If you are just stopping in, this is the fourteenth post in my 31 Day Series: I Wear Pink. Join me as I share my breast cancer journey. You can find the previous posts here.
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. ~Psalm 27:13-14
The surgery to remove the cancer from my left breast was set for March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Other people would be going to parades, drinking green beer, and eating corned beef and cabbage with Irish soda bread. Ahhh, the luck of the Irish. On that morning, I reported to the Cancer Center conveniently attached to the hospital. Just above it is Women’s Imaging. I would be in all three places before my day was through.
The doctor and I had decided on a “lumpectomy.” The cancer and a margin around it would be removed. In addition, the sentinel lymph nodes would also be removed. The sentinel lymph nodes are the ones that are directly connected to the duct where the cancer is present. If they showed signs of cancer, then all of the lymph nodes in my breast and armpit would also be removed. It is far better to find that the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes. My right breast would be left as is.
My surgery was set for 1:00 which meant that I had to be at the hospital at 9:00. The first stop was the infusion area of the Cancer Center. There I was given two fabulous gowns. One to wear forward with my fanny hanging out and another to go on like a ‘bathrobe” to shield the world from my fanny. Modesty gets left at the hospital door, but honestly so many people had now seen my breasts I wasn’t sure a fanny more or less made much difference. I had brought a pair of gripper slippers that said “Lucky” on them, but I tucked them in my purse when the nurse handed me the regulation blue hospital ones. I would have to be “Lucky” later on that St. Patrick’s Day.
An IV was put in. Nurses seem to have problems locating the veins in my arms so IV’s must go in my hand. I became very whoozy and gray when the needle was inserted. The nurse swiftly reclined me so I wouldn’t pass out. It could have been nerves but I also tend to faint when I am stuck if I am hungry. As instructed, I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since the day before. Pat and I joked about fainting early in the day and getting it over with. Things could only go up from here. Silly me.
Next stop was the Woman’s Imaging Center. A slender wire needed to be inserted with guidance from a mammogram into the tumor. This wire identifies exactly where the tumor is so that the surgeon doesn’t cut into the tumor and can get clear margins around it. Pat got to sit in the now familiar waiting room for this step in the proceedings.
I had been told by my mother, who had a biopsy many years before, that the wire would be inserted without anesthetic. I was
terrified nervous about this given the location of the tumor. I knew this would be like being stabbed. MY MOTHER WAS WRONG! The wire is inserted only after an anesthetic is administered by needle to numb things up.
A confluence of things now conspired against me. I was seated on a bar stool with wheels and pushed up to the mammography machine trailed by my IV lines. I had to sit on the wheely stool, while they attempted to get the tumor which was cozily tucked up against my ribs into view on the mammography machine. Instead of two solid flat plates for compression, there is one solid plate and one plate with a rectangular hole in it that the anesthesizing needle and the wire can be inserted through. I was wheeled into position, clamped in place, and then the numbing needle was administered, at which point, I promptly fainted.
I came to lying on a bed that had magically been dragged into the area. There was a cluster of people in white lab coats peering at me with concern. A nurse with a delightful Polish accent was whispering comforting words in my ear and smoothing my hair. My doctor’s nursing assistant, Sarah, had been summoned and was conversing with the crowd trying to determine what happened. I had been out for enough time for them to find a bed and call Sarah from another part of the building. One doctor was concerned that I had had a seizure. I hadn’t. I was just hungry and scared and people kept sticking me with needles. There was a possibility of inserting the wire with me laying down, but because of the location of the tumor they weren’t sure they would be able to get it right with only one try. I wanted to avoid multiple punctures and try again with the upright machine. I also pointed out to them, very sweetly, I didn’t have the energy for anything else, that it wasn’t the best idea to put anyone on a bar stool with wheels while clamped into a machine. Sara laughed, told them I had a point and a plan was put together. The Polish nurse agreed to hold the chair in place. I would do my best not to pass out and the rest of them would do what they needed to do. (It occurs to me now, that the Polish nurse may have risked additional x-rays for my comfort. I have thanked her for what she did that day, but I think I should again.)
My new friend, the Polish nurse, offered to teach me curses in Polish or to sing a Polish lullaby to distract me while the rest of the crowd were puncturing me and inserting the wire. I chose the lullaby. I have no idea what she said but it was a comforting tune, soon the wire was in place with out any more fainting on my part.
Pat rejoined me. He had been worried when he saw doctors, a bed, and Sarah go rushing by. Sara had stopped on her way back to her office to tell him that I was fine.
An escort pushed me in a wheel chair while Pat and I laughed and agreed that fainting twice before noon was a record even for me. I still had one more doctor with a needle to see.
The final needle before surgery was to inject blue dye into the breast so that it could be picked up by the lymph nodes. The blue dye is radioactive and indicates which lymph nodes are the sentinel nodes for the doctor to remove. This was done with me lying down. No one was taking any chances on me fainting again. This doctor was a cancer survivor. He was kind and gentle. He told me that I would survive, too. Although the injection stung and burned, it was tolerable. Success! I did not faint. The doctor's parting words were that I should listen to my doctors and to my body.
I was given a bed in the Same Day Surgery Center to await my doctor. I had been poked, punctured, wired, and injected. I was exhausted, bruised, radioactive, and scared. I hadn’t even gotten to the hard part yet.