I woke up a little after 4 in the morning on Thursday, June 20. I took a good shower and scrubbed really well because I knew it’d be a long time before I’d be able to take a proper shower again.
For the operation, I wasn’t allowed to be wearing any lotions, scents, deodorants, nail polish, makeup, hair products, or anything else like that. It’s not like I even wanted to put anything on anyways. It’s hard to be bothered to do those things when you wake up in the middle of the night. And I stopped wearing deodorant when I was diagnosed with cancer. There’s that old wives’ tale about anti-perspirant causing or not being good for breast cancer. I don’t know if it’s true, but I am willing to do anything that would perhaps not aggravate the lumps.
My Dad and I arrived at the hospital for 6:30 on Thursday morning. I wasn’t allowed to have anything to eat or drink past midnight the night before. I cheated a little bit and had a few tiniest of sips of water in the morning so that I didn’t feel so completely dry. We checked in and were sent to the Pre-Op people. They quickly plopped me on a bed and had me change into a hospital gown. I took off my bra for the last time, only after I got a selfie of me still wearing it with real boobs. Sitting on the hospital bed, they got an IV in me and gave me a slow drip of fluids so that I wouldn’t get dehydrated.
At 7:15 they rolled my bed and I to the x-ray department so that I could be injected with a radioactive something or other into my breasts. They injected it just below the skin on top of the lumps. They purpose of this was so that my lymph nodes would pull the radioactive stuff from my breasts and into the first lymph node. This would show them which lymph node was the first one, because they would be removing the first lymph node on each side and then the next few sequential nodes. The removal of these nodes happens during surgery and they immediately test those lymph nodes for cancer to see if the cancer had spread to those lymph nodes. If they were to find cancer in the first node and the next sequential nodes, then they would then remove my lymph nodes during surgery.
The technologist giving me this injection warned me that these injections would be extremely painful. She said that it would feel like an intense burn and be very uncomfortable because there isn’t much space for the fluid under a little piece of skin. Her and I both expected it to be uncomfortable and painful for me, and also expected some screaming. She started with the lump in the left breast. I didn’t make a sound. She did the right breast and I finally let out a little “oh”. She said that that was amazing that it didn’t hurt me. She said everyone always finds it so insanely painful. It really wasn’t that bad though. I have felt much worse pain over the past few months from different tests, collapsing veins, and the fertility treatment.
After the x-ray department, they brought me back to the space I was in before and I continued to wait in my bed for a few hours until surgery. Dad was with me and he seemed a bit freaked out by it all. He’s kind of squeamish when he sees me hooked up to machines and the sort. My brother is the same way. Men! Dad was getting more nervous and he and the nurses thought it would be best if he said goodbye and go find an area of the hospital to read and wait in. I wanted him to stay to keep me company for the next 2-3 hours, but the nurses insisted that I needed as much rest as possible before the surgery and they didn’t want me to get myself worked up by talking to someone.
Waiting there was a bit boring. I had already packed away all my clothing, book, and belongings in a labeled plastic bag that had been sent off to somewhere in the hospital, and I wouldn’t see it again until after surgery. No books, no magazines. Just an IV, and freshly toasted warm hospital blankets to keep me snuggly and warm while I waited.
I was starting to feel hungry. And I did start to feel a little nervous and sad. I said goodbye to my breasts and waited for the operating team to call me up to prep me. An anesthetist came to talk to me 45 minutes before I went for surgery. We talked for a while. She looked over my medical history and recommended that I have an epidural. For the life of me, I cannot remember why it was that she suggested I do the epidural. I remember it had to do something with my medical history. It was something to do with either have sleep apnea, being allergic to codeine and sulpha, or maybe it was the recent fertility stuff and the ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome that I had. I can’t remember which one it was because of.
My memory has been really bad the past 6 days due to the medications and surgery. I am forgetting some things that occurred in the 12 hours before surgery. For instance, I knew that I had written a blog entry in the nighttime before surgery. But I absolutely could not remember what I had written. I had to reread the blog posting.
After speaking with the anesthetist, they wheeled me to another section. In there, I spoke briefly with my surgeon, who is a super great person, to go over some last minute things with each other. Then 3 anesthetists came to see me and get me satisfyingly doped up and content with things. The anesthetics were friendly. They started giving me something light so that the epidural wouldn’t hurt. (I seem to get even more chatty with medical staff and curious about what they are doing and why, when I’m given some numbing meds for medical procedures. I first discovered this when I went to the fertility clinic to have my egg retrieval done for freezing and preserving my eggs.) I started chatting away to the anesthetists for the short time I had left before going to sleep. I announced to all of them that I had just gone sunbathing topless at a public beach the day before because it was the “last chance I had to use my breasts while I still had them”, and that about 20 strangers all saw my breasts for a few hours. I even told them that because of the sun exposure, I managed to get a freckle on my right nipple and that I really liked it and had wished that it had happened years earlier instead of only getting a freckle now and then having my nipples removed just 18 hours later. Maybe once I get new nipples made, they will be able to freckle a bit as well.
The epidural’s effect happened instantly. It was so strange. One of the anesthetists was holding me while I sat with my legs hanging over the side of the bed and hunching my back over so that it was easy for them to stick the epidural in. As the anesthetist was holding me, I remember having my right arm just in front of my face on my lap. I was staring at it, and trying to figure out what on Earth it was. I remember the idea crossing my mind of it being a pig. I stared at it more and then thought that it was a man’s big hairy and tanned arm. I remember asking them what it was, they said it was my arm. I said that it couldn’t be my arm because it didn’t match my other arm and that it was a big man’s arm.
Then they lay me back down on the bed and they swiftly rolled me to the operating room. I looked into the procedure room and announced that it looked a bit spooky. There were some people already in the room scurrying around doing their parts. My surgeon was at a table talking to someone on the landline. I looked up at the 2 big lights above me and announced that they didn’t match one another. They told me to count backwards. I started at 1 and counted upwards as fast as I could, trying to get to 10. I was doped up and thought it was funny.
Then I woke up to see some people doing things around me and I thought to myself that I really only wanted to be fully supported in a cushiony resting seat thing and that the idea of me sleeping in my bed at home would be difficult and uncomfortable on my funny feeling body.
A few weeks ago, my parents had suggested that we get a comfortable couch in my bedroom for my use. So that when my body is feeling awful (from chemo and perhaps surgery), I would have other options for sleeping positions and areas, and also just to rest on it during the days when my body needs it. We thought we’d look at getting something later in the summer. But as soon as I woke up from surgery in the Recovery Room, I knew my body needed something sooner.
I woke up to see some people doing things around me. Probably doing something with my IV or medications. I asked the people around me if I had woken up on my own, or if they had given me something to wake me up. They said I’d woken on my own. I was thirsty and wanted water. They could only give me a cup filled with ice cubes though, because supposedly it’s too difficult for people who’ve come straight out of surgery to be able to stomach anything else. They were only able to give me a few small ice cubes every 10 minutes or so. A clock was on the wall straight in front of me Recovery Room. When I opened my eyes, it read 15:55. I was told that the operation had ended at 15:00. It had gone much longer than they had anticipated. It was supposed to end at 12:30, but my surgery started an hour later because the operation before mine was longer than expected. But even with my surgery starting an hour late, it was still a longer surgery than was originally planned. I thought then that maybe I’d lost a lot of blood, but they said I didn’t need a blood transfusion. I waited in that recovery room until a little after 17:00. They then rolled me through the hallways to the elevator and up to the area I would be staying overnight in. In the hallway, we passed a clock. I pointed to it saying that it was the wrong time, because it was just after 17:00 and that clock read 12:00.
I got up to my room. I met the nurse who would be taking care of me. She was about my age and was really nice. As she was in the middle of hooking up cables to me and the machines, my cell phone rang (my bag of belongings were there waiting for me). They nurse pulled out my phone for me and I answered. It was my friend Kelly. I don’t remember much of what was said. I remember her saying that she wasn’t actually expecting me to pick up, but she wanted to phone me. She thought it was funny that she got to talk to me before my parents got to see me.
My parents came to see me very shortly after I arrived there. They looked stressed and worried. It’s weird sitting in a hospital bed, looking down at my divorced parents sitting at the foot of the bed just watching me while they clearly look worried, tired, relieved, confused, and happy to see me.