I'm going under.
“Did you do your pre-surgery check up yet?”. Only one week to surgery, and I forgot that the only appointment cancer secretary does not make is the checkup and blood test with my GP. I’m now in fire drill mode.
I met with the genetic counselor the Monday after my Friday meeting with the surgeon. I went through their battery of questions. The outcome? I had a 2-7% chance of testing Positive for the BRCA gene. I’m a numbers gal, so I’ll take those odds and skip the test. This means I can move my surgery date up by a MONTH. In my mind, the speed of getting the tumor out is more important than satisfying an emotional urge to take a test and wait when the outcome will most likely be negative.
That was the first hurdle of my flow chart, so with that box eliminated, I called cancer nurse and moved my surgery date from Valentine’s Day to January 17th. This means all my other appointments move up. My radioactive seed implantation changes, my pre-surgery check up, and all of those surrounding appointments.
I can’t believe I forgot about my GP. I’m the manager of the timeline, and that got away from me. I’m lucky they can take me that day, and that there is a blood lab right in the building. I get my blood test 30 minutes before they close. Maybe all of this has not sunk in yet. Maybe I’m off my game.
I’m winding up my job from last year as Social Media Manager for a costume and party supply company. It’s really unfortunate as this would be the perfect job for a cancer person. I work remotely and can work at my own pace as long as I hit my deadlines and daily posts. Unfortunately, the company was bought out and my job is moving in-house in the Midwest. How can I look for a job let alone work with all these appointments and an uncertain future. Having a job would make me feel normal. I’m still in shock and have to realize that I was only diagnosed one week ago. I feel fine, and I can do my job, but I’m obviously on a learning curve of my cancer job.
As a project manager, I’ve had many last-minute screw-ups, some of my own creation, that I was able to fix at the eleventh hour and everything turned out OK. My pre-op exam and blood test was no different. I sweet-talked my way into the GP, and have until 5 pm to get my blood test. I wiggle in just before closing.
Three days before surgery, I am going to have a radioactive seed implanted into the center of the tumor. Breast cancer doesn’t look like the shadowy blob that it does mammogram. It’s still squishy pink flesh. So, they implant this seed to find the tumor during surgery with a Geiger Counter. No kidding.
I quickly forget it’s called a seed and start calling it a “bean”, which I like better anyway. I visualize this magic bean leading the surgeon to my tumor like a beacon. I have to have anesthesia to get the bean, but just a minor amount, Still, I lie awake three nights before surgery, wondering about the bean and what that will be like.
On magic bean day, I go to radiology and they numb me up. No REAL anesthesia, just numbing like they did years ago when they put a metal clip in my right breast. They use ultrasound to guide the bean. Once inserted, they hold a Geiger counter to my left breast and it makes that sci-fi Thermin sound that we all know from 60s movies.
They tell me to go get a mammogram to make sure the bean is in the right place. This is something again, I did not know. Was I supposed to make this appointment? Am I utter shit at project managing my own breast cancer? No, the woman says. They should have told you, but you can just walk in. They bean planter will call mammography to expect me. I’m back in the waiting room where I was last crying over the sudden death of Blind Alan. I’m called in and there it is. The bean is in the right place and working its magic.
The oddest instruction you're given after radioactive bean is implanted is not hold a baby for more than 20 minutes. WHAT? I could nuke a baby? I just thought this was mild radiation, not enough to nuke a baby if I held it too long. There’s probably ZERO chance of my holding a baby in the next three days but I do have a CAT that like to sleep on me. She plops herself down on my pillow, right by my head and neck. She’s got her own homing device for parking her furry butt in the worst possible place. Laptop keyboard. Open newspaper. Sunburned area. Recent injury. She’ll find it with her own fuzzy Geiger counter. I asked the doctor, “What if my cat lies on it when I’m sleeping?”
“It will be fine”, they answer. They probably don’t care if I nuke my cat. Cats aren’t babies, but this cat is all I have left now that Blind Alan is gone. I refuse to call my cat “my baby” but she’s more important to me than a baby, especially now.
Pre-op selfie, magic bean and all.
T minus two days and counting. I will not be staying in the hospital. I do need someone to pick me up since I will have general anesthesia. I’ve been doing most of these appointments on my own because I don’t want to bother Kevin with any of this. This has got to be so weird for him. It’s weird for me. I joked, “I found the one thing that Kevin can’t fix”, which went over REAL well. I think it’s WORSE for him. it’s harder to be a spectator and feel powerless than it is to be the patient taking an active role in treatment. It’s harder for me to watch someone else go through a difficult time. Kevin is giving me extra love during this time, but he has his own needs and I don’t want mine to eclipse that. I can take anything.
This is when I find my stage. Day of surgery, I’m back in Radiology to inject me with radioactive dye which travels from my breast into my lymphatic system. The first lymph nodes to light up are called the Sentinel Lymph nodes, the first to carry my gelatinous goo from the breast into my body. They will do a biopsy on those nuclear nodes. If they are clear, then I am stage 1. If they have cancer, I am stage 3, and they keep removing lymph nodes until they get clear ones. They used to take them all automatically, but that leads to complications so they only remove those they need. Oddly enough, Kevin and my family would find out what stage I am before I came out of anesthesia.
I take a selfie going in. It’s the first day of my new life. I have no idea what lies ahead. I can only face what’s right in front of me. I’m still a numbers gal. My father taught me something uncertain situations: there’s the possible, and there’s the probable. Anything is possible, but if you ruled you decisions by the possible, you would never get out of bed. I can live with the probable. This is why my game is Blackjack. With strategy, paying attention to the cards, and a little luck, you can have some fun and not lose your shirt. The surgeon told me if all goes well, I have a 96% recovery rate. I almost perfect odds for recovery. I should buy a Powerball ticket. Those odds are not in my favor, but you never know. I FEEL lucky, and that’s what Powerball is all about.