TL;DR: I’m nearly over the second of the three big challenges — chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy. I had an operation yesterday for conservative breast surgery and I am doing well.
I’m just a pincushion, gotta face the facts…
On Tuesday I had a Herceptin injection (I’ll continue to have them every three weeks through March) which turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than expected: it took three nurses, four attempts and half-an-hour to get a good intravenous feed. I have small, deep, crooked blood vessels that “roll” easily — it’s a family thing, my mother and sister have them too.
I hate when the only vein the staff can use are the ones on the back of the hand; however, this time we then graduated to trying the one on the back of the thumb, and it made me forget all the others before. Finally, the third nurse to try hit a very nice one on my wrist without missing a beat. Yay! The infusion itself was nothing to speak of.
DC chillin, PG chillin…
On Thursday I had to go to the Nuclear Medicine Department to get injected with a radioactive tracer that would make it possible to locate my lymph nodes during the surgery. Unfortunately, the normal courier apparently never showed up with the radio-tracer doses (there was another woman waiting for the same.) The staff had to call for another delivery.
Given that the isotopes have a half-life of six hours, this stuff is made as late as possible before use, which minimizes exposure, release of radioactivity and potential for incidents. As a friend who works for another health care network points out, hospitals also hate to deal with unused doses from patient no-shows.
Anyhow, I had arrived 15 minutes early for my 11:00am appointment, and we started at 12:45pm! So I chilled in a hospital gown for two hours — really chilled, as the air conditioning in that place is hardcore. Then after injection I had to wait 30 minutes and massage the area to help the tracer spread. So here I am in the waiting room, fondling my breast… Good thing by then everyone else had left.
And on Friday morning I woke up with a sore throat.
Ready to cut you down…
Friday was the Big Day. I had to check in at Admitting at 8:15am. I was fasting since midnight, I had prepared all my belongings and clothes the night before, I had showered then washed the incision area with the special towelettes moistened with some godawful chemicals, I had taken my prescriptions and stopped drinking even water by 7am. I was ready.
Except for forgetting my wallet, which I was sure I had pocketed. Edmund went back home to look for it, without luck. Fortunately, the hospital staff have seen it all before. They asked me a series of identifying questions, and concluded I wasn’t there to get unprescribed surgery for fun so I was admitted. They took me to Hospital Ambulatory Services (which they always refer to as HAS) to change into the fetching hospital gown, answer many more questions, get my vital signs, etc.
A very nice nurse went through the long questionnaire with me and entered my responses in her computer. One of the questions was whether I had any children or minor dependents, and I said no. Then a page or two later, another asked whether I had had children. The nurse gave me a surprised “No children?” then asked how long I had been married. “Twenty years this year,” I told her. She chuckled and said “Oh, then your husband is your child, right? Or your cats.” I had a fraction of a second’s hesitation, but decided it was not the time for my feminist manifesto, so I gave the most sincere chuckle I could manage.
It took two tries and two nurses to install my IV… After all this they led Edmund in to sit with me. He was kicked out again briefly when the surgeon came to check whether she could detect the radio-marked lymph nodes, and decided we also needed blue dye tracer. (I peed blue or light green for the next 24 hours.) She wanted to able to obtain at least three sentinel nodes for biopsy.
It was pretty disconcerting in that room to be between a patient who seemed to sleep soundly, based on his basso snore, and a woman who whimpered in pain until a doctor convinced her to accept an injection. After a little bit more waiting, I was finally rolled out to the operating room and Edmund had to return to the Surgery waiting room.
Because I was having conservative breast surgery, a.k.a. “lumpectomy”, this is normally a short (one to two hours) outpatient procedure with local anaesthesia and sedation, rather than general anaesthesia. I met with the anaesthesia and surgical team, heard the pre-op briefing so we’re all sure they’re operating the right patient for the right thing, then I don’t remember anything after that in the OR.
I understand the procedure took two hours and I was wheeled out to the recovery room. There, more very nice nurses took care of me. I am very grateful to Sirta, who told me as soon as I stopped being loopy that the operation had gone well and that two preliminary biopsy results were negative. He was very kind, and he put my mind to ease — the biopsies are what I’ve been worried about, not the surgery. He gave me some painkillers and arranged for a prescription, then took me back to the HAS room to finish waking up with some company (family and friends can’t go to the recovery room.)
When I got there, I found myself next to another woman who had had almost exactly the same operation: conservative breast surgery to the left breast. However, she was in severe pain. I overheard part of the staff’s discussion; apparently she had already had difficulties during the chemotherapy treatment (I’m not sure what), and in the OR they had to switch to general anaesthesia instead of local plus sedation. She had been given two painkillers in the recovery room but was not improving enough in the HAS room so she had to be wheeled back to recovery to get more care. My heart was going out to her.
Edmund arrived a moment later then went to get my prescription, sending our friend Dorene, who had been keeping him company during the operation, to HAS to see me. They kept me company until I was both allowed and able to leave. By then I was doing pretty well; the areas of incision and biopsy were pretty tender, of course, but the painkillers were doing their job. To my surprise and delight, I had no nausea. In fact, I was hungry, having been fasting since the night before.
I’ll be eating that sushi all day…
I suggested that Edmund, Dorene and I go to a Japanese restaurant in our area, Kamameshi House, where I could at the very least have miso soup and rice. And I discovered that I was hungry enough to eat a real meal! I finished my bento box, except for some rice. Yay!
Finding myself sitting with friends in a nice restaurant with nice company, without much pain, I congratulated myself for my choice of surgery. It’s not for every case, obviously, and certainly the poor woman I had heard in the HAS room was not having the same experience at all, but for me it felt great.
And when I got home, I found that I had indeed left my wallet on my desk, buried under paperwork. I had already checked online, from my phone, that there was no activity on the cards, but it was nice not to have to go through the hassle of replacing everything. I went to bed and slept! Today I spent much time reading the astounding number of well-wishes from friends. I love you all, you’re so kind!
Today Dr. Chen, my surgeon, called to check on me and assured me she would call again as soon as the official test results were in, so we’ll know if any additional surgery is needed.