The day I have worried about, fought for, and pushed for, is finally here. Last time I had surgery, 26 years ago,  two healthy full-term babies, a boy and a girl, were removed from my body. This time the surgeon will remove a specimen of malignant neoplastic tissue, surrounded, I suppose, by normal grizzle and fat. (My niece, a medical student, says the inside of a woman’s breast looks like it is filled with spaghetti-Os.)

My cancer cells have been hiding inside me for years, secretly dividing themselves, feeding and growing through angiogenesis until they reached a palpable lump, the size and shape of a hazelnut. Nobody can tell me how this excessive cell division got started. Too much consumption of hormone treated meat and dairy? DDT? Chest X-Rays? Just a DNA roulette?

Nothing to eat or drink after midnight, I am told.  No latte. No orange juice. Not even water. Also, no make up is allowed. They want to see the normal pallor of your skin and be able to tell if your lips turn blue. Normal morning routine takes an hour, including ten minutes for the New York Times. Now  I am showered, dressed, and ready to go in less than 20 minutes.

Summer traffic is sparse and traffic lights line up green, practically all the way. Accompanied by my husband, I arrive way ahead of schedule. We valet park and before I know it, I am back in the outpatient surgery waiting room where I waited an hour only two days earlier. Now, at 7 A.M., the place is filled with couples, one patient and one a “responsible party”  and designated driver. This time I don’t wait.

I am ushered into the inner sanctum almost immediately and shown to a gurney behind some drapes in one of the pre-op units. Over a loud speaker I hear a female voice: Dr. Guru, Dr. Guru, OR 4. OR 4. Holy smoke, my doctor is doing another surgical procedure before mine. How many after me? How does he manage it? How many coffee breaks does he get? None?

It feels strange to arrive  feeling perfectly healthy and normal.   I am weighed in like a prize cow, stripped of my clothes and donned the hideous gown that is supposed to be “one size fits all” but appears to fit no one. My vitals are checked and approved. Within minutes, I have a plastic ID band around my wrist, an IV in my arm, and a  warm blanket around my legs.


I feel like the perfect nursing home specimen as I take a couple of shuffling steps. I  try to  keep my gown closed in the back and the blanket from falling off.  The IV pole rattles and the tube tangles. My whole sorry appearance highlighted by unforgiving sharp ceiling lights. I sink back on my gurney.

On the other side of the curtain, a wife (I assume) and a nurse, both try to talk sense into some confused male. It is hard to tell if he was waking up from anesthesia, or if he is this confused already before his procedure. They shout at him, explain to him, cajole him. But he remains recalcitrant. “No why? No, I don’t want to,” he keeps saying. It is unclear what he doesn’t want to do.

Suddenly my husband is allowed into pre-op and shortly after that comes Dan, my friend Elise’s husband, the anesthesiologist, on his day off! He is dressed in scrubs although his colleague is the one who will put me under. He showed up just for me although he does not really know me. I am Elise’s friend. Why am I not surprised that my dear Elise has such a wonderful husband?

But I cannot socialize for long.  A nurse leads me away. I shuffle behind her, my IV pole swaying, to another waiting room. I am about to recieve the mysterious wires. Before I can ask the nurse exactly what “the wire” means, she is gone. I am alone in a tiny waiting room with three other women, and a young girl.

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