GAH, sorry sorry sorry, y’all, for taking so long to post an update! (Believe me, I heard about it from more than one of ya.)
But most of you already know the big news: On February 15, I underwent a double mastectomy, with kinda-sorta reconstruction (after the oncology surgeon did her thang, the plastic surgeon came in and placed expanders where my breast tissue used to be; in a year or so, the expanders will be replaced with permanent implants).
The news I have to share from that (so far) is a mixed bag: while I was still way down deep in General Anesthesia Wonderland, the oncology surgeon told Love Tank that she hadn’t SEEN any remaining cancer in the primary tumor (but of course, she didn’t slice it up and put it under a microscope, so this is by no means official news—just official HOPE, because after all the chemo was done, I was still able to feel the tumor, so I just assumed that meant there was still cancer in it, and it turns out that’s not NECESSARILY the case).
So that’s the good news.
The bad news is that she did find malignancy in two lymph nodes. She said she yoinked (although she didn’t use that term, I think it fits) out about ten lymph nodes, and of course the hope is that the additional ones will NOT show any cancer . . .
. . . but I’m still not happy about those two. I knew at the start of chemo, of course, that there was cancer in ONE, and my assumption (although i didn’t have the wherewithal to confirm with her after the surgery—you know they give you some damn good drugs when you get parts of you removed) is that the one we already knew about is one of the two in question, and it somehow convinced a buddy to go rogue with it. But I’m not sure; maybe the chemo worked on that one, and two OTHERS went rogue—who knows?
At any rate, what this says to me is that this business is on the move, and trying to reach out and touch some shit, which is NOT COOL.
What does that mean in terms of treatment, though? Not sure at this point. We will know more, of course, once the biopsy results come back from the tissue removed during surgery.
What it MAY mean is more chemo. (Blecccch.)
Since the surgery has revealed that there wasn’t a complete response to the chemo treatments I’ve already done (i.e., the cancer was not 100% gone), it’s possible I could end up doing oral chemo treatments now. OR I could possibly just continue the immunotherapy treatments I’ve been doing every three weeks for the next several months (which was already the plan). One thing I know is that whatever happens will be in addition to radiation, which was ALSO already the plan.
At any rate, again, I won’t know anything for sure until my one-week post-surgery follow-up appointment on Wednesday.
So until then, that’s all the REAL medical news I have.
Should I stay or should I go now?
Other than that, what I can tell you is that I have discovered something about myself. I think there are two kinds of people: those who CANNOT WAIT to get TF out of the hospital (to the point of going AMA if they have to), and those who are like, “Nuh-uh, mofos, I’m staying here as long as I can!”
And I somehow appear to be a little of both.
I knew going in that I’d be staying a night, but not really knowing what to expect (having only experienced two outpatient surgeries in my life previous to this), I didn’t have feelings about it either way.
Before I went in, though, a couple of people encouraged me to make them keep me in the hospital as long as possible (one shared an anecdote about an acquaintance who’d insisted on staying a second night after her lumpectomy, because even after that surgery, which was significantly less invasive than what I was having done, she didn’t feel well enough to leave the hospital after one night). I took it under advisement, of course, but since I HAAAAAAAAATE having an IV hanging out in my body (when I gave birth to my second baby, they stuck it in my wrist (*shudder*), and I was so skeeved out by it that the nurse took pity on me, cut the toe end off a hospital-issue grippy sock, and slid it over my wrist to hide the IV from my tender eyeballs), I assumed I’d be one of the “Get me TF outta here” types.
That is, until I woke up from surgery.
I’m about to digress, here, but here’s a thing I find amusing: in my life, I’ve had three surgeries involving general anesthesia:
- A tubal ligation after my second kid (thanks to which I discovered that general anesthesia makes me nauseated, which was a HUGE disappointment to me, because as much as I LOVE to sleep, I thought general anesthesia would be nothing but hearts, unicorns, and puppy butts for me . . . but I digress even further);
- The surgery to place my port for chemo treatments, and
- The removal of my boobs.
. . . and the last thing I remember before two out of those three surgeries (the latter two—before each of which I had the good sense to ask for anti-nausea meds in conjunction with the general anesthesia, so I did get more of the puppy-butt experience) is saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, you’re right” to a medical professional.
When I got my port placed, the last thing I remember is being on a gurney, watching the ceiling whizz by as I was wheeled to the operating room, and the anesthesia nurse saying, “You should start to feel the meds kicking in . . . .” After a second or two, I replied, “Oh, yeah, I DO feel that!”
. . . and that was all she wrote. Next thing I knew, I was waking up, my chest hurt, and someone was offering me ice chips.
This time, I actually made it all the way INTO the OR (which was fascinating: first of all, it looked a lot more like an auto shop than I’d anticipated, with stuff hanging on walls, and multiple tables around, AND it was far more colorful than the ones they show on TV, which are always white white white; basically, the one thing my Imagination OR and my Reality OR had in common were the hella bright lights . . . but holy cow, I’m never going to get to my point at this rate). The nurses wheeled my gurney up against the operating table, and helped me scoot myself onto the table. One of the nurses placed my pillow back underneath my head, and as I reached up to adjust it, she said, “Go ahead and fix that however makes you comfortable; I know the operating table isn’t the most comfortable . . . ” I replied, “Yeah, you’re right about that . . . ”
. . . and the next thing I knew, I was waking up, my chest hurt, and someone was telling me it was time to take me up to my hospital room.
So what this all comes down to is that apparently I am extremely agreeable right before I pass out.
Unlike the port placement surgery, though, waking up this time was much more of an ordeal. I can remember snippets of waking up and interacting with people:
- I remember a nice man waking me up to let me know he was wheeling me up to my room, and warning me about the bumps I’d feel as he rolled me across the elevator threshold.
- I remember the nice man announcing we’d made it to my room, and that at that point I struggled to open my eyes long enough to see if I had a private room, or if I was stuck with a roommate (the latter of which would certainly have influenced my desire to get out of the hospital—y’all know mama loves her alone time—but hallelujah, I had a private room).
- I remember expressing, eyes closed, to the nurse who’d be in charge of my in-room care that I needed to pee (whether she asked, or I volunteered that information, I can’t tell ya)—but when she asked if I felt able to stand up and walk to the restroom, I very distinctly replied, “NUH-UH.”
- She then asked if I was ready for pain medication, and I replied (eyes still closed), “UH-HUH.”
- I remember seeing Love Tank sitting on the sofa next to my hospital bed, and trying SO HARD to wake up and talk to him, but my eyes kept drifting shut again and I’d tumble back down to the bottom of Knocked Out Mountain.
A full THREE HOURS later, I woke up to Love Tank smiling and very sweetly saying “Hi, Baby . . . ” in greeting. And also to a KILLER urge to pee, since once I’d told the nurse I wasn’t walking to the bathroom, she went on ahead and let me roll back down the mountain with my full bladder.
Love Tank called her in, and she helped me sit upright, stand up, and walk to the bathroom and HOLY MUTHA, I am here to tell y’all that I have never been so stunned by pain as I was in those moments. When I leaned forward slightly to lower my tush onto the toilet, the pain smacked so hard, I swear I hallucinated a little bit, got hit with a wave of nausea, and called out something like, “HOH-SHHYAGRHHHHHHT” through gritted teeth.
Once I was back in bed, I was thirsty as hell, but swore off liquids for the rest of my life, because I never wanted to have to use the restroom again.
The nurses were great about keeping me on top of my pain meds, though, and I discovered that if I lay supine and mostly still, the pain wasn’t so bad. If I had to sit up, though, CRAP ON A CRACKER IN THE MOONLIGHT, that shit hurt.
So once Love Tank had left to head home and see about our kids—and more importantly to take care of our poor, old-ass dog, who is having trouble walking these days (making it an act of Congress to get him outside to do his business, and Love Tank seems to be the most influential Representative in this household)—I lay comfortably on my back and called/texted people who’d asked to be kept in the loop.
It was during some of those conversations that I told people I didn’t think there was any way I’d be ready to return home the next day, because of the crazy pain. Besides, being in the hospital wasn’t so bad (except for the peeing); I had a bunch of TV channels at my disposal, a bed that would do a good deal of the work of sitting up FOR me, AND I’d been able to order a tasty dinner (and a fancy one—my mashed potatoes came with a flower on top!).
(I later realized I’d fallen victim to that phenomenon wherein that first hospital meal you have after not having eaten for almost an entire day is AMAAAAAZING . . . but then once you’re not starving anymore, the food’s not so great; happened to me when I had my first kid, too. But I digress.)
Later, thanks to the glorious combination of Percocet and Valium, I drifted off into a blissful slumber. SO blissful, in fact, that my ass forgot all about my current circumstances, and I instinctively tried to roll onto my side (which is how I normally sleep) . . . and LORD, hammercy, the HOH-SHHYAGRHHHHHHT pain yanked me right on up out of that bliss.
Once I was awake, I discovered I was STARVING (despite the glorious dinner), so I fished around in a balloon-adorned bag of goodies sent by a friend who for some reason loves me more than I can fathom (I mean, I’m not saying I’m not lovable, but this woman consistently shows me pure, unadulterated adoration, and I am not sure what I’ve done to earn it), and fished out a Twix bar, which I schlurped down at lightning speed. A few minutes later, the nurse came in to check my vitals, and I confessed I’d just finished a (literal) midnight snack fulla sugar. She offered me a list of other snacks she could bring me. 10 minutes later, I was eating the most delicious dry turkey sandwich I’d ever had (see what I mean about starvation and hospital food?), and chasing it with a Peppermint Patty from my goody bag.
The next morning, however, the hospital food magic ended (thanks to that midnight snack). When it came time for breakfast (I chose a cheese omelette, sausage, and breakfast potatoes), I discovered everything was kind of blecchy (the sausage was OK, and the coffee didn’t taste good, but it was HOT, which was pleasant, but otherwise . . . ). Same thing happened at lunch. But by that time, although I was still in some pain, I was able to sit up, walk, and make it to the restroom without assistance from the nurse, and without speaking in tongues. Plus, they’d removed my IPC devices, which I’d actually found oddly comforting—like a perpetual leg massage.
So it was time to go.
Technically, we had until midnight to vacate the premises, but once I’d received visits from both surgeons, a couple of surgical residents, and the occupational therapist, there wasn’t really much of a reason to hang around, other than the opportunity to spend time with Love Tank away from our children. (Hey, don’t knock it; it’s quiet, you can wear comfortable clothes (by then I’d changed out of the hospital gown and into my own attire under the supervision of the occupational therapist), you can watch movies, and if you’re on a high enough floor, you get a decent view.) So at around 2 p.m. (once the movie ended), I told the nurse I was ready to blow that popsicle stand.
By 3:30 or so, I was at home in my own bed. None of the people I’d talked to the night before could believe it, based on how much pain I’d been in when we’d spoken, and I think they thought I was trying to be a damn hero, but really, I’d just started wanting to be in a place where I wouldn’t have to think about getting up and going anywhere in the near future.
There’s no place like home
So here I am, four days post-surgery, and not doing too badly. Still spending a shit ton of time in bed, but I’m reaching a point where that’s at least 52% just because I wanna.
(Side note: five days before my surgery, we FINALLY received delivery of the new bedroom furniture we ordered in NOVEMBER . . .
. . . and y’all. The bed is SO DAMN HIGH UP IN THE AIR that we’ve put step stools on either side of that bad boy—partially to make it easier for our little one to climb up (the top of the bed comes up to his shoulder), but I’m not gonna lie: those stools also make it a lot easier for US to climb into bed ourselves (and we’re no Shorty McShort-shorts; I’m 5’7″ and Love tank is 6’1″)!
So while getting in and out of bed is a little extra challenging due to current circumstances, I am managing pretty well up here.)
Since arriving home from the hospital, I’ve been managing the pain pretty well with Tylenol, Gabapentin (for nerve pain), and Valium (to help relax the pectoral muscles that are probably still wondering WTF just happened). In fact, today I made it 12 hours without taking anything at all! (That’s actually a problem, because I’m supposed to be taking antibiotics 4 times a day, but I still consider it good news that I was able to forget about my pain meds all day.)
Still, this experience is not without its share of drama.
First of all, there’s the weirdness of, well . . . having no boobs (the expanders are in, but not really filled). Yesterday, I was finally allowed to shower (although really, after the two Silkwood showers I was required to take the night before and the morning of surgery, I didn’t feel too gross), and I was not sure if I’d be able to look in the mirror once I got all the dressings removed. I braved it, though, and while it was certainly a bit of a shock to look at my chest, the bigger shock (perhaps because I’ve only really had boobs for the past 20 years or so; before that, I was pretty flat-chested—and while I no longer have the nipples I had back then, a flat-chested me was not a wholly unfamiliar sight) was my ARMPITS. Unlike my flat-chested days of yore, these days I’m graced with that wonderful armpit fat that comes with middle-aged weight gain. And without boobs to balance that out, I basically have bigger tits in my armpits now than I do on my chest. But the weirdest part is that THEY ARE LARGELY NUMB. The right one has a little feeling, but the left one (also the side where the tumor and nodes were removed) has zip. Zilch. Nada. Putting deodorant on after that shower was a TRIP, y’all.
I’m not sure how long the numbness will continue, but I’m hoping to get some answers at my follow-ups this coming week.
Second of all, GAHHHH, the DRAINS. SO GROSS. I’ll spare you the details, but I have four of them (cradled snugly in one of three shirts I now own with drain pockets), and my most fervent wish right now is to be able to get them removed when I go back to the plastic surgeon for my one-week follow-up—but at this point, I’m not holding out much hope, because there are certain milestones I have to meet for that to happen, and it ain’t lookin’ good (at least not for two of them). So wish me luck on that.
Otherwise, though, I think all the thoughts, positive vibes, and magic love dust y’all have sent my way have worked spectacularly, because I feel better than I ever thought possible right now. And as a bonus, my blood pressure is normal again! Since this whole ball of wax began, my blood pressure—which was always perfect—has been practically in outer space! I used to actually LIKE getting my blood pressure taken (much like I liked the IPC devices; I guess being squeezed makes me happy), but since all the cancer-related doctor visits began, I’ve HATED it, because even when the cuff doesn’t hurt my arm (which it usually does now), the reading hurts my soul. Sometimes it’s so high that the nurse will take it again until s/he gets a lower reading; and if it’s a nurse unfamiliar with me, s/he’ll ask if I’m on blood pressure meds.
In short, it sucks.
So I’ve basically learned to not even look at the machine when my blood pressure’s being taken—and I stuck with that strategy while I was in the hospital after my surgery. But for some reason, when she took my blood pressure the final time before my release, the nurse announced it aloud . . .
. . . and it was NORMAL.
I actually SAT UP, TWISTED AROUND TO SEE THE MACHINE (YEEEEEOWCH!) and said, “WHAT??? REALLY???”
I wanted to kiss her right in the face. But I realized that that would probably hurt worse than the sitting up and twisting (especially if she was into it and chose to embrace me in response), so I kept my cool.
But it felt like winning the lottery.
So thank you, all, for all the good vibes. They’ve worked in ways I didn’t expect!
Bye Bye, Boobies
So the only thing left to share at this point are the things that prevented me from updating this blog before now—or, in other words, How My Boobs and I Spent Our Last Days Together.
Basically, January thru early March of EVERY year are kind of nuts (because EVERYONE in my household has a birthday during that time), but this year in particular, there was a lot going on.
Sadly, Love Tank’s birthday was kind of a bust this year, because it occurred three days after my last chemo treatment. And while—thanks to my friend Dr. Awesome Pants, who gave me a better strategy for managing my nausea meds—I had an easier time of it after that last treatment (even managing to eat regular food during the days following the treatment), I still wasn’t feeling like a par-TAY, so basically he got a handful of dumb gifts —the most amusing of which were custom Lego figurines I ordered of the two of us; I chose bald head attachments for both of us (because wouldn’t that be cute), but that didn’t actually turn out as expected . . . .
. . . but I digress. The point is that while Love Tank had a low-key birthday, we pulled out a few stops for the littler dude’s birthday. On his ACTUAL birthday, school was closed for a snow day, but we still had an engagement at the high school to see the older kid’s orchestra concert. But when the weekend came, it was party time!
Unlike his older brother, this kid has never really had any big birthday parties. When he was wee, we decided NOT to set the big-party precedent we’d set for our first child (who had TWO first birthday parties (one for friends and one for family), because we couldn’t fit everyone into our house at once), so his first few birthday parties were just two or three kids at our house. When he turned 4, we invited a few more kids to a party at the library, but we made all the choices: whom to invite, the party venue, and the party activities. Then the pandemic hit, and there were no parties to speak of (other than our immediate family, inside our house) for a couple of years.
But this year, he had his first “real” party, where he chose the venue/activity (bowling), and the guest list (which was far shorter than the number of kids the party package allowed, so we ended up with a whole free lane for our older kid and his girlfriend to have to themselves). I wasn’t generous enough to share control of the SWAG bags, because COME ON I AM SO GOOD AT THEM, and he’d just ruin it. But he didn’t seem to mind—largely because he didn’t even know there were any SWAG bags until the day of the party. But I digress.
Point is, we hosted our first “real” kid birthday party in YEARS—and then the next day we hosted a Super Bowl party for the older kid and a handful of his friends, and YOU KNOW your girl had the menu planned like two weeks in advance, right? I even brought my dad’s beautiful (and, I recently learned, STOLEN) chafing dish out of retirement for the occasion!
Then, a mere couple of days later, your girl had to show up in the kid’s classroom to be the ACTIVITY parent for the class Valentine’s Day party!
I mean. Y’all know me. I am ALWAYS about the food. So when the older kid was in elementary school, I’d make a beeline for every class party sign-up sheet to get dibs on bringing the snacks. (A couple of times, someone beat me to it, and I had to settle for the drinks, but still—refreshments have ALWAYS been my jam.) Although things are different now that the younger one is in school (unlike the previous sign-up lists, which were LONG and included items like plates, napkins, and other auxiliary supplies, the sign-ups now include only three opportunities—snacks, drinks, or an activity—and ONLY the parents who sign up to provide one of those three things are allowed to come to the party), I’m still the snack-tastic person I’ve always been.
So imagine the GLORY when I got to the littler dude’s classroom sign-up list in time to call dibs on the snacks . . . and the HORROR when I asked him if he had any ideas about what snacks I could bring, and he took one look at the sign-up list (which I still stupidly had up on my computer) and declared he’d like me to do the ACTIVITY instead.
“Oh, babe, that’s not really Mommy’s thing,” I tried feebly. But he just kept repeating, “CRAAAAFT” over and over again (under the part where it says “Activity,” the parenthetical suggestion is a craft or game, and curse that little bastard’s ability to read).
So by golly, for love of a little boy, I signed up for the craft.
(Later that day, Love Tank took a look at the sign up list, and found it curious enough to see my name listed under “Activity” that he CALLED me from work, thinking there had been a mistake, especially since the food slot was still wide open.)
So basically, for the last week in January, and the first two weeks of February, I was busy planning, researching, purchasing, sorting, preparing, and packaging items for a birthday party, a Super Bowl party, Valentine’s Day craft kits, AND a Valentine’s Day game (because once I figured out the craft, I got concerned that we’d have time leftover after it was done, and I don’t have the improv skills to fill dead air with a bunch of first graders).
And y’all, it all actually WORKED OUT. Four of the five kids invited to the birthday party were able to make it, and although TWO HOURS of bowling is a long time for first graders (so we had some issues with boredom and kids running amok), nobody got lost, and there were no injuries.
Because of how the past three years have gone, we’re a little out of practice at the hosting game, so not all the Super Bowl food turned out exactly as planned: the BBQ meatballs were a little dry, the sandwich trays I ordered were sub-par, and the Jell-O cookies I tried to make in red and yellow to represent KC Chiefs colors turned out more MAUVE and yellow, and they came out WAYYYYYY too sweet—but overall, I managed to pull off a decent spread without too much stress, I think the kids had fun, and the Chiefs won, which is what counts.
The best part, though, was that the Valentine’s Day activities (about which I was the MOST nervous) actually went FINE! Most of the kids seemed to really like the love bugs we made!
Plus, despite the fact that the craft involved sharp cocktail picks, there were no casualties— and we even had time leftover after the craft to play the BINGO games I created! Unfortunately, I learned too late that the BINGO prizes I distributed to the kids who won—boxes of old-school candy hearts—did not taste good at all (at least according to MY kid, who scored a leftover box) . . . so there MAY have been tears about THAT, but by that time, the kids were at home, where their parents could deal with their disappointment.
I’m chalking all of this up as a WIN.
On Valentine’s Day evening, we returned to the school for an uneventful parent-teacher conference (which, again, if you know this kid, is ALSO a win), then had a late Valentine’s Day take-out dinner . . .
. . . and then the next day, I had my boobs cut off.
But I’d like to think they got a good send-off.
And speaking of send-offs, if you’re curious about the rat drama, four out of the ten babies have found new homes, and we’re keeping two more of them ourselves. But we’re still in search of homes for the remaining four. So now that I’m through surgery, maybe y’all could direct some of those powerful vibes towards ridding our home of some rodents.
Then you can shoot those vibes right back in my direction for the next steps to come, because we’re not finished yet! But I’ll tell you what—having this part done is an INCREDIBLE relief (which may have something to do with my back-to-normal blood pressure), and I couldn’t have made it this far without y’all. So as always, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
(Thank-you rats are available upon request.)