From the category archives:

Lumpectomy

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Second time in OR, I feel like a pro, familiar with the routines of the ambulatory surgery unit.  The prep-nurse and I exchange recipes and talk adult children. While we chat,  Dr. Guru flies by the open drapery, grins,  and gives me a half baked wave. He looks a bit like the cat who ate the canary. Suddenly, I feel silly. I  been prepared for both of us to be haughty and stand-offish, still irritated with each other. Unlike me, he obviously has many more important things to stew about than our mini-battle.

Minutes later Dr Guru is back. He slumps in the visitor’s chair opposite my gurney, legs stretched out across the floor. He is in his comfort zone. I, on the other hand, am not, covered only by my thin, ill-fitting cotton gown.

“So tell me about this business with that radiologist,” he says.

Naturally, he wants  to talk about how the re-excision reared its ugly head.  All I want to talk about is my post-operative treatments.  I drone on about Tamoxifen versus Arimidex. I tell him I liked the professor who said no to chemo therapy.

“See,  if you shop for doctors long enough, you get exactly want you want,” Dr. Guru says. Before I can protest and reach the pillow behind me to throw at him, he is on his feet and gone. The curtain sways behind him.

Just as well. Why pick a fight with the guy who will wield the knife while you’re in twilight?

In OR, I jump up on the cot, stretch my arms on the cross. The OR is emptier and quieter than the first time. A re-excision obviously does not hold enough drama for the student body.

I wake up with a blue tent still over my head. I  hear people talk and laugh, instruments rattle, water is running. I scoot over to the gurney on my own. Actually, I could just have walked out of there, but they insist on wheeling me out.

That afternoon, my oldest daughter comes over with wild flowers from Gloria’s garden and a Get Well balloon. My son comes around around three with a nice bottle of red wine. My friend Cecilia shows up with a bunch of gossip magazines, a couple of Valrona cupcakes, and a bouquet of dark red roses.

In a letter, my youngest daughter writes:

“Difficult events don’t build character, they reveal character. This same thing can be said for you in this terrible scare – your spirit remains bright and strong.”

My husband runs to the store and comes back to prepare deviled turkey and a cheese platter for the visitors. They have wine. I have water. Everyone relaxes in the living room reading, chatting, and now and then looking up to grab a snack. Like after my lumpectomy, it feels like Boxing Day. Around 7 PM, my sister-in-law and my niece come over with chicken and green beans to make dinner for us.  Afterward, as after lumpectomy, we all play cards, Spite & Malice. My niece wins.  A perfectly pleasant end to a procedure I had wondered about, fought and waited for so long.

As soon as I am heeled, I will be off to radiation.

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Surgeon at Work

Twenty minutes after Professor Oncology nixes chemo therapy, five minutes after Dr. Alpha, the radiation oncologist, calls to tell me that I need a re-excision to get clear margins (you are supposed to have 2 mm) I am sitting in my friend’s garden sipping tea from her bone china cup. I am “in the moment” trying not to mull over all the “what ifs.”   The insufficient margin frustration is behind me. Well,  almost.  My new bosom buddy, the radiation oncologist, took charge of the incomprehensible pathology report. He even called a day earlier than promised to let me know that I , indeed, need a second surgery!

Suddenly, my cell phone buzzes. A Magnolia Cancer Center number.

The way Dr. Guru, my surgeon, puts it to me, one might think that he himself had called  my radiation oncologist, to tell him to hold off radiation,  not the other way around.

“I am still not convinced you really need this,” Dr. Guru says. “But maybe it is not such a bad idea, after all.” Then in what seems like a vague apology he adds:  “I know you are very busy and all and this will be a bit of an inconvenience for you, but we might as well go ahead and put it behind us. “

“Might as well. But when?”

“Next week.” Dr. Guru does not hesitate. “We will schedule this for next week. Joy will call you to arrange the details.”

I feel stupid for being so happy. How much happier could I not have been  had  I been wrong about the re-excision, and able to start radiation right away? Is it not childish to be happy about being vindicated? After all, I am the one who will be the most inconvenienced, just like Dr. Guru admitted. Also, I feel mildly irritated that Dr. Alpha has to tell me not to hurt Dr. Guru’s feelings by “not rubbing his nose in it.” What other profession is filled with egos so fragile that they need to be perpetually wrapped in velvet and praise? A master surgeon is never to be reminded of a mistake, however slight or insignificant.

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