At the pre-op appointment on April 26th, I met the resident who would be scrubbing in for my surgery. She was nice. I liked her. We talked generally about the procedure and if there are any concerns I have.
Any concerns… Well, yeah. I have a list. I have a tumor that started out the size of a plum in my chest. My first and primary concern is that the cancer is removed and she gets it all the first time. My post-surgery limitations are next on my list. I ask for someone to stretch my shoulder out while I’m under. I’m worried about lymphedema. I’ve heard and read quite a bit now about side effects of radiation, and I’m concerned that between the surgery and radiation the range of motion in that shoulder will be more limited than it already is. Not that it’s horrible. It’s just not what it was before, and it’s gotten a little worse over the years. I have other nightmares about radiation but I need to save those for the radiation oncologist. I let them know that I had problems with the anesthesia when I had the port put in, and that I also don’t want opioid pain killers after surgery.
I will be having a partial mastectomy, lymph node dissection with a bilateral breast lift. It all sounds a lot more glamorous on paper than it does in real life. This isn’t a boob job. Really, it’s not. This is removing a tumor the size of a plum from my right breast and making both sides more or less match in size. Even if I had wanted implants, I’m not a candidate because of the radiation.
When the surgeon comes in, we talk about the chemo and some of the side effects that are causing issues for me. She makes the right kinds of faces. I feel vaguely comforted. We talk through the surgery. She draws some pictures of what the incisions will look like, and that with this plan, she will be able to get to the lymph nodes in my armpit without having to make a separate incision. I’m glad I don’t need a separate incision. I have the feeling that healing in this area is already going to be hard enough without having to worry about what else got cut along the way. At the end of our appointment, she writes a an order for physical therapy with lymphedema prevention, and we all agree that I will alternate Tylenol and ibuprofen every 3 hours to manage any pain that I have after surgery.
I am shepherded to the scheduler’s office where I sign the consent paperwork and get the pre-op instructions. We talk to the anesthesia coordinator and work through the list of medications I’m current prescribed and taking, and they say they will figure out what made me feel so out off it for so long after my last surgery.
People keep asking me how I feel about my upcoming surgery. I don’t know how to answer. I am eager to have it done. I wanted it done 5 months ago. I’m more worried about how the radiation will affect me. My first surgery was in my mid-20s when I ripped my ACL in a ski accident. Orthopedic surgeries have been sort of a staple of life since then. While I think 4-6 weeks sounds like a long recovery time, the only other thing that concerns me is that they get all the cancer the first time. I’ve been told that sometimes, after the pathology report comes back, they have to go back in because they didn’t get enough margin. I am planning to be at my niece’s graduation on June 1st, so a worst case scenario would be having to go back in for more surgery.
When I get home, I’m actually a little relieved to have this part done. My leave from work is scheduled and approved. I have support planned for after surgery. I have a friend who’s an RN who will be flying in from MN to help me the 1st week. We are talking about having her daughter fly out at the end of the month to help me get back and forth to my niece’s graduation. I’ll be 4 weeks post-op at that point. I will be able to manage on my own, but won’t be able to lift my bag and certainly not put it in an airline overhead.
The next morning, while I’m in for my first Herceptin by itself, I see an email telling me that I have a message waiting in the patient portal. When the oncologist comes in, she’s looking through the chart and tells me I have a message from the surgeon about the surgery date. Not 5 minutes later, the surgery scheduler is calling me to tell me the same. I tell her that I will stop by after my Herceptin infusion is done. I think she’s freaking out more than I am.
I’m stunned. I’m disappointed. I’m tired of surprises.
When I get done with my infusion, I walk over to the building where the surgeon’s office is and let them know at reception that I’m there to talk to the scheduler. By the time I get there, the rescheduling is already done. When I ask the scheduler why, she hands me the phone to talk to the surgeon. In her email message, she’d said that May 1st wasn’t viable because my body needs to have at least 3 weeks to start recovering from chemo before I can have surgery. She says that May 11th is the first day she could do the surgery. When I get there, I learn she will be at a conference the following week. Over the phone I suggested that we wait until June 3rd, and she says that’s not possible, either. There is a specific window after chemo where surgery can be done. One to make sure that I have a safe recovery, and the other is so that the cancer doesn’t get a chance to start growing again. Great.
My life is on hold yet again.
My first call is to my sister. I can’t make the graduation on June 1st. My next call is to my friend who will be flying in to help me. We have to move her flight. She has to re-request her time off. I’m a little scared that she won’t be able to take leave 10 days later.
I start the process of notifying my managers and contacting the insurance company regarding my leave dates.
I hate cancer.