Saturday, January 24, 2009

Surgery On Nothing

Part III

Christmas came and went without much worry. In fact, I had pretty much forgotten about that silly lump until January 5, 2009. This was the day of my scheduled biopsy. The last appointment of the day and they had to squeeze (hee!) me in at 5:00 that evening. I wasn't looking forward to it, but I wasn't nervous either. At this point I had forgotten about the whole use of the cancer word and was doing nothing more than following doctor's orders to double check that it was nothing, just as he had asked.

It was after 6:00 before the doctor had a chance to see me. I was grumpy and just wanted the needle in the lump, a little band aid put on my breast and be sent out the door. Of course it didn't happen that way. Of course there was a mix up somewhere. Someone, somewhere, somehow didn't contact me to let me know there was to be no biopsy. Heavens no! My charts were sent to this surgeon and upon viewing them decided she wasn't doing a biopsy...she was removing the lump completely. Surgery. My appointment with her was purely as a consult. By now none of this lump thing had gone as planned and I shouldn't have been surprised, yet I was. I almost fell off the table. Surgery? Removing the lump? A lumpectomy? You woulda thought someone would have called to inform ME about this change in plans. She asked if I had any questions. Uhhhhhhhhhhh....I don't know. I was caught off guard and couldn't think of anything to ask. So, ok, looks like today I wasn't having a biopsy, instead I'll just let you cut my breast open on January 12th.

Oh, encouraging news! While I was there she decided to give me a breast exam and couldn't feel any lump anywhere. Whew. But let's go ahead and remove that tiny little something that was found on the mammogram just to be safe. It'll be nothing. She explained what the basic lumpectomy entailed. I thought she was kidding. Oh, for heaven's sake! This tiny little nothing has done nothing but give me problems since the day I first found out about it.

Between the time I found out about the surgery and the day of the surgery, I got crankier and crankier. It had nothing to do with me being worried about having cancer; I don't like having surgery. I've had so many surgeries in my life that the idea of one more got me in a real bad mood. I was going to be glad to be rid of this little nothing, because it was starting to become a serious pain in my butt.

January 12, 2009: Surgery Day

My surgeon was getting ready to leave for Africa for 3 weeks - due to this I was unable to have my surgery in a hospital close to my house. All her appointments before she left the country were at St Luke's Hospital in beautiful downtown Kansas City, MO. Crap. I had to be at the breast center attached to that hospital by 7am. Sure hope we don't get lost. Of Course we did! By the time we made it into the breast center I was in one majorly foul mood.

I don't know about you, but when I'm in a wicked bad mood, there's nothing I like better than to sit down and fill out 200 pages of paperwork. It doesn't matter that I already filled out all those exact paper at the St Luke's breast center by my house. Fill em out again! FINE! But I wasn't going to smile or write clearly.

Time ticked on while they went through checking insurance and putting my information into the system. I was pacing the waiting room for a couple of reasons: one being that I was allergic to the room and didn't want to sit on anything, and the other reason was that they had told me what they were going to do to me before they put me to sleep for the lumpectomy and it sounded bad. A very nice woman showed up in the waiting room and started chatting with me. She was able to figure out that I was on edge and offered to give me a relaxing massage. Yeah, whatever, but I'm not paying ya. She rubbed my back slowly, pushing on my shoulder blades one at a time. I liked it. I totally should have exchanged numbers with her.

"Mrs Strickland, come on down! You're the next patient to have a wire shoved into her breast with almost no numbing done first!" Woo! I had to lie on my stomach with my boobs hanging out below me. X-rays were done, a radiologist was called in - without a word to me, he gave me a shot in my breast then quickly shoved in a wire that was about the size of the lead of a pencil. His work there was done so he left. He was so nice. Someday I hope to see him out in public so I can return the favor by shoving objects into his sensitive areas then just quickly walking away. I'm certain he'll enjoy it as much as I did.

There is now about 8 inches of wire protruding from my breast, soooo... must be surgery time! In my little hospital gown and socks, they walk me into the actual hospital where I will be having my stupid, little, nothing lump removed. Yippy.

The whole thing was extremely quick. I was in and out of surgery, bandaged up, then sent home in just a matter of a few hours. One thing I remember quite vividly was waking in recovery and asking if the lump looked like it might be cancerous. NOOOPE. It looked like nothing. Awesome. Thank you! And if you could get me out of here as quickly as possible I would appreciate it soooo much, as you can tell, I seem to be allergic to your little room here and I'm turning into one big hive rash.

Before I had my surgery, I was told by countless people that this is what the surgeon does. This is her job. She's done this so many times that, just by eyeballing it, she can usually tell if the object removed is cancerous. When she said it looked like nothing, I gotta tell ya, I was happy. I was finally done with that mess. The only thing left was the formality of the phone call telling me it wasn't cancer. It was nothing. They assured me it was nothing. I wasn't too overly worried.

Continued on Part IV

Friday, January 23, 2009


January 23, 2009

The story on how I got to this point is on hold. Sorry about jumping around, but my mood today is at an all time low and trying to focus on the details of how I got here are seemingly impossible.

This is going to sound so depressing and I'm sure a few of you will laugh, but today was the day it finally hit me. I have breast cancer. YES! I know! I've been writing this silly blog because I have breast cancer. But those were just words that some doctor told me and in my head they were wrong. I didn't have cancer. I couldn't. It wasn't right. How the HELL could this be going on?

No, no, no, no, NO! The phone was going to ring and someone was going to tell me this was wrong. The tests were wrong. I just knew it. Someone was going to call. Please, God, please, let someone call me and tell me this was just a mistake. Oh, God, please.

Today was the day I finally had to give up hope. Today I had my MRI and spoke to my oncologist. She sat down and calmly flipped through my chart while talking about all my options. I was listening, but not really. I was waiting for her to hit that page that would show her that there was an error on the report. Instead she kept talking and pointing up at poster on the wall of a woman who had the insides of her breasts showing.

All I needed today was one small shining glimmer of hope to keep me going. All I got were the options I had ahead of me: remove the lump, remove the breast, remove both breasts, radiation, chemotherapy, how much chemotherapy, how much hair will fall out, and on and on and on. Inside my head I was screaming for her to shut up! This was so wrong. How could I see this, but no one else could? I feel fine! Why do people keep telling me I have this disease that could kill me when I don't feel sick at all? This doesn't make sense.

She stops talking and asks me a question regarding one of my horrible options and that was my opportunity to ask her, to plead to her: double check for me? Isn't it possible my healthy tumor got switched with someone else's? I mean, heck, it happens with babies! I was crying. Again. And she said no. No. It was my tumor. I have cancer. My tumor showed cancer cells. And she didn't freakin know why.

Why won't someone tell me why? I'm not asking "why me?". Honestly, I get that people get sick and I'm no better than anyone else. I want to know what caused this damn thing to grow in my breast. I want to know why I can't wake up from this nightmare. Women much older than me get breast cancer. Women with a long family history of breast cancer. Women who didn't have MY two small, beautiful children.

I was ready to run from this office as I did the first one. She started with the numbers; the percentages. Don't give me that crap again. How could you possibly think I want you to tell me how high my survival rate is when you are the same people who told me that it was a less than 10 percent chance of being cancer in the first place? How dare you look me in the eye now and tell me that I have an 86 percent survival rate before you even start the chemo - and heck, add the chemo to it so I can give myself another 7 percent.

All you doctors have done so far is lie to me and give me false hope. Excuse me if i choose not to jump up and hug you for HOPEFULLY saving my life from a cancer that was SUPPOSED to be nothing in the first place. I'll let you remove my breasts and I'll let you pump my body full of poison - so much so that my hair starts to fall out. But know this: my life is in God's hands. Your words and your numbers are meaningless to me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

You Have To Relax! It's Nothing!

Part II

I've left the breast clinic and I'm sitting in my car sobbing like an idiot. I remember looking up and seeing a woman walk by and stare in at me. Yeah, ok, I realized then it was time to pull myself together because I still had to drive home. Seemed silly to sit there crying hysterically about dying from cancer only to drive off a cliff while trying to get home. (If there are cliffs in Kansas City... I've not seen any, but I've been pretty wrapped up in myself lately. I promise to check on that and get back to you.)

I'm trying desperately to pull it together while I drive home, but by that time I had a throbbing headache and was shaking like a leaf. I'm not sure how long I was at the breast clinic, but it was many hours and I probably needed food. And there she sat! McDonald's! Yes! As I drove through the drive thru, I could smell the food and it made me want to throw up. I ended up ordering one of those ice coffees they have there. Hazelnut. Tasty. Crap! Both cup holders were full! Son of a ... my phone started ringing! And there I was sitting in my car in the McDonald's drive thru, trembling, nowhere to put my coffee, unable to answer my cell phone (AND WHY THE HECK DID I PICK THAT SONG FOR THE RING TONE?) Oh great, now snot is coming out of my nose! All the while some punk McDonald employee is staring at me. And I cry harder.

I'm not sure how, but I managed to make it home. It was Christmas vacation and Tom had been watching the kids while I was gone. Of course all the kids in the neighborhood had to be at my house when I pull up. Sledding and snowman building got put on hold when the crazy woman pulls up in the driveway. Jacob came running up to me, but I had to just shoo him away from me because I was unable to speak. Unbeknownst to me, Jacob ran off crying and told my neighbor that his mommy was dying of cancer. She made me pumpkin bread (which is what you do when someone is dying.)

I made it into the house dragging behind me my purse, phone, coat, and stupid freakin coffee. Tom looked up from the computer and asked me EXACTLY what the doctor had said. I had to think. He said he found a 7 cm mass on my left breast and he thought it was cancer. Yep, that's what he said. I explained that I was extremely upset and went running out of the building, so I didn't know what I was supposed to do next. I could tell he was trying to be compassionate, yet wanting to shake me for more information. Meanwhile...the phone would not stopped ringing. Right at this minute, I can't remember if my dad was with my grandparents or if he was in Texas at the time. I know he wasn't in Florida. And I know he wasn't with me.

I'm not sure who all called that day, but I refused to talk to anyone. Poor Tom had to answer each call and relay to them the small amount of information he had been given by me. He finally got so tired of it all that he told me to get him the name of the breast clinic and the name of the radiologist that saw me. Seriously, Tom? I could barely order coffee from McDonald's. Do you know what you are asking me? Somehow, someway, he found out where I had been and was able to call them.

It went a little somthing like this: "Uh, yeah, my wife is Sheri Strickland, I believe she was just there and went running out very upset. She wasn't sure if there was more she was supposed to do or schedule. She's still very upset. So upset, in fact, I'm unable to get any real information out of her. She can't remember the name of the radiologist, but said he was a short guy with a British accent."
"Hey, Sheri, does Dr. McDonald sound right?"
"I have coffee from McDonald's."
"Helpful. Thanks."
Back to the receptionist: "yeah, that sounds like it's probably who it was. You think I could leave him a message or something? He's available? Sure, I'll talk to him!"
"Sheri, he's putting him on the phone. You want to talk to him?"
"He said I have cancer." Hysterical crying continues.
"Ok then."

It was a very long conversation, and I will admit, I was curious when Tom got off the phone. Curious and a little, tiny, ity, bit afraid. Of Tom. Something told me the information I had gathered was a bit off. It was. It seemed that Dr McDonald remembered me well. He remembered that it took several tries to even find the spot on my sonogram. That's how small it was. He said it wasn't 7 cm, but 7 mm. I do not have a ruler handy, but I hear there is quite the difference between those two numbers.

The good doctor informed Tom that he told me in ever way possible that he did not believe it was cancer. He said he explained to me that there were a million different possibilities and on the bottom of that list was cancer. But his best guess? It's not cancer. Noooope. He said the only reason he recommended me even getting it checked out was because I was a mother of two little children. If I had been a 70 year old woman, he wouldn't have even bothered mentioning it. He explained that I should enjoy the holidays and sometime after that I might want to think about having it biopsied. More than 90 percent chance it was nothing. Take it easy, relax, enjoy the holidays. It's nothing.

Now I had to call all those people back to explain that I overreacted. Turns out, I tell them, it's probably nothing.

Continued on Part III

It's Nothing Really!

Part I:

In October of this past year Tom, who works for the federal government, finds out he's going to be working in Kansas City, MO. We've been living in Topeka for 6 years and pretty much have developed a strong dislike for the entire city. Yay! We're leaving Topeka! I have a history of some pretty nasty medical problems, so in every way the move to the big city is a great idea. Better doctors and hospitals.

Priorities being what they are, I need to find new doctors as quickly as possible. My first stop shopping was with a specialty doctor who decided to do an over-all blood work test thing-a-do. He called me back in to let me know that he found a problem with my thyroid and while he could handle it, he didn't wanna. He recommended his own personal family doctor. So, cool, I figure he must be ok. I made the appointment, but as you know with any new doctor when you are a new patient it takes awhile before you're able to get in. I wasn't worried, not like a malfunctioning thyroid was going to kill me.

December 18, 2008. That's the day everything began to unravel. I went to see my new doctor, (who, by the way, was WONDERFUL) and there was a problem with the original thyroid test not being sent over. Should I wait? Should I just get new ones? It was decided that since there was an ice storm rolling in that afternoon, I should just go across the hall and have the blood work redone. But hey! While I was there and he had no charts to look at, he might as well give me a full physical. He found a tiny spot of skin cancer on my arm and got out what I think was a blow torch of dry ice to spray on it. Thanks! That was painful.

Then he did my breast exam. I remember he checked my right one first, I only remember this because he spent twice as long feeling up my left one. For all I knew, he was just enjoying the moment. Can you blame him? I'm a lovely woman. He left the room and as soon as I was redressed he returned with two sheets of paper. One for my blood work and the other he told me to take to the breast center right across the street, or he said, I could call, but do it as soon as possible. That's pretty much all he said. He said nothing about how he might have felt something in my breast. I was just told it was time I got my first mammogram.

What the heck, it's a crappy day and I have nothing else to do, I'll run over across the street to set up the appointment. Nice place. Nice people. Full waiting room. I explain to the lovely woman behind the desk that my doctor just gave me this paper and told me to set up an appointment. She asked my age and when I told her 39, she explained that women don't typically get their first mammogram until they are 40. Fine by me! I handed her the sheet anyway. Lovely lady looked at my paper, looked back up and at me and said she could get me in right now.

Now wait! I had a thyroid problem and a couple hours later I'm getting my boobies squished in some machines? What the heck? The woman who gave me my mammogram was very nice. She talked about her grand babies. A lot. SERIOUSLY. A lot. Anyhooo, she told me all that is done is they take two shots of each breast, send you home and you should expect a letter in the mail telling you everything is just fine. Unless it's not. Then they'll call you in a couple days. Of course she did nothing to calm my nerves when she decided my left breast needed more than two shots. Whatever! I went home to wait for my letter.

December 19, 2008: 8:00am. Phone ringing. "Mrs. Strickland, this is the breast center and the radiologist needs you to come in for further scans. What time today can you be here?"

"Are you even kidding me???"

Ok, I shower and off I go, in the snow, all alone, back to the breast center. It's nothing, I'm sure it's nothing. Women are always talking about how they have little lumps removed from their breast and it's always nothing. It's nothing. It's nothing. I know it's nothing.

I walk in and am ushered back into the little patient only waiting area. I'm stripped from the waist up, put on my little hospital gown AND fluffy white robe (which I was allergic to, so that sucked) and waited. They apologize repeatedly for making me wait, but they didn't have any appointments available and were squeezing (hee!) me in first chance they got. It's ok, I thought, because it's nothing. I hope. Please God let it be nothing.

Finally! Into the mammogram room where I get three more shots of my left boob. The nice lady explained that this time, it's going to hurt. They have to really squish down hard, because they are hoping it's just a shadow or crossed veins. By squishing it, they might be able to make the veins move or the shadow disappear. It didn't work. Mr English Radiologist Dude (Merd for short) comes in to examine the x-rays and tells her to take another from a different angle. Three times he came back and did this. Merd clearly had no idea that this was painful for me and the dang spot, shadow, blip or whatever wasn't going away! He orders a sonogram. Oh goody, she has to squeeze (hee!) me in today. They're so sorry about making me wait. No problem! I'm kinda sorta sure it's nothing. Maybe.

Finally times two! It's sonogram time! Woo! She was nice, too. I was watching the screen and I was able to focus in on what I was sure was the giant tumorous growth. I didn't notice that she was zooming in, over and over and over. By the time Merd came in, I was sure I had bowling ball sized tumor in my left breast. And THAT was something!

Here's what I kinda remember hearing: "we found something" "cancer", then that was followed by high pitched squeaking and what was surely words that sounded Latin. I couldn't take anymore. I had been there for hours and I was done. My emotions were shot. I remember starting to cry, standing up, getting dressed, and running out of the office. I had no idea if there was more I was supposed to do. If there were papers for me to sign. Appointments for me to schedule. I fell apart.

Part II tomorrow...