Thursday, February 09, 2006

it wasn't that bad

My father-in-law says that, during his cancer treatment, he had to ask his spouse to stop being so nice to him - he was finding it disconcerting. His wife is a lovely woman and they seem to get along just fine, but I do take his point.

If food equals love, I am very loved indeed. My fridge, freezer and cupboards are bulging with wonderful food (both healthy and decadent). Friends have brought me flowers, books and a host of wonderful presents. I have been overwhelmed by this outpouring of support.
And I'm enjoying every minute of it.

I wonder if it will all stop once I tell how this business of having a mastectomy is not that bad after all.

The hardest part was saying goodbye to my spouse in the waiting room. Or rather several goodbyes. Before the nurse made him leave.

From then on, I was very well taken care of by everyone at the hospital - doctors, nurses, orderlies, volunteers. The hospital staff did everything they could to keep me warm and comfortable (heated blankets!). The surgeon came to see me to answer any final questions. He told me that he knew it was going to go well.

The last thing I remember after walking into the OR and climbing up on the table is a brief moment of panic (a nurse was arranging some very scary looking surgical instruments) before the anesthetist started asking about my kids and I relaxed and drifted off.

I woke up in the recovery room. I was thirsty. And hungry. And in pain. Water, crackers and Demerol were administered in short order and I lay there for some hours, oblivious to the passage of time.

My surgeon came in to check on me at some point and delivered the news that the tumour in my breast had not affixed itself to my chest wall (good news in terms of cancer treatment and recovery from surgery, as it meant that Dr. M. did not need to cut into my chest muscles).

By 3:15, eight hours after arriving at the hospital, I was on my way home.

I never thought I'd say this, but I now understand why mastectomies are done as day surgery. I was in my own bed, able to see my kids. I felt safe and, well, 'at home'. I'm sure this contributed to my recovery.

A home care nurse came the night of my surgery (administered another lovely shot of Demerol), the next day and one last time yesterday to change my bandage. Since the first day, I have managed with Tylenol 2s for pain (and I'm no hero when it comes to pain management).

And here's the most surprising part. It doesn't even look that bad. One incision. A neat row of staples that will be removed in a week's time. That's the upside of imagining the worst. When I screwed up the courage to take a peek after surgery, I fully expected to see a bloody stump where my breast used to be. Instead, there was just a single narrow bandage that ran the breadth of my chest. And it's healing well.

Today I even went out for lunch. With a baggy jacket on. No prosthethis until the healing is a little further along.

Right now, the worst I have to contend with is swelling in the area where the lymph nodes were removed and in my upper arm. It can still be painful but even that is getting better with time, elevation and exercise.

My surgeon should call in the next day or two with my pathology report (grade, stage, and the results of tests for hormone receptivity). I assume that I will be meeting an oncologist shortly after that and in a few weeks time, chemotherapy will start. I've already lined up a friend who spent many years bald by choice, to shave my head before chemo does its worst.

When I admitted to struggling with letting people do all these things for me, a friend said, "We are grateful to you. When something like this happens, people feel powerless. Helping makes us feel less powerless." That helped a lot. People are doing for me and for themselves. That makes it easier to accept.

I really believe that if I am doing well, it's because of all the caregivers in my life, at the hospital, at home and in my community. There are moments when this all seems too awful for words. My arm hurts. I'm exhausted. And scared. But it helps immeasurably to know that I am not going through this alone.

This is why I am also grateful to the friend who opened a phone conversation with, "Are you listing to one side?" Her girlfriend was appalled but I couldn't stop laughing. That was a gift, too.

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