be blown into the gown if my temperature was too low.)  The nice nurses took my blood and vital signs, asked for a urine sample to test for pregnancy (!), I met with the anesthesiologist, and I played with my phone.  Then, a guy came to take me to the radiologist, the same doctor who read my mammogram film.

This turned out to be the hardest part.  I was wheeled, in my bed, in my purple gown, down to radiology.  The guy wheeling me forgot his swipe card, so the two times we needed to go through a locked door we had to wait for someone who had a card to come along. The guy delivered me and left.  The doctor injected the breast that was coming off with a radioactive dye that would travel to my soon to be removed lymph nodes. This was so the surgeon could locate them easily.  It hurt, like a bee sting or a spider bite. When he was done, the doctor had his assistant wheel me into the hall.  There I waited, in my bed, in my gown, until the guy came back.  People walked by and stared at me.  I started to cry.  Someone handed me a tissue.  Finally the guy came back and took me back upstairs.

After an unexpected, very awkward visit from my mom and a friend, my surgeon showed up with a purple sharpie to mark which boob was to come off.  I remember being wheeled into the operating room, fully conscious. I was asked to move from the bed to the table.  Then the anesthesiologist whispered in my ear,

“It’s OK, we’ll take care of you.”

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One Response to The Mastectomy

  1. JaniceP says:

    I’ve never had cancer so I won’t pretend that they’re the same. But, I had major surgery in March, after having been sick for a few years. Reading this brought me back to that uncertainty of not knowing what they’d find when they opened you up. Even that fear you can’t help but feel, during the workup for the surgery, or the awkward visits beforehand that really aren’t comforting at all. You have a fabulously frank way of writing, and I’ll be waiting anxiously to learn how your surgery went.

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