I was given a pregnancy test right off. I couldn’t even imagine getting sent home for being pregnant. After all the pain of the last week and particularly the previous night, it would have broken me emotionally. Despite my fears, I wanted to do this surgery. I was ready to get rid of this breast where cancer cells were growing. I was ready to find out how my life would play out in the coming months and years. Chemotherapy? Tamoxifen? I didn’t want to live in ambiguity any longer. I needed answers so that I could plan my next step.
As I waited, Preston stayed with me, and the nurse allowed one extra person at a time to come see me. Everyone came back and spent time with me. I felt okay and only cried during those brief moments when no one was in the room with me. Preston was given one job and one job only for the duration of my stay in the hospital. He was to pick out one truly hideous, kitschy, god-awful tacky gift from the shop downstairs. The more it made me cringe, the better. He picked something out pre-surgery, but I requested he wait until Saturday to give it to me.
I had to have different procedures done prior to the actual surgery, which was scheduled for 11 a.m. Early on, Dr. F. stopped in and told me that what he was about to do would probably be the worst part of the entire day. Encased in a special steal tube, he pulled out a syringe and explained that this was going to burn… a lot. I’m pretty tough with these kind of things, but I had no idea. Dr. F. suggested I hold Preston’s hand as he inserted the syringe into my breast near the tumor. The pain was unexpected and excruciating It took my breath away, and the worst part is that the intense burn lingered for several minutes. Not that I’ve ever had a chemical burn, but it felt like what I would imagine a chemical burn would feel like, except it was inside my body.
Only later did I learn that I had just been injected with a radioactive substance that was tinted blue. The substance would move through my breast tissue and help Dr. F. identify the sentinel lymph node (AKA the “gateway” node that would be the most likely node to contain cancer cells out of all the nodes). If the sentinel lymph node contained cancer cells, they would remove more lymph nodes to better understand how advanced my cancer really was. Any cancer cells in my lymph nodes would likely require chemo as well as hormone treatment. The pain did gradually subside, and about an hour later I was whisked downstairs to do x-rays (or something) of my breast. No one ever really told me what they were doing or why at that point. I just complied and laid quietly inside a large contraption that rotated around me.
Once that procedure was complete, I went back to my private waiting room and watched the clock tick. As it neared 11, I became more and more upset. And when a new nurse came in and announced that he was taking me to the surgery prep area, I asked him to wait. I happened to be all alone at that point, and I needed to see Preston. He came in a moment later, and we were both crying. It was time, and while I wanted to be anywhere but here, doing anything but this, I hugged Preston and allowed the nurse to wheel me away. It felt like I was dying, like I was completely helpless to my fate, and it was a devastating feeling. It was a feeling that was completely counter-intuitive to my existentialist beliefs.
And despite the tension and anxiety, that stupid male nurse says to me as he slips a hair net over my head, “Here’s your party hat!” Then he has the nerve to say to me: “Let’s get this party started!”
I wanted to punch him.
Perhaps he had missed the memo about the 27-year old who was having a mastectomy.
The nurse waiting for me knew though, and despite the fact that I’d been told there would be no visitors in the surgery prep area, she said that she would make an exception for me. This time my mom came to sit with me. An IV was started in my right hand. I was never to have blood drawn, blood pressure taken, or any other medical procedure done on my left arm ever again. After the removal of lymph nodes, my arm would be susceptible to infections and a host miscellaneous problems. Great. Just what I needed.
The anesthesiologist visited me and explained his role and how I would slowly relax and then fall asleep. Thank God. Please put me to sleep already. If nothing else, I knew that from this point on I had the easiest job of anyone there. Dr. F. and Dr. W.k. would each carefully perform their respective procedures while my family would be on edge waiting to hear both how the surgery went and the lymph node results. My friends would be anxiously waiting for the text messages of updates my sister had agreed to send out. Me? I just had to hang out on a bed and not die. I can handle that!
As we waited the surgery nurse got a phone call from the nurse who had been with me in my waiting room. She said she was sorry she hadn’t gotten to say goodbye and she wished me all the best. I appreciated her kindness. It was just the kind of boost I needed before surgery.
I was given something to help me relax, and I waved goodbye to my mom as they wheeled me away. I had surgery in middle school, so I was all ready for that gentle peaceful moment of complete sleep anesthesia brings. The operating room was cold, and I remember thinking it looked really large. They helped me move from my wheeled bed and onto the operating table. Once I was on the table, I didn’t even try to stay awake. The horrible anticipation of weeks was finally over. I don’t even remember closing my eyes.