Monday, February 27, 2017

Round 1

I lost track of time through this period.  I don't know the exact dates that things happened for a while.  I do know what happened, so we'll stick to the what and not so much the when.  It's funny how when something like this happens, it all becomes a blur.  There are things about this time in my life that I only know by the date of service on the bills.  If it weren't for that, I would have no idea when anything happened.  The mind spends all of it's time trying to wrestle with the idea that you could die.  It's that simple.  You know deep down inside that there's a solution, but you can't help but wonder what happens if there's not.  Just getting through the day and making it through work, family, house, pets, and so forth takes up your conscious mind.  The other stuff makes it so you can't sleep or focus or enjoy your life at all. You spend a lot of time wondering if you should  laugh, cry, scream or kill something.  It's one of those times in your life where you honestly don't know how to act or what to think, or who to believe, or what to say.  The problem is that most times that you feel this way in life only last a very short time.  This time was to last for me an unnaturally long time.

I went to see the surgeon the following week.  I'd had high hopes that he wouldn't be a schmuck and I got lucky.  He was reasonable and had a great bed side manner.  He was caring and spoke in a language that we could understand.  We found out that what I had was called DCIS or stage 0 breast cancer.  It forms in the milk ducts of the breast and can stay contained inside the milk ducts for an undetermined amount of time.  Until it breaks out of the duct so to speak, it won't hurt you.

The surgeon gave us a couple of options.  He said that I could have a lumpectomy and they would take out the clusters that were biopsied and were malignant.  I could also have a total mastectomy.  If I had the mastectomy I had the option to have a reconstruction or not.  He said that the recovery was four to six weeks for the total mastectomy.  It would be longer if I had a reconstruction than if I didn't.  If I had the lumpectomy it would be a shorter recovery altogether.  He explained how the reconstruction worked and a bunch of other things that I would need to know to decide what I would like to do.  I'd seen the ultrasound of my breast and I knew that the calcifications were like snow inside the breast.  They had only biopsied a couple of clusters.  We didn't know what was up with the rest of the spots.

So, mastectomy would be an option.  The breast tissue would be removed and a lymph node, called the sentinel node would be checked to make sure there was no cancer in the lymph nodes.  There would be a scar all the way across my chest and under my armpit.  I would have to have a tube or drain coming out my side for a short period to drain liquids from the area after the surgery.  I would most likely have to get a prosthetic breast to keep my spine from curving due to the imbalance in my chest.  I thought it was kind of funny, because I don't have much of a chest anyway, but I'm told that it still makes a difference.

If I were to opt for the reconstruction it would be a few more weeks.  The breast reconstruction is a process.  They put the inserts under your chest muscle and stretch it over time.  Once the muscle is stretched to the desired position, the insert is put in and then you can recuperate and get back to life.  There's a catch.  You could get an infection.  Your body could reject it.  Now, if none of that happens, you still need to have another surgery to replace the thing every ten to twelve years.  So, extra surgery, extra hazard, extra time.  Honestly, I couldn't believe that people have breast implants just for cosmetic reasons after I heard how it works.  I knew immediately that option was not for me.

The lumpectomy sounds great, but it's perilous in situations like mine.  It's great if you only have a localized area of problem.  In my case, I was worried that I would have it done and then over time find out that the rest of the calcifications were malignant and have to go back and have more surgery.  I didn't want to do that.

Here's the thing.  I am vain, but not vain enough to have a reconstruction.  What happened inside my head was that two of my traits were in direct conflict.  I wanted to have a reconstruction at that time.  Looking back, I would have been nuts to do that.  Always look ahead.  If I'd known then what I know now, I never would have considered such a ridiculous option.  Anything that makes this process last longer just for the sake of vanity is not worth it.  I've decided that people who have breast implants for their looks are nuts.  I'm sorry, but Angelina Jolie having surgery because she might get cancer someday is nuts.  Never have surgery unless you have to.

That was my conflict.  I have had surgery before.  I vowed a long time ago never to have surgery unless I need it.  I also vowed not to take any medication that I don't absolutely need.  It didn't take long of reading about my options after that appointment before I decided that I would definitely not have reconstruction if I were to have the mastectomy.  I was actually very proud of myself for that decision.  Vanity did not win.  I felt like I had a lot of depth as a person to not opt for the reconstruction.

But, while we were still at the doctor, we wanted to get some advice.  He was very reluctant to tell us his opinion about what he thought I should do.  He covered all the information and told us that we should take a notebook and write down questions as we thought of them so that when we came back for the second visit and made decisions that we would have the questions that we wanted to ask with us.  It was a great idea, but we already had one very important question.

My husband finally asked him straight out, "If this was happening to your wife, what would you recommend?"  The doctor was a little surprised at the direct question, but he said that he would recommend the total mastectomy with a reconstruction.  With that information, we went home to make some hard decisions.  We decided that we would make an appointment after we'd had time to figure it out.

After the appointment, I did a lot of research.  My husband did some too.  We talked about it off and on for a few days.  He didn't want to tell me what to do.  I'm a stubborn, self sufficient woman who likes to make up her own mind.  My husband loves me and doesn't want to influence me in these situations, because if something goes wrong I will put him through hell.  After 18 years of marriage, he knew that well.  He's a good man, and he knows when to let me go.

After a few days, I told my husband that I thought I should get the total mastectomy with no reconstruction.  He smiled.  That was what he was hoping I would say.  Now, we just had to make arrangements and get it done.  Round 1 was done.  Decisions were made and now we had to move forward.  I called the surgeon and made another appointment so that we could get started and get it done before my mind drove me nuts with possibilities and emotions.

I felt good that vanity hadn't won out.  I was happy that I had made a solid decision and that I was doing the responsibly thing.  I thought that I had it all figured out.  I was about to start down a very long road.

As I go on with my story, remember that it includes a lot of personal challenges as well as the medical ones.  Once again, I'm telling this story that is truly unique as is any cancer story.  I wanted to put it out there hoping to help someone else cope with this situation.  I hope it helps at least one person.

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