Thursday, February 26, 2015

Remember to Breathe

As I was hunting through old emails today for a message I was just SURE was there (and I found it!), I stumbled across this forgotten message my sister had sent me several years ago:

Remember to breathe.  Deeply.  Slowly.  Until you feel the unhurried
pulse of the sun and the earth and the moon and the stars.
Be at peace.
Be who you are.
Do what you can.

And smile.  It will help a little bit.

In the midst of my spinning workday, I stopped.
and took the time to breathe, slowly, deeply, just a few times
and something inside uncoiled and relaxed and let go.

In times of stress, I sometimes forget that it's not all on my shoulders.  I try to control it all.  Of course, in trying so, I manage to control nothing.

It's good to stop and remind myself that I can't control it.  I didn't cause it, I can't fix it.
Which frees me to do what I CAN do.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Healing Begins

cats in boxes
The drains came out with her return visit to Rochester last Tuesday.

As was my experience, she immediately began to feel better.

She got some questions answered.  That other breast?  The doctor feels it's a matter of when, not if.  The scary part is that nothing showed on the scans.  Even after they knew where to look, nothing showed.  Her tissue is young and dense; the errant cells well hidden by their healthy peers.  But Tamoxifen should keep any cell changes at bay for the five years she's on it and 2-3 years to follow, so nothing needs to be done now.  She will see an oncologist on 3/10, get more information, and make a decision about further surgery after that.

She went home and rested for another day or so, then was done being sick.  (perhaps, just perhaps, she takes after her mother in this, too.)  She found a gentle yoga class she could go to, she's started making plans on how and when she's going to ease back into work.

Predictably, I suppose, she overdid it this weekend - and came down with a cold to boot.  Back to resting for her.  I know she doesn't appreciate the speed of her healing; she's impatient and wants life to be back to normal.  But it's only been two weeks since surgery.  I think her recovery is proceeding wonderfully.

My week was one of recovery as well.  As always in crisis, I think the world should stop, or at least have the courtesy to slow down a bit while I regain my balance.  As always, the world shows no awareness of my desires and proceeds along its stately path towards entropy.

In some ways, the plunge back into the normalcy of work was good for me.  There is comfort in the rhythm of normal days.  The weekend was good - I set some order to my mess here, and took a few baby steps on my project.  But I still took today off.  I needed an extra sleep-in day, or I was going to come down with a cold of my own.

Today, I plan to write some, read some, work some, rest some.
Not think some, not yet.  I'm not ready to reflect on all the implications of what's happened in the past few weeks.  But that's OK - the time will come, and short-term willful denial has a firm place in my list of coping mechanisms.

Please keep her in your prayers.  Her road is not yet clear.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Surgery Successful. But, Still Waiting...

Browning, MT
It was one of those experiences where you just wish it was a bad dream and you could wake up but you know you're already awake and it's just not good.

We went down to Mayo Clinic last Monday so Kate could get some final blood work and tests done.  In the one at 2PM, scheduled for a 45 minute window, they were going to put a seed in the smaller tumor so it would be easily found during surgery the next day.

They called her back in good time, and we waited.  and waited.  and waited.  (I wasn't allowed to go back with her.)  At five minutes before five, she comes rushing out, running to her final appointment for the day, where the surgeon's nurse was waiting for her to explain her final prep.

I gathered my things and hers and followed her upstairs on the next elevator, still wondering what had happened.  It turns out they couldn't get the seed placed, so left a 10cm wire snaking under her skin for the surgeon in the morning.  Usually, this procedure is done immediately before surgery - people don't generally leave the hospital with the wire in.  There are good reasons for this.  She spent a very uncomfortable night; perhaps it is good that it was short?

We were back at the hospital at 5:45 the next morning for her surgery.  Hers was the first case of the day; they thought she'd be done before 11.  So I waited.  11:00 came and went.  11:30, 12:00.  ???  12:30.  still no word.  The board showed me the procedure had started in good time, at 8:49, but no word.  I kept checking my phone, just to make sure I hadn't missed the call - no word.  The nurses at the desk started to give me sympathetic looks; they knew it couldn't be good, and it wasn't.

The surgeon finally called shortly before 1:00.  He had the defeated tone of a man who'd done his best, but just couldn't make it work.  It turns out the cancer was invasive after all.  And he couldn't get clear margins for the lumpectomy because her entire breast was riddled with DCIS and pre-cancerous cell changes.  He was going to have to do the mastectomy after all; there wasn't enough tissue left to save.

My legs carried me around the corner, then gave out.  It was the family cancer after all.  I sank to the hallway floor in tears.  The friend who had come with me for support came back from a trip down the hall to find me huddled in pain for her.  He put his arms around me.  Then, one of the nurses stopped by and asked if she could help.  I stood up, and started asking all the questions rattling around my brain (whatever they were).  She answered calmly where she knew, deferred what she didn't, calmed me down enough to go back to wait for the next call.

When the surgeon next called back, he had better news - he'd removed all her breast tissue, and her lymph nodes were clear.  The cancer hadn't spread.

A mastectomy is a more involved surgery than a lumpectomy; it's a good thing we'd already planned to stay in town for the night because now she was going to spend the night in the hospital.  (I really felt for the patient who was scheduled for the second surgery of the day - they'd been waiting since ten in the morning - it was after four when they finally began their procedure, whatever it was...)

I went up to her newly assigned room to wait.

There I found a picture of Saccharine Jesus waiting on the wall, watching the room with a poor pity look on his face.  I couldn't stand it; I didn't want Kate to have to stare at that thing all night.  I found a paper towel, drew a smiley face on it, and begged a piece of tape from the ever-cooperative nurses to cover the picture.  (When they saw what I'd done, they just smiled...)

And I waited.  She finally came up after an interminable time.  She was groggy and in a lot of pain - and most of it came from her rear end where she had a deep new muscle bruise.  (from catching her rear on a rail as she was being swung onto the operating table?  I couldn't figure out how else it could have gotten there; she didn't have it when she went in.)  The standard pain meds weren't doing it, and the nurses couldn't reach the doctor to order more.  I hurt to watch her.  Finally, a resident stopped by to see how she was doing - and got her some anti-anxiety meds to relax her muscles, and another type of pain reliever that could be stacked on top of the Oxycodone.  It worked, she finally went to sleep.  We went back to the hotel.

The next morning we went back to find her still unable to eat, still nauseous from the anesthetic.  Regardless, they checked her out, and we bundled her into the car for the 90 minute trip back to Minneapolis.  I drove as carefully as I could, and she did well - made it the whole way without throwing up.  When we got back to her apartment, she promptly fell asleep - the best medicine.

When I left yesterday, she was much on the mend, but the drain was still in place.  (The drain is there to gather the blood and nutrient fluid her body is sending to the breast it hasn't yet figured out is gone.  Painful, but essential for healing.)  Until the drain is removed, she will be in pain.  (speaking from experience here.)  She has friends bring food, to stay with her and to care for the baby until that happens.

I sat in the back seat the whole way home (Joe  drove, his girlfriend kept him awake), still trying to absorb what happened.  The new diagnosis opens a whole new trove of questions - first and foremost, what does this mean for her other breast?  I asked the surgeon when I had him on the phone - he will review all the films and test results and talk with her about it when she goes back for her post-op visit on Tuesday.

And we wait.

As I wait, I am thankful.

For the nurses who took good care of her.
For the medical team at Mayo who took her concerns about the family cancer seriously and had her agree to a mastectomy on a hunch, just before she went under, just in case.  (Can you imagine waking up to hear you needed to go under again as soon as you were medically able?  Yowsa!)
For clear lymph nodes.  For clear lymph nodes.  For clear lymph nodes.

I was right - these next few months aren't going to be easy, but I think she's going to be OK.
I hope.
I pray.

and we wait.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Check It Out

frosted window
I interrupt my waiting to bring you an important message:

It's not a new message; it's one I heeded, it's one Kate heeded.  You can probably guess where I'm headed.

Women:  know your breasts.  Know their lumps their bumps their sags.  And then, once you know them, check back in with them every so often - in bed, in the shower.  (Probably not in the supermarket checkout line, even if you are bored.  That sort of behavior is frowned upon.)  You're checking for something new.  A lump that doesn't feel like the other lumps.

I always wondered how you'd know.  Not to be too graphic or anything, but there were lumps and bumps all over in the tissue.  How was I supposed to tell this lump was different?  Well, now I know.  I still can't tell you exactly what was different about the cancerous lump - but I can tell you it WAS different.

And should you find that different lump, get it checked out.  Go to your doctor - they won't laugh at you for your suspicions, or yell at you for wasting their time if it turns out to be nothing.  (That's actually the preferred answer in these cases...)

Kate was too young to get mammograms; her tissue too dense for the machine to tell good from bad.  I was just due for mine; it would have shown had I made it to the appointment date.

Finding the lump, getting it checked before it has a chance to grow too big; spread too far - it's the difference between surgery and detours and...  I still don't like to think of the consequences of not having found it in time.

So, check it out.  It could save your life; it did mine.

back to our regularly scheduled waiting...

All the test results are in.  Hotel and operating rooms reserved.  Child care set up.  Car serviced and ready to make the trip.  I'm pretending to focus on work this week; in short spurts, it even works.  But the refrain of please-make-it-not-be-true runs futilely through my brain and even though I know it will be OK, I also know it's true-even-though-I-REALLY-don't-want-it-to-be.  And it sucks.

Keep us in your prayers, please.