The time of injecting poisons is over. The time of cutting out pieces is coming.
We had good news from her surgeon – pending the results of her genetic test discovering that she is loaded down with cancer genes the surgeon recommended a lumpectomy and removal of guardian lymph nodes for biopsy. This is an outpatient procedure – she will come home on the same day as surgery unless there are complications.
Complications, of course, scare the living hell out of me. Heart attack, blood clots, bleeding, sepsis – there is a veritable parade of possible disasters, albeit highly unlikely ones, associated with the surgery. Most likely among them is the discovery of cancer cells in the lymph nodes (which are biopsied on the spot during surgery) or in her chest wall which will require the surgery to transform into a mastectomy – longer, with more sedation, and consequently more risk of all sorts of disasters and side effects befalling.
This possibility, along with the fact that a) the hospital won’t schedule the time for the surgery until a few days prior to the event, and b) even then the surgery can be bumped if there is an emergency , makes me suspect that the day of the surgery will be very stressful indeed. In my mind I have already constructed the scenario in which surgery is scheduled for 8:00 am, then gets repeatedly bumped, then gets transformed from lumpectomy to double mastectomy. The next piece that I am working on at the moment is the inevitable heart attack under anesthesia.
As of yet the scenario does not involve the hospital catching fire, the San Andreas Fault shifting, or any form of alien invasion – but I am pretty sure that I will be able to get in some worry time about those before the actual date of the surgery.
At the same time there is vast relief. If the surgery can be conducted as an outpatient operation, that means that she will be home sooner, and recover sooner. She really needs some time to recover – the last chemo continues to be hard on her and she is not recovering as well as she has in previous infusions. Watching her being so sick, so weak, seeing the chemical burns on her arm where the infusions have gone in, watching her lose her hair – knowing that there was little I could do about any of it other than feed her soup and try day by day to find some food, any food that she would like, it has broken my heart to see her this way. If things go as planned she will continue to improve now with the surgery only a speed bump in her recovery. Soon she will have an appetite. Soon food will no longer taste strange to her. Already her hair is starting to grow back.
Today is our twentieth anniversary. This isn’t the way I had thought about spending it – if the world was fair and reasonable cancer would have no place at one’s twentieth. But of course the world isn’t like that – we aren’t the first couple to face cancer on our anniversary – thinking of all the people I have seen at the infusion center, there are couples facing it right now with both longer and shorter relationship histories than our own. And of course we receive the most precious gifts we can get on this anniversary – the hard work and dedication of hundreds, thousands of those who have gone before us to perfect the techniques and methods and drugs that we benefit from in her cancer treatment. Chemotherapy for breast cancer has only been around since 1975. Sentinel lymph node biopsy was developed in 1993. The five major types of breast cancer were not finally delineated until 2013. During the twenty years that we have been married both the occurrence and the mortality rate for breast cancer have declined consistently.
Chemo brought on it’s nest of worries, and surgery will bring on a somewhat different, but equally frightening nest as well. But at least she has made it through the first part. At least WE have made it through the first part. And knowing we can make it through one part we now have hope for what is to come.