29 October 2011

Eviction notice

Yesterday, we arrived at the hospital a few minutes late, so I wasn't planning on complaining when I wasn't called into a chamber for fifteen minutes. However, after waiting an hour in a frigid examination room, I sent Matt on an exploratory mission. Of course, he didn't even make it to the door before Dr. Surgeon'sAssistant finally appeared. My elation at noticing the continued existence of the outside world was short lived.

The pathology results were about as welcome as a jab in the eye. The margins were not clear. Dr. Surgeon may be willing to try another lumpectomy, but at this point it is not likely. In other words, Lefty has officially been given an eviction notice.

I have an appointment with Dr. Surgeon himself on Monday. At that point, we will discuss what to do with the useless globule of fat that was previously known as my left boob. Will he remove one boob, or, just to be on the safe side, two? Will I have reconstruction at the same time? If so, what plastic surgeon?

Considering the recovery time, I'm currently thinking this great adventure should commence shortly after Thanksgiving. I've already missed enough things this year, and I'm not missing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, for which we have bleacher tickets. Did you hear that stupid boob? I'm still in charge! And you are expendable! So there.

26 October 2011

I took a shower! On purpose!

After surgery comes the pain pills and pathology report. Oh, and the wearing of the surgical bra, which cannot be taken off. In other words, no showering for a week. Believe me when I say that baby wipes are no substitute for a proper washing.

Remember the horrible nightmares from Mr. Percocet? Well, Mr. Vicodin brought them back, in full force. Of course, who needs to sleep for more than a few consecutive hours? Especially when I can randomly pass out during the day? Today was the first day I didn't take a single vicodin, and I'm seriously hoping that I actually sleep soundly through the night.

Moving on, the pathology report is just super very extremely important. It contains all sorts of things, such as whether the margins on the removed tissue are clear and the makeup of the removed cells. If the margins aren't clear, it's back to the cutting board. You could say that I'm anxious to get the results.

I had a post-op appointment scheduled for Monday. After determining that no green puss was leaking from the incision, I was declared shower-safe. Dr. Surgeon'sAssistant also said something about the incision healing nicely, but by then I was too busy dreaming of a shower.

Then came the horrible news - the pathology report was not ready yet! It would probably be ready by Thursday, but I'd have to come back to the hospital. Apparently it is against hospital policy to give pathology results over the phone. Seriously. WTF.

I was going to have to come back next Monday, regardless, for Dr. Surgeon to take a look at his handiwork. I could wait until then, at which point my results were nearly guaranteed to be ready. Or I could schedule another appointment with Dr. Surgeon'sAssistant for Thursday. Let's see, I am very patient and capable of waiting an extra four days for incredibly important news. So I agreed to call her on Wednesday afternoon. If the results were in, I'd come in Thursday morning. Otherwise, I'd be waiting until Monday.

Today I made the call, and lo and behold, my results are in! But she wouldn't even give me a hint. In fact, she was completely monotone the entire time. I guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow morning. I promise to let the intartubes know. Well, after I tell my parents. And close friends. And coworkers. But before I tell the mayor and his henchmen.

All the fun of an alien abduction... without the benefit of aliens

I realized this morning that I forgot to mention an important consideration in my internal debate. The lumpectomy is drive-thru surgery, with approximately seven days recovery at home. The mastectomy requires four to seven days in the hospital for pain management, followed by multiple weeks of recovery at home.

Despite being outpatient, the lumpectomy was done in two phases. Phase one started with me replacing my shirt with a very short cape that did nothing against the arctic temperatures of the hospital. My theory is that if you are freezing to death, you won't complain about the little things, such as nurses opening the door to leave and showing your boobs to the entire world.

The procedure room was a modern torture table. One of the horrible biopsy tables was in the back. A mammogram machine, with a chair for the victim, was next to the door. In between, were portable tables covered with sharp, pointy instruments. I got to sit in the chair while the nurse squished Lefty with the mammogram machine. After confirming that my boob was adequately squished, the nurse projected a shadow over the exact spot. Dr. Pokey numbed the area with lidocaine, then shoved in a long needle with a yellow plastic thing at the end. I elected not to watch.

The nurse then extracted my boob from the machine, which was nontrivial due to the yellow plastic thing sticking out. The yellow plastic thing, as well as the needle, were hollow tubes, through which blue dye was injected. Then an even longer, but thinner, needle with a tiny hook at the end was threaded through existing needle. Its job was to hold the first needle in place, and it was twice as long as necessary for that job. The nurse taped the extra down, surrounded the whole mess with gauze, and taped the whole thing in place.

While this was going on, I was just staring down at the creepy needle sticking out of my boob. And staring. And staring. I couldn't pry my eyes off the disturbingly fascinating sight. It looked like a situation requiring an emergency room visit, yet there was no pain. Weird.

Anyway, I was re-caped and led to the surgery wing, where pre-op and post-op patients mingle. I had the fun experience of replacing my remaining clothes with a normal hospital gown without dislodging my new appendage. Then came the real excitement - an IV!

The easy veins in my right elbow were destroyed by chemo. I am not exaggerating when I say they are so scarred that it is difficult to get a needle in, much less get any blood out. The nurse, a new one, tried to use a vein in my arm. Let's just say she failed spectacularly. A "specialist" was brought in to use the veins in my hand. Alas, they weren't thick enough, and I had to lie there with my arm wrapped in heated blankets. Eventually, the IV was successfully inserted, and my shiny new husband was allowed to come sit with me.

I don't really remember what happened after that, though I have vague memories involving backgammon on his Galaxy Tab. I assume I won, because I'm awesome.

At some point, presumably after surgery, I woke up. Matt kindly informed me that my legs were still properly attached, in response to my queries about their whereabouts. He also fed me the best tasting graham crackers in the free world. That might not have been true if I had been allowed to eat in the past twenty-four hours, but I can definitely say they tasted better than the liquid vicodin. Oddly enough, it was a bright, translucent yellow. The same color as the magic boob needle! Coincidence? I think not.

There is a universal law requiring patients to be wheeled out of hospitals. Since I was unable to stand up without falling over, I decided not to complain. Well, not complain about the ride. I'm sure I complained about something.

I vaguely remember demanding bubble tea, but that's pretty much it for the following day or two. Well, that and a certain Matt refusing to give me vicodin every time I asked. He clearly would not make a viable automatic morphine drip. :-(

24 October 2011

The return of the surgeon

And now for the exciting conclusion continuation of Boobectomy!

Before being probed by the surgeon, any visitor must first be groped by his gaggle of minions. Unfortunately, the first doctor-level minion had the bedside manner of starving bear. The first words out of her mouth were "blah blah blah mastectomy blah blah." Uh, what happened to lumpectomy?

While possibly not the smartest decision, I chose to ignore Dr. Oncologist's warning that I might lose a boob or two. It made me happier about the situation while I was busy with the whole wedding thing. But this evil minion (are there any other kind?) had ruined that fantasy seconds after entering the examination room.

Luckily, Dr. Surgeon, with the help of further mammograms, was of the opinion that a lumpectomy would suffice. Of course, he was careful to always use phrases such as "I think" and "should be". More importantly, he was willing to try, though would be the last time. Ultimately, it was my decision as to how much of me he would remove.

Well, gee, I rather like me, so let's go with the lumpectomy. Surprisingly enough, I did not make that decision easily, even after a million questions. For instance, Dr. Surgeon mentioned that other doctors were in favor of the mastectomy route. The other doctors turned out to include Dr. Radiologist, who was taking my age and family history into account. And if I did choose mastectomy, it would probably be a double, due to the aforementioned factors and so that I would look even. Each side would require a drain, and the only thing worse than one drain is two. Then there would be the reinflation phase. A plastic surgeon would insert expanders, either during the same surgery or a separate one. The expanders would be injected with saline, over the course of weeks, until my new boobs reached the desired size. The end result would be good looking, but lacking in the sensation department.

Of course, going the lumpectomy route wouldn't be fool-proof. Should the margins not be clear, or if more evilness was found during surgery, I would end up losing everything. And it goes without saying that even if everything goes well this time, should more calcifications of doom appear, there would no longer be a lumpectomy option.

I also consulted with Dr. Oncologist before making my final decision. She said that if Dr. Surgeon believed that my boob could be saved, then it was worth a try. And with that, it was time to schedule surgery. Oh, and just for fun, more Herceptin! My next tri-weekly dose would be postponed a week and moved to Friday, to allow sufficient post-op healing. Then the next one would be two days early, as no one wanted to deal with chemo the day after Thanksgiving.

Fast forward a week and a half, and my parents arrived. In other words, time for surgery!

23 October 2011

Brun injuries?

I assume the "98% success rate" refers to their copy editing.

22 October 2011

Look at me! I've got girl boobs!

To fully appreciate the title of this post, imagine it being read by Patrick Stewart. While holding coconuts. See? Hilarious.

Now, we step back in time approximately six weeks. Remember how I was about to get covered in polka-dots? And then I failed to mention any further details? Well, I was a bit busy at the time with the whole wedding thing. Also, I didn't want to share my horrid story with the world until after the wedding. And here it is!

Prior to beginning radiation, Dr. Radiologist followed normal procedures and ordered a mammogram. Lucky me, the images showed calcifications. Admittedly, I didn't take this news particularly well. In fact, I may have yelled a few impolite words. However, the doctor was quite nice about it, and even encouraged future outbursts if they would make me feel better.

Yelling quickly changed into crying, as I tried to explain that how my mom was just about to start radiation when a mammogram showed calcifications. She ended up losing her boob. And while I still needed a biopsy to determine if my calcifications were even a threat, I just knew that it would come back with unhappy results.

Since the radiation planning appointment scheduled for after the mammogram was now moot, I tried to replace it with the evil biopsy. Alas, it was not to be and I had to wait until the next morning, not to mention miss an extra day of work.

My first biopsy was merely not fun. This one was downright miserable. Picture a long, lightly concave table with a boob-sized hole in the center. Now raise the table up five feet, remove all padding, and place it in a cold room. Jealous yet? Anyhow, this marvelous set up was designed to allow the doctor and nurse access to both the suspicious boob and piles of equipment.

Just for fun, included in the pile of equipment was a giant needle, about two feet in length. I'm reasonably sure it was six inches in diameter, though that may have merely my perspective. Thankfully, they started with a much smaller needle, containing lidocaine, to numb lefty. After that, I didn't feel much, until I felt a giant splat, complete with warm liquid hitting everything exposed to the hole in the table. 

"Uh, what was that?" I expected her to say blood, but the nurse claimed it was just some lidocaine that had migrated to my skin, which can cause warm tingling sensation. I decided that was completely plausible. Yes, it had definitely happened that way. Now I shall return to thinking about rainbows and unicorns and glow-in-the-dark glitter.

After the doctor and nurse finished taking little pieces of boob for their experimentations, the table was lowered and I was allowed to dismount. At this point, the nurse admitted that she had lied so I wouldn't freak out. Ha! It was blood! And holy crap was it everywhere! The nurse had blood splatter on her formerly white jacket. The paper covering various parts of the machine were soaked to the point of dripping. Then there was me. As I'm used to being covered in my own blood, that wasn't so bad. But my eyes kept going back to the dripping paper. Yum.

The length of the wait for results is inversely proportional to the amount of blood removed, so I had to wait what felt like six years. You, on the other hand, merely have to wait until you finish reading the next sentence. The stupid calcifications were not only cancerous, but they had the same hormone receptors as the previously removed tumor. Well, fuck.

With that pile of good news, just days before my wedding, it was time to go back to the surgeon. The scheduling nightmare ended up keeping me home from work for a day just to deal with all of the phone calls. However, the end result was an appointment with the same surgeon, at his new hospital, for the day after we returned from our honeymoon. If there was ever a reason to not want to go home after vacation, that was it.

What happened at the aforementioned appointment? You'll find out in the next installment of Boobectomy: A Tale of Stoopid Boob Cancer.

17 October 2011

Last chance to offer bribes...

Our wedding pictures arrived today! All 1081 of them! Having looked through them all, there are certain people who might want to consider offering me cash incentives. You know who you are.

In other wedding related news, I started the dreaded thank you cards process. I recall a few people mentioned having made donations in our names, but I don't remember who confidently enough to send thank yous. If you are one of those generous people and you didn't give us a card clearly mentioning this, please let me know.

Finally, Zero is doing much better with his friend Mr. Steroid. The only problem is that he now has to pee ALL THE TIME. Just a few hours ago, while we were looking at our shiny new pictures, a certain dog joined us at the dining room table. He whined once, and then we heard a strange noise.

Holy crap the dog's peeing under the table! And still peeing! And peeing some more!

At first we considered killing him, but as a giant lake appeared under him, we couldn't help but laugh. And Zero just kept on peeing. When the torrent threatened the office, we stopped laughing long enough to get paper towels. How could such a small dog hold so much pee? Especially one that had just been walked?

Eventually he stopped, at which point Zero wasn't sure if he was going to survive the evening. Neither of us wanted to punish him when he clearly couldn't have helped it, so we just glared at him and got out the mop.

Fast forward an hour, and Zero appeared by our feet, whining. This time he immediately got taken outside. Well, it's a good thing we didn't wait, as he peed out another great lake. Perhaps I should stop refilling his water bowl?

15 October 2011

If its Tuesday, this must be the surgeon

Since returning from our adventures on the high main, Zero and I have been locked in a battle for who has the most doctor visits. I may be winning in the number of unique doctors category, but Muttley has the gold for overall quantity.

He was absolutely fine when we picked him up last Wednesday. By fine, I mean eating, bouncing up and down, and being a small fury pile of squirmy. Come Thursday morning, he apparently changed his mind. MilkBones were no longer good enough for him. I shrugged it off as I had more important things to worry about, namely my own appointment with Herceptin for which I was already running late.

Come dinner time, Zero still showed no interest in getting out of bed, much less walking all the way into the kitchen for food. He's been picky about morning MilkBones before, but never apathetic about dinner. I offered him the god of treats, a chicken strip. He barely sniffed it before turning his head away. Well, there was only one thing to do in this situation. "MATT! The dog's broken!"

Trip number one to the vet commenced soon after. Zero didn't have a fever, but he did have a history of expensive gastrointestinal problems. The vet prescribed anti-nausea and appetite stimulating pills and told us to email her in the morning.

The anti-nausea pill shoved down his throat by the vet's assistant had him acting normal before we even made it home. Not even the appetite stimulant could convince him to eat, however. After refusing breakfast, it was back to the vet for him.

Zero was even less appreciative of that car ride, so it wasn't much of a surprise when he turned out to have a fever. The vet still couldn't give an official diagnosis. She did speculate that it might have been a virus from three weeks of daycare, or possibly Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). A blood test showed nothing, and an ultrasound showed inflamed intestines. She gave him fluids and sent him home, with the same email me in the morning instructions.

The dog clearly didn't want to go back to Dr. Vet, so he did try to eat a bit. Just not enough for him to go back AGAIN for the third day in a row. Luckily, his temperature was back down. More fluids, more keeping an eye on him.

Finally, Zero got the point and started eating again. Granted, he would only eat chicken strips, and not that much, but it was food. I strongly suspected that he figured out that ignoring the main dish would get him extra dessert, but his lack of jumping up and down squashed that theory. Upon hearing of this on Monday morning, Dr. Vet suggested we get a thermometer and take his temperature at home. Since I was at work and not taking any part of this, I agreed whole-heartedly.

Apparently Zero recognized the thermometer from his adventures at the vet and immediately hid. Sadly, hiding under the coffee table with his backend hanging out isn't very effective. Especially when someone is trying to measure his temperature... rectally.

Matt discovered that dogs can clinch their butts shut, but he managed to get the thermometer in there. His temperature? 96.7. In other words, failure. Dogs normally run around 101-102. Take two! This time Matt took no prisoners and really shoved it in. Luckily for both of them, the thermometer read 100.5.

Come Wednesday, Zero was still not eating, except for chicken strips. Fine then. We tried to avoid it. We really did. But now there was nothing to do but shove an endoscope down his throat to do a biopsy. Of course, we could have just opted to go straight to treatment, but if it was a virus, the steroids would have done a number on his immune system and muttpie would have been in trouble. So on with the freaking expensive rotorooter down the throat!

No one was surprised when Dr. Vet reported a visual abnormality. The official results would take two days, but she was confident enough in the diagnosis that it was time for Zero to start steroids. The first dose was injected immediately, and it worked nearly immediately. When we picked him up forty minutes later, he was already acting normal. Then, lo and behold, he ate dinner!

He also ate breakfast, more dinner, and more breakfast before the shocking results came back. Zero officially has IBD! He'll be on steroids for the near future, and quite possibly for the rest of his life. Personally, I think he did it on purpose, just so he could get a delicious Pill Pocket twice daily. The nerve!

03 October 2011

This one's for you, Mom

Apparently satellite intartubes aren't just expensive, they are also completely unreliable. Luckily, I was able to ward off withdrawal symptoms by taking an excessive number of pictures of food. They are proof positive that there is at least one chef with too much time on his hands.

ant made of watermelon, pineapple, and apples
birds made of carrots and coconut; nest made of block of cheddar
fish carved in block of cheddar
chicken made of coconut; nest made of lemons
mouse made of lemons; island made of pineapple; trees made of lemons and carrots 
heads carved into watermelons
martini slide carved in ice; martini made of Bombay Sapphire, vermouth, and three olives 
bunny head made of cantaloupe and radish; carrot made of carrot and pineapple leaves
monkey made of cantaloupe, apples, and oranges; drum made of apple; drumsticks made of grapes
owl made of pineapple, oranges, and watermelon
dog made of orange, grapefruit, and cantaloupe
fish made of watermelon
flower carved into watermelon
All of the eyes are made with grapes. Most of the photographs were taken with cell phones in poor lighting situations, as I didn't want to put the DSLR between cruise goers and food.