The first week of December was a blur of doctor’s appointments! On Tuesday, December 4th I had three different appointments. The first was with a physical therapist. She took some measurements and then explained all about Lymphedema. According to the American Cancer Society, “Lymphedema is a build-up of lymph fluid in the fatty tissues just under your skin. It usually develops slowly over time. The swelling can range from mild to severe. It can start soon after surgery or radiation treatment. But it can also begin months or even many years later. Women who have many lymph nodes removed and women who have had radiation therapy for breast cancer have a higher risk of getting lymphedema.” The physical therapist showed me some exercises that I will be able to do after the surgery to minimize the risk of getting lymphedema. 30% of women that have lymph nodes removed get lymphedema – so I was a little worried about it. She made me feel a little better about my situation.
My second appointment was with my plastic surgeon, Dr. E. We reviewed all that we discussed at our first appointment. I confirmed that I was planning on having a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Dr E. showed Earle and me the drains that I would have after the surgery and how to take care of them. The drains will help keep the swelling and bruising down and help me to heal faster. He also explained about the expanders that he would insert after the surgeon finished his part of the surgery. A few weeks after the surgery, he will begin to gradually expand the expanders so that my skin will have time to adjust. When I am comfortable with the new size (or it hurts too much to keep expanding!) it will be time for the second surgery to insert the correct size implant. Then the nurse took a picture of me from the neck down so that Dr. E. will have a picture to guide the reconstruction. It is so hard to imagine all of this happening to me! He also said that he thought we could schedule the surgery soon enough so that I could get the drains out by Christmas. Wow! That will be quick!
Next stop Dr. N., the breast surgeon! He also reviewed what we discussed at our last appointment. He started to explain my options for surgery – I stopped him and told him that we had already decided that I would have a bilateral mastectomy. He was very relieved that he didn’t have to talk me into it! He explained the procedure for the surgery. He would operate first and then Dr. E. would take over. He also explained how he planned to do a sentinel node biopsy and then said that he and Dr. E. had to figure out when they could coordinate their schedules. He wanted to do the surgery right away. Ideally, the surgery should be 2-3 weeks after my last chemo which was on November 23rd. My nurse navigator then came in to see if we had any questions. We were a little disappointed that we didn’t know when the surgery would be yet. That afternoon I got a call from Calvert Memorial Hospital to schedule my pre-op appointment! I hadn’t even heard when my surgery was scheduled, but I guess Dr. E. put in the paperwork for the surgery. Since I had a PET Scan scheduled at 11 am on Thursday, I scheduled my Pre-op at 1 pm. Another no work day for me.
On Wednesday, December 5th, I had an appointment to have my blood levels checked. When I got there I found out that they were doing some work on the room where they take blood. I had an appointment for Relexology in a half hour, so we decided that I should go over there (the buildings are across the parking lot from each other) and be on time for my appointment. It was a mild day so I walked between the buildings to get a little exercise. Once again, I enjoyed chatting with Melinda while she did her magic on my feet and helped to reduce my stress about the upcoming surgery. After my hour of bliss, I walked back across the parking lot to have my blood drawn. I got back to the Infusion Center just in time. Since I wasn’t having chemo the next day the Lab Tech had to access my port. I have to come back in a month to have my port flushed. It was strange to not be going to my oncologist’s office afterward – since I wasn’t having chemo for a while the Nurse Practitioner was just going to call me with the results. I got some lunch and headed off to work. That afternoon I finally got the call – my surgery was scheduled for 7:30 am on Tuesday, December 11th! Yikes! That’s less than a week away. At least I didn’t have too long to worry about it.
That night I met my sister, Dana, at a Christmas Concert to benefit the Center for Breast Care. I figured that it would be my only chance to do a Christmasy thing this year and it was definitely a good cause! During the intermission, my Nurse Navigator introduced me to another woman named Robin. She was a breast cancer survivor and she was having some surgery related to her breast cancer the next week. She looked so healthy and happy and she was so positive. I was happy to meet her. It turns out that we were both scheduled for surgery on Tuesday at 7:30! Dr. E. would be operating on her while Dr. N. was operating on me. Then Dr. E. would operate on me. That was how they were able to schedule the surgery so quickly! What a small world.
On Thursday morning, I got up early to eat breakfast because I couldn’t eat 4 hours prior to my PET scan. We got to the Imaging Center and I had to fill out all those medical forms again – even though I had all of my mammograms and biopsies there. I can’t believe that I now have to write yes to breast cancer on these forms. I still haven’t gotten used to writing that my mother is deceased. I then got taken back by the Tech. She took me to a quiet, dimly lit alcove. It had a recliner similar to the ones at the Infusion Center. The Tech started an IV and injected a radioactive tracer element. I then had to drink an unpleasant liquid called contrast which she said would make pretty pictures. I was very glad that I didn’t have to drink it all! Yuck! Then she told me to rest quietly for about 40 minutes. I closed my eyes and tried to relax. I think I may have dozed off. Then the Tech had me use the restroom and take off my bra because of the metal hooks. Then I went into the room with the PET scan – which stands for positron emission tomography. I laid down on the platform and it slid back into the PET scanner. A few minutes later the Tech came back and asked me I had rivets in my jeans. Which of course I did! She had me pull my pants down to my knees – slightly undignified! Then I was slid back into the scanner. I had to lie still for about 35 minutes. It was much more comfortable than the breast MRI at least. Finally, I was allowed to leave.
I had to rush over to the hospital for my 1 pm Pre-op appointment. Luckily, Earle called ahead to tell them I was running late. We had to wait a little while because I was late. Oh well. The Pre-Op appointment was pretty easy because I had my port placed there. The nurse reviewed all my info and said I didn’t need to have blood drawn because I had my Labs done the day before. She was worried about my White Blood Count because it was only 3300. She called Dr. N. to see if that was too low to have surgery. He said it was fine – so we dodged that bullet! Finally time for some lunch.
We decided to head to Annapolis. I wanted to go to A Special Touch and Earle wanted to go to Annapolis Home Brew. I wanted to look for a new scarf and see about getting a post- surgical camisole. I read in another woman’s blog that it was helpful to have one. I was talked out of buying it by the store owner because it was $70 and she said my doctor might give me something like it in the hospital. She said that the pockets for the drains would only be useful if I was a “juicy” girl and had my drains in for a long time. I was pretty sure the one I saw in The American Cancer Society’s catalog, “TLC”, was cheaper. I figured that I would talk to the doctor’s office and order one if needed. I didn’t see any scarves I liked. Oh well.
We headed over to Annapolis Home Brew on Ritchie Hwy. On the way there, we passed by an accident on Ritchie Hwy and I said, “I’m glad that’s not us.” We went to the store and Earle was able to find the things he needed to brew his next batch of beer. At least it wasn’t a wasted trip! The traffic was backed up going back down Ritchie Hwy because of the accident we saw earlier. We complained about the rubber-neckers. Earle was getting over to the right lane, so that we could get off on our exit when the traffic in front of us came to unexpected quick stop. He slammed on the brakes and we had just enough time to say, “Thank God the brakes held!” Then we got hit from behind! Hard! Earle jumped out to see if the other people were okay. We got hit so hard my hat and my halo flew off.!! I was frantically trying to get my hat and hair back on before someone came to check on me. An ambulance came pretty quickly. Someone in the other car was injured. An EMT came to my window and asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. I told him that I had been at the hospital most of the day already and that this wasn’t the worst thing that would happen to me this week! Luckily, I really did feel okay. Earle was a little sore. They had to pull the other car’s bumper out from under our bumper. Their car seemed to be totaled but ours was drivable. We took a deep breath and kept moving!
We were only a little shaken up, so we continued with our plan to go to the Annapolis Mall. I wanted to look for some comfy, button-down shirts to wear after the surgery. We looked at a few stores, but couldn’t really find anything that fit the bill. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and the few things I found were too expensive. Oh well. We didn’t much feel like shopping for long after the accident anyway. We didn’t feel up to a big dinner out either, so we just stopped at Subway. It was pretty tasty. Time to get home for bed! I had a card with an Amazon gift card from Alice, one high school friend, and a package from Theresa,another high school friend, waiting for me when I got home. The package had a necklace in it that said “Courage” – just what I need right now! Love my Seton Sisters!!!
Friday was my last real work day before surgery. I went over to my school to say good-bye and finally, thanks to my Asst Director, the paperwork for my medical leave was heading to the right office. Once it is in, people will have the opportunity to donate leave to me. That would be a really big help. It was an easy day at work. I said good-bye to a co-worker that would retire before I got back to work. She actually lives quite close to me, so maybe we will run into each other one day! That night I met Tina and Janet, 2 high school friends, for dinner at On The Border for dinner. Dinner was delicious and I even had a cocktail!! It was so nice to relax and enjoy time with friends. I came home to beautiful Tulips from my cousin Patty and her family. So sweet!
On Saturday, Dana and her girls and I headed over to my Aunt Mary Anne’s house to see all my cousins. They wanted a chance to me before my surgery. Patty and her family were here from CT and Mary Anne, Joey and Robert all made time to see me. My Dad was there as well which was really nice. It was so nice to visit with my cousins and remember the “good old days”!
I left my aunt’s house and headed over to Annapolis to meet Maureen, Gina, Renee and Tina B., 4 of my other Seton Sisters, at Red Robin in honor of me! All of us were wearing red but one! I jokingly said, “I guess you didn’t get the memo!” We laughed and we joked and I lived it up and had another yummy cocktail. Wish we had taken a picture that night. Rev. Tina led us all in a wonderful prayer for my successful surgery. Gina gave me some fun Pink Ribbon Redskin socks. Hail! On Sunday, the Redskins beat the Ravens in overtime!!! Lucky socks!!!
On Monday, I went to work for the last time and none of my co-workers were there! One is always off on Monday, one was in a class and one was sick! Thank Goodness someone at Outdoor Rec had my supervisor’s phone number at home because my time sheet was locked up! She promised to turn it in for me since I wouldn’t be back! I went over to the main office to make sure all the paperwork was submitted to the right people for my medical leave. On my way there, the oncologist’s office called to say that the plastic surgeon was worried about my low white blood count and wanted me to get a Neupogen shot that afternoon and the morning of the surgery. Rite Aid didn’t have the shots in the store, so she had arranged for me to get two shots from the hospital pharmacy. They didn’t have the normal pre-filled syringes. She would give me one shot that afternoon and pre-fill the other syringe. She was leaving at 4 pm so I would have to hurry up to get there on time!! I ran into the office and signed a few things and wrote a check for medical coverage while I was out on leave. The paperwork was finally in place for people to donate leave to me. Whew! I rushed out of there and drove the 50 miles back to the hospital and then waited in line at the pharmacy. It cost $100.00 for the 2 shots! Yikes! She was waiting for me when I got to the office and she gave me the shot. She told me to tell Earle not to stick the needle it in as far as he usually does because it is a bigger needle than we usually have! Great.
That night we went out to dinner for my “last supper” before surgery. We went to the Applebee’s near our house and tried to enjoy a relaxing meal. After dinner, we went to Peeble’s to look for a button-down shirt again. The only soft button-down shirts I could find were men’s flannel shirts – so I bought a light blue one. I also found Christmas pajamas for the girls and me! Yeah! One important Christmas tradition that I could participate in this year! It would probably be the only Christmas shopping I would do this year.
We went home and tried to find a way to say good-bye to the old me. Time just kept ticking away closer and closer to surgery time. Lots of well wishes from friends and family helped pass the time. It still didn’t feel real. Some how we made it through the night. Lots of love and lots of prayers!!! I tried to visualize being in my “happy place”, but I had a hard time focusing on just one place! I just kept saying to myself, “By this time tomorrow the surgery will be over!” To be continued….