In the middle of my chemo treatments, my eldest daughter, Paige got engaged to be married. It was a very exciting distraction in the middle of the chaos.
Wedding Plans Begin
Before we knew it, we found ourselves in the middle of June and I was recovering from two surgeries. I was not working due to the surgeries and Paige had a few days off from work. We were determined to plan the wedding.
Paige found a dress in the spring and that detail was already taken care of. All she needed to do now was to arrange for alterations. She was getting married in January 2010 and her wedding colors were navy and white. We added a splash of silver to the invitations and the wedding favors.
The challenge was to find a venue large enough for 300 guests. The maximum capacity of the wedding chapel was 300. The guest lists needed to be adjusted to meet that number. We made several phone calls and talked to many friends for recommendations for flowers, photographers and invitations. After we narrowed down our list, we began to schedule appointments.
In 3 days, we visited and secured the chapel, reception venue, florist, linens, invitations, photographer and the cake. Deposits were made and all we had left to do was to work on the other details: favors, music, programs and menu cards.
The most memorable trip was when Paige drove me 67 miles to the company that would supply and set up the linens. With surgical drains in place and the special wrap that resembled a tight tube top to hold the drains in place, I gingerly got in and out of her car. I put on my make up and favorite wig and we set out to find the linens distributor. We put the address in the GPS and off we went. It began to rain so hard that we could barely see the road and it felt like she hit every pothole on the road. With each bump, I had pain in each side where the surgical drains were held by a couple of stitches. We got lost, we laughed and had the best time. Eventually, we found the linen vendor and we were able to make all of the arrangements in one trip. We literally were ‘dancing in the rain’.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s learning to dance in the rain.”
About the time I hoped to return to work part time, I was scheduled for a surgery known as a margin revision. In my post-op visit, the breast surgeon explained that there was one cancerous spot on the border of the clean tissue. The goal of the surgery is to leave a margin of at least 1mm of normal, cancer free tissue.
I arrived that the Surgery Center at 7:00 AM on June 16, 2009. I went through the usual details: financial responsibilities, Nurse #1 and then back to the holding pen where I changed my clothes and got ready. I asked the nurse to pull the curtain so everybody couldn’t stare at me. I was hoping that the surgeon would take the drains out during the surgery. The breast surgeon stopped by to see me and reassured me that she was going to get clear margins. She previously asked me if a pathologist could attend the surgery. She confirmed that the pathologist would be attending the surgery and would be able to examine the tissue immediately. The breast surgeon would gain access through the 3 incisions in the right breast from the surgery on June 3, 2009. She explained that the plastic surgeon could not be here and she would do her best to put me back together. The anesthesiologist also stopped by and I told him that I had past issues with nausea after surgery and he assured me that he would give me something to prevent unnecessary nausea.
I was ready to go back. Doug kissed me goodbye. This time it was just Doug in the lobby because this was supposed to be a shorter, uncomplicated surgery. The nurse took me back to the operating room where everyone greeted me and introduced themselves. The surgeon came in and I told her, “Let’s do this”.
The next thing I remember was that I was in the recovery area. I was trying to wake up but it wasn’t working. I could hear the nurse asking Doug if I opened my eyes yet. The nurse kept saying, “Okay Laura. It’s done.” The nurse told the doctor as she came by that I wasn’t awake yet. They were standing at my bed and I could hear them but my eyes would not open. I could hear her talking to me but I couldn’t move. I wasn’t scared, though. I did tell God that if this was my time to go that I would be okay with it as long as I was going to heaven. (Obviously, I didn’t speak that but I was praying silently.)
After another surgery, the doctor came by again. I heard the nurse and doctor talking about my vital signs. They looked good so the doctor said to give me time. I was trying to open my eyes and they all told me to relax and take my time. They assured me that I was okay. The doctor completed another surgery and came by to check on me and this time I opened my eyes a little and gave her a half smile.
How ironic! After the 6 hour surgery, I was in recovery 30-40 minutes and this surgery was supposed to be so easy (1 hour) and I was in recovery 2-3 hours. Eventually, I walked out of the surgical center and went home to go to bed.
At the post-op visit, the surgeon gave me great news that the pathology report was clear. the surgical drains had to stay in place until the drainage slowed down. I started Herceptin, the good chemo, one week later. Plans for Paige’s wedding would begin soon.
Five months had passed and I made it through chemo. It had been a busy time full of school events for my youngest daughter and a few plans here and there for Paige’s wedding. I said goodbye to my kids at home. Kelsey went to school and Paige went to work. I wanted to continue that sense of normalcy that we had worked so hard to maintain.
First Stop…Women’s Center
At last, the day had come…surgery day. Doug, my husband, drove me to the Women’s Center to have a procedure known as: Pre-Operative Needle Localization. In order to locate the tumor, a mammography technologist and radiologists secured my right breast in the mammogram machine using a special piece of equipment to hold my breast in place. That part did not hurt like a mammogram. It was imperative that I hold still. Next the radiologists positioned a needle in my breast which was used to locate the tumor. The video screen guided the location of the needle. The tumor was marked with a metal clip during the biopsy which made it easier to locate. Two pictures were taken to ensure that the needle was positioned at the point of the clip. Yay! Success on the first try. Then, a wire was inserted through the needle and the needle was removed. Two more pictures were taken to ensure that the wire was at the point of the metal clip. Woohoo! Success two times in a row.
Off To The Surgery Center
The technician put a surgical gown on me, so as not to disturb the wire and I was ushered out the back door of the Women’s Center and into the car. I arrived at the Surgery Center in that lovely surgical gown with a wire sticking out of my right breast. The wire that I was not to move at all. I was shown to a room that reminded me of a 6×6 box. A nurse entered the room and began to ask me all of the usual pre-operative questions: medications, allergies, etc… then she asked me, “Why are you here today?” I began the list:
Lumpectomy right breast
Partial Bilateral Mastectomy (both breasts)
Lymph Node Dissection – Right Axilla
WOW! After five long months, I could rattle off all of those medical terms. I became very informed as an advocate for my health care.
After a few minutes, I was walked back to the holding area where the nurses start the I.V. and ask you all of the same questions you just answered for the first nurse. The place where you sit totally naked except for the thin surgical gown covering your body and where the person across from you can stare at you until you are totally uncomfortable. Can you tell that I hate the ‘holding pen’? It reminds me of the SPCA!
Both doctors, breast surgeon and plastic surgeon, came by to talk to me and review how this procedures would take place. Then the anesthesiologist came by. I told him to make sure that he gave me plenty of anti-nausea medicine because with past procedures nausea was a problem. Doug was the only one allowed to wait with me in the holding pen until they took me back for surgery. My mom, Uncle Leon (from Ohio), mother-in-law and sister-in-law (from New Mexico) were all waiting in the lobby. My sister-in-law had come for Kelsey’s graduation and just happened to be able to be here for the surgery.
Here We Go!
It was my turn. Doug kissed me before I went back to the operating room. As I was on my way to my special room, all I could think of was, “Please God, let them get it all, whatever it takes”. I also said a prayer of forgiveness and prayed for every member of my family.
The breast surgeon previously explained that she would work simultaneously with the plastic surgeon during my procedure. There would be three incisions in each breast. They would start with the right breast. Locate the tumor and remove all surrounding tissue and all tissue in front of the tumor, similar to a breast reduction. The plastic surgeon would put the right breast back together and then she would do her best to make the left side the same size so that they would be symmetrical. They would also place drains in the surgical sites, one on each side, to allow fluid to drain. The drain was inserted through a one inch incision site and held in place by stitches.
After the breast surgery was completed, the breast surgeon made a three inch incision, cutting through tendons and muscle under my arm, right axilla. Her goal was to remove as many lymph nodes as she could. Next, would be the port insertion. She used the same incision site as the last one where the infected port was removed in March. Six hours later, everything was completed and my upper body was wrapped like a mummy, holding the drains in place and I was sent to recovery.
I gave clear instructions that after the surgery, my fuzzy hat was to be put on my head before Doug was allowed back to the recovery room. I’m not sure that happened. When I began to wake up, Doug was there and my fuzzy hat was on. He sat with me patiently as I tried my best to wake up and get out of there. They made me drink some sprite. I was feeling good and I almost dressed myself. The cancer that tried to kill me was finally cut out of my body and I was alive!
I walked out of the surgery center with 10 incisions in my upper body and too many stitches to count. I had a pain pump and medicine for the nausea. When I needed meds, I took my meds. I remembered what Jerry, my first chemo nurse, told me…”Don’t be a hero.” I slept most of that day and remember my sister-in-law the next morning telling me that she wished she could stay and take care of me but she had to leave. Doug drove her to the airport and his mom left a couple days later. Doug, my mom and my girls took care of me the first week. In a week, we would find out the results from the surgeon. Regardless of the medical report, I stood in faith and on God’s word that I would live and not die.