Sunday, August 2, 2015

Leading up to surgery...

I was aimlessly walking around the mall looking for my 'post-op' mini-wardrobe while dealing with the fact that both of my parents had now had cancer. (My father had beaten prostate cancer a couple years prior to this.) I certainly wasn't dramatizing the mom was lucky. In fact, my father was lucky too. He never had to do chemo, but he did have a somewhat long road of radiation. Both of my parents were now survivors. We knew plenty of people who didn't get that privilege and others who had one heck of a fight to earn the status. I beg of you readers to please know that never once, never did my mom or myself think "why me." In fact, I'll pat my dad on the back here also and confidently say that I know he never thought that either. The three of us just aren't wired that way. We are fighters, sometimes silent, but always doing what we can to get what we want.

Forgive me, back to walking through the mall aimlessly...I was definitely a little shell shocked that both parents had officially been diagnosed with cancer. That's just scary. Period. I must have looked a little lost because before I knew it, a friend was standing right in front of me. She was waving at me and I never even saw her. She was literally right in front of me calling my name before I snapped into focus. I apologized then explained why I wasn't all there. I have no doubt that the good Lord made our paths cross that day. Turns out, she also had the BRCA gene, had undergonea double mastectomy and a complete hysterectomy. I had no idea! (Her story isn't mine to share, so I won't elaborate, but I will say that I am forever indebted to her and grateful for her help, advice, care packages, meals and her strong shoulder of support.)

I left the mall armed with my new wardrobe and the confidence that I would be through this in no time. T-minus two and a half weeks.

Let me bring you up to speed on my pre-op journey. When my OBGYN called to tell me I was BRCA positive, she referred me to a wonderful breast surgeon and also a plastic surgeon. I was still waiting for my daughter to finish dance class, and I had already scheduled my appointment with the breast surgeon. Turned out the plastic surgeon my OBGYN recommended didn't take my insurance. I called the breast surgeon back, asked for the name of two other plastic surgeons, then quickly made an appointment with the first one. I was in the breast surgeon's office by the end of the week.

I liked Dr. Lawson immediately. She was extremely calming, very knowledgable, reassuring and completely confident that I could get my surgery scheduled before the end of the year. She was one who quickly said something to the effect of, "if you were my daughter, we would schedule this surgery yesterday." Dr. Lawson agreed with my feelings of the sooner the better, and even made the comment that she was so happy to meet a patient that she didn't have to convince to have the surgery. So many of her patients in my situation had decided to wait out a year or two and 'see how it goes.' Many of them didn't make it two years before they were given a breast cancer diagnosis.

Since my mind was already made up, Dr. Lawson ordered the mammogram and the MRI. Her office began working to find a surgery date that would work for both her and the plastic surgeon (assuming I liked him.) I asked for her to please put me in contact with any former patients who went through the same procress. I was really wanting someone to spell it out for me. Tell me every little thing to expect. Surgery was completely foreign to me. I think I was mostly terrified of what it was going to feel like waking up from surgery. Would the pain be excruciating before I could call a nurse in for pain medication? Could they do something so I could skip that part altogether? Could pain meds be given before I even woke up? Oh my gosh, the questions I had...I had so many and she answered them all. Then she calmly said to relax, it will all be fine. So I did.

I met my plastic surgeon, Dr. Robbins, shortly after that. I liked him right away and decided to do whatever he suggested. I begged him to do the FULL reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy. Please, I begged, spare me the long and painful process of having tissue expanders. Just put implants right in there, make it look good and call it a day. Easy! Infact, I was even planning on having the full hysterectomy that same day as well. My OBGYN said that would be fine but Dr. Robbins and Dr. Lawson quickly vetoed that. They were both insistent that the hysterectomy be done at a later date. Just too much shock for the system for one day. Dr. Robbins was also adamant that I go the route of tissue expanders. He explained that he would need to create a pocket for the implant (since I didn't have implants at the time), but had I already had implants he could put some right back in and skip the tissue expanders. He was certain that I would be much happier with the outcome if I did that. He could take his time, and guarantee that everything would look great, if not better than my current appearance. He was certain that if we put implants right in I wouldn't be as happy with the outcome and would require another nip, tuck or two. I reluctantly agreed to have the expanders. I left his office that day feeling a little down, but I was confident that he knew what he was doing.

Next stop was my MRI. My MRI was completely humiliating because I'm very claustrophobic and my cat-like reflexes kept preventing me from allowing the bed to roll into the tunnel with me on it.  One very strong Xanax, lots of tears, and a super sweet nurse who popped in some earplugs and sat next to me to hold my hand (for 31 minutes)...and I did it. I'm not sure I would have been able to complete it otherwise. I wasn't prepared for the complete and utter racket that is an MRI. I was in a metal tunnel on my stomach for nearly 30 minutes. Every few minutes or so a series of loud banging would start and continue for about five minutes. That was a miserable experience for me, but thankfully it was over. I know open MRI machines do exist, but I wasn't given that option and time was of the essence to me.

Having never had a breast MRI before, I was certainly uneasy about what might show up. Luckily things looked fine and I was cleared for surgery. I met with both my breast surgeon and my plastic surgeon once more for quick pre-op appointments, then it was go time.

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