Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When Negative is Positive

WARNING:  The majority of this post details my surgery.  If you're super squeamish or easily bored, skip to the last couple paragraphs. 

So my surgery was last Thursday.  It was hard to go into it with anything other than a positive attitude, what with all of the love and support I had behind me:  There Just Are Not Words.  Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat trepidatious.  Surgery is surgery after all.

My pre-op instructions were easy -- no food or water from midnight on.  I very rarely have any food or water that late.  Except that the knowledge that I couldn't sure did make me thirsty!  I managed to get some sleep, but Thursday morning came early.  David, who is a saint, kindly carted me over to the hospital at 6:30 am, and sat with my while I waited to be called back.  Eventually, they ushered me back to a sort of pre-op holding area where they gave me two lovely light green hospital gowns to don -- one to tie in back, and the other to wrap around me like a robe.  I know they aren't supposed to be fitted or anything, but they certainly were awkward -- none of the ties seemed to line up correctly.  Oh - and there were these nifty green skid-resistant socks, too.  I kind of liked those.

After I was gowned up, the nurse took my temperature, blood pressure, pulse, etc.  By then, my Mom had arrived and was sitting in the room along with David and me.  The nurse had to run through a series of medical history questions with me, and then asked if I had any loose metal or jewelry items.  Oops.  I'd forgotten about the belly ring.  She felt fairly certain that we could just put some tape over it and all would be well.

Finally the time came for them to take me to get wired up.  (The surgery is actually a two-step process -- the first thing they do is insert a wire, using mamography/imaging techniques, which then serves as a guide for the surgeon.)  I waved goodbye to David and my Mom.  From this point on, I was wheeled everywhere and got to experience full hospital patient-hood. There were a couple of points along the way where I'd get wheeled down a hallway and then set some place for a bit until they were ready for me at the next stop.  It gave me time to process the whole patient thing -- it's a rather weird experience, that feeling of being essentially helpless and at the mercy of others.  Especially for a control freak like yours truly.  At some point, though, you just kind of have to resign yourself to it, and remember that in the end, it's all in God's hands.  

For the wire placement, the process was very much like the biopsy.  I had to lie on a table on my stomach again.  The tech apologized for the uncomfortableness of it all.  I warned her she might have to remove the padding on the table in order to position me correctly.  She was scandalized by this thought, but I assured her it wasn't so much the padding issue that caused the discomfort as the having to lie with my head to one side and not move for an extended period of time.  She assured me that this process would not take nearly as long as the biopsy -- and to her credit, it didn't.  Still, I can't wait to go make use of the Massage Envy gift card David was kind enough to donate to me awhile back.  

The tech managed to position me properly without having to remove the pad.  She had me drop my shoulder partially through the hole in the table, too, and that seemed to help.  It took a few images and some repositioning to get me set just so.  And I'll confess, one of those repositionings really squished me and hurt quite a bit. But it wasn't long before I was set up correctly, and a doctor came in to actually place the wire. This involves administering a local anesthetic, and then inserting a hollow needle next to the marker they left behind during the biopsy, then threading a thin wire with a little hook on the end down the needle.  The wire then remains in place and helps the surgeon locate the area that needs to be lumpectosized.  While this was going on, the tech related to the doc that the biopsy team had removed the table padding in order to position me correctly for the biopsy -- this was met with much clucking by the doc to my amusement.  Apparently, this simply is not done! 

After the wire was placed, they sat me up and the tech used some tape to anchor the external portion of the wire so it wasn't sticking out wildly.  I couldn't resist the urge to ask her if I could now pick up FM stations.  (What else are you going to ask when there's a wire sticking out the side of your boob?!)  Then we headed over to the main part of the Breast Care Center for an actual mammogram to verify the wire was where it was supposed to be.  Thankfully, it was, and the tech seemed quite pleased with how everything looked.  I found this encouraging. 

From there, I was wheeled to pre-op. They placed me in a bed, and handed me a lovely cap for my hair. Had to have the nurse help me get it on right, because I wasn't supposed to move my right arm much for fear of pulling on the wire.  It's a little odd there in pre-op.  A lot of activity, doctors and nurses busy charting and making phone calls.  And other patients behind the curtains on either side of you.  There was a gentleman to my right who sounded like quite the character.  He had lots of tats from when he was in the service, and was a big fan of the show Duck Dynasty.  Can't say I blame him re: the latter.

A nurse came over to check on me and ask me a few questions, including the jewelry question again. She seemed a little concerned about the taping solution, but apparently checked and determined it was okay.  I was asked several times for my name, birthdate, what surgery I was having and on which breast.  I figured they'd be able to tell from the wire placement and all, but I'm happy to know they double and triple check these things before proceeding.

The anesthesiologist came over and, after determining I was right-handed, attempted to insert the IV into my left wrist.  Several times.  To no avail.  Like most people, I'm no fan of needles, but I can tolerate shots and IV insertions fairly well.  This attempt really didn't go very well, and the anesthesiologist was quite apologetic for it. Frankly, it felt like he was squeezing my wrist flat.  He worried I was going to have an awful bruise there and hate him for it.  I assured him that he was forgiven, but did warn him that I've been blogging about all this and so would certainly include that part, since I was awake for it.  I told him not to worry, though - I wouldn't use his name.  The nurse came over and, after letting me use my right hand to sign off on the consent form, inserted the IV in the right wrist without much ado.  Truth be told, I have mild bruises on both wrists, but certainly nothing traumatic.  

The surgeon came over to check in with me and see how I was doing.  She said we were ready to go as soon as the OR opened up.  She looked me over, contemplated the incision placement, and promised she'd put a lot of local anesthetic in the surgical site so I shouldn't have too much issue with pain.  Shortly thereafter, they wheeled me into the OR.  I kept waiting for someone to say something about me needing to count backward, but all I remember is the nurse placing a mask over my face and telling me to breathe.

Next thing I recall was being wheeled down a hallway and into post-op. I was definitely groggy, but I know I tried to talk.  God only knows if I made the slightest sense.  I  remember looking up at the clock and seeing that it was close to 11:00 am, which meant the surgery had only taken around an hour.  I took that as a good sign. The nurses asked me if I was in pain and I said yes, some, so they gave me some morphine. Blech. I did not like the way it felt. Just made me feel really heavy and yucky.  

After about thirty minutes, they rolled me into an individual post-op/recovery room, and David, my Mom and my Dad came in to see me.  The nurse sat me up in a sort of recliner chair, I think.  I was still feeling groggy, but not too bad.  My sister Julie stopped by to check on me.  The surgeon came in and said hello to everyone then checked on me, as well.  She showed me the incision and talked to me about the wound care and healing process.  She seemed pleased with how everything had gone and how everything looked.  She told me they would get the pathology report back on Tuesday and that would hopefully verify that the evil boob Nazis (my terminology, not hers) had been removed and hadn't spread.  

They still had me hooked up to an IV and fluids so a couple trips to the restroom were necessary.  The first time, the nurse escorted me.  The second, I was feeling well enough to walk myself.  Tricky thing about those hospital gowns that tie in the back, though -- I was a little concerned I might flash everyone, so I reached back to gather it together.  Only it was tied more off to the side than the back.  So rather than gathering it together, I did the exact opposite and ended up flashing my folks and David as I attempted to leave the room.  I'm sure that was charming.  

Finally, it was time for me to be discharged.  The nurse asked if I wanted to fill the prescription for pain medication and I decided maybe I should just to be safe, though I really wasn't feeling a lot of pain.  Once that was taken care of, they wheeled me out, and David brought the car around and carted me back home, then stayed with me and took care of me the rest of the afternoon.  I mentioned above that he is a saint. I don't say that lightly.  He has been beyond supportive through all of this and I am one amazingly lucky girl to have him in my life.  That song from Sound of Music often comes to mind when I think of him -- somewhere in my youth, or childhood, I must have done something good....

My recovery since last Thursday has been relatively uneventful.  I took a pain pill Thursday afternoon, but it made me loopy, so I went with Advil Thursday evening so I could watch the Cards play.  I took another one Friday morning, but decided Advil was just as good and without the loopiness and other side effects.  I haven't had to take any since.  There are some pretty gnarly looking bruises on the side of my boob (which I think are from the wire placement, rather than the surgery itself) and, of course, the incision itself, but very little pain.  I've been referring to it as my Frankenboob.  (It is Halloween this week, after all.)  It looks like everything is healing up pretty well, though.  

I was able to get out Saturday morning for Holly's soccer game and then Saturday evening with David and his sister and aunt to watch the Cardinals game.  Watched another soccer game on Sunday and then enjoyed dinner with David, his sister and the girls.  Several people have remarked on how quickly I seem to have bounced back.  I'll confess -- I feel somewhat weird about it.  I know I had surgery, but it wasn't like major surgery, and I really do feel almost fine.  Yesterday, as I walked back from lunch with my friend Dean, I mentioned I had gotten a flu shot a couple weeks ago (though I usually don't) because they recommend them for cancer patients.  He said, "That sounds weird."  (Calling me a "cancer patient.")  I agree.  I don't look or feel sickly. And believe me -- I'm quite happy for this.  But it's a rather heavy mantle.  And frankly, I feel a little odd sporting it.  Because I feel fine.  Again, this isn't a complaint.  Just an acknowledgment that, considering how serious a thing this can be, I've really been quite lucky with it all.  I may feel differently after a few rounds of radiation.  Naturally, I'll be letting you know.

In the meantime, my surgeon called this morning with good news regarding the pathology report. The only thing in the specimen was the in situ cancer and the margins are negative (clean).  Which is good.  This means the cancer hasn't spread or done anything dastardly, and so, surgically, I'm all good.  Next up is a follow-up appointment with the surgeon next Tuesday so she can check out how everything is healing.  Then they'll get me set up with a radiological oncologist and medical oncologist to set up my radiation treatments/schedule and determine if I'll need to take any medication.  And we'll go from there.

Thank you, again, to everyone who's been keeping me company on this journey.  The prayers and well-wishes have been an enormous help to me in keeping a positive attitude.  Thank you to my FTR friends who, in addition to creating #TeamSmoosieQ, put together a radiothon to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and to Jennie Bos who created the awesome "Walk a Mile in My Boobs" t-shirts which also helped raise money.  I think our total amount raised was over $2200. Thank you to my friend Annie who sent me the scary/cute pink unicorn to keep me company during radiation (and one for Riley, too), since I'd told her I knew it wouldn't all be bunnies and unicorns, along with a darling charm bracelet with an "S" and a pink lady bug on it.  I'm wearing it every day.  And special thanks to my Mom and Dad for being there with me during the surgery, to my big sis Julie for stopping by to check on me, and to my love David for holding my hand through it all. 


  1. Brava! Prayers continue.


  2. I know Susie, cyberlly. My own experiences with breast cancer can be found here, in a journal I kept during that time.
    It's good to keep a sense of humor. It got me through it.

  3. I love you, Susie. I'm so glad you have a great attitude about all this. You crack me up!

  4. Obviously you know what I did as I read this. Obviously. ;-). You're such a rockstar and are going to kick radiation's butt. SO SO SO happy your pathology was clear. What a huge relief! Keep breathing and one step in front of another.

  5. Love the good news -- just spent the weekend with our family's breast cancer survivor and we talked at length about her and you. Our prayers continue!