A recipe for living with cancer.

Posts tagged ‘IV’

Standing like Wonder Woman

Two weeks until surgery and I am starting to get butterflies in my stomach.  I have been anxious and worried but now it’s getting worse.

The whole process of breast cancer therapy is daunting, never-ending (seemingly), a free fall and painful.  It is physically painful and emotionally painful for a long time, and the fear of a recurrence never leaves our consciousness.  The therapy process, once you understand it, is horrific in terms of anticipation and actuation, and yet we all seem to make it through.  Surgery is disfiguring and painful and the loss of a piece of your body inculcates us, we will never be the same, we need to change our body image and if you already have body image issues this just becomes another one to add to the list.  My hips are big, thighs are fat, arms are flabby, my neck is wrinkled, my hair is thin and now my breasts are… are… not there.

The mounds sitting on my chest as a result of a water balloon (commonly called skin expander) inserted and stretched to a size A/B are amorphous numb lumps that neither resemble my breasts, nor have any sensation at all. That is not true, the muscles in my breast are painful and weird in that they hurt and I can feel them move and flex when I do certain movements.  When exercising and stretching the place where the fake skin is attached hurts and pulls. The chest muscles were cut at the bottom and attached to a piece of ‘processed’ skin and reattached then lifted to the skin surface to form a pouch.  The water balloon is slipped in underneath the muscle into the pouch and filled with saline to the size you want, require or desire.

Any sexuality associated with sensation and my breasts is gone and likely will never return, never to what it was.  What will my impending breast surgery afford me once finished?  A facsimile of my breasts that will neither feel, look, nor function as before, although I do not need it to function as a milk station any longer.  They will look like breasts, possibly feel like breasts, but they will not really be breasts, they will be “chunks” of stomach tissue, muscle and fat cut from my stomach area (obviously) and stuffed into the man-made pocket made by the water balloons.  I think a lot about what they will look like, what will it feel like and what scars will remain.  I currently have five-inch scars on each breast bisecting the breast side to side.  I was quite taken aback when I first saw these scars expecting them to be much smaller and not quite so obvious.

I have spent the last year obsessed with breasts, scars, reconstruction surgery, before and after pictures, nipple tattoos, scar tattoos, blogs, websites and reviews of anything and everything to do with breast cancer, breast surgery, reconstruction of breasts and breast outcomes.  To look at my history on the computer one might begin to wonder just what kind of gruesome disturbed person I am looking at all these things.  I’ve watched mastectomy and reconstruction surgery videos over and over to become comfortable with what they will be doing and to better understand the process.  Too much information is not always a good thing.  Now I worry, what if I don’t like them, what if they are still uncomfortable like the water balloons, what if I am making a mistake and should just be flat, what if I don’t make it through surgery, or I have complications, what if what if what if.  I need to go into this surgery with a different attitude, a Wonder Woman attitude of success, instead of a what happens if it is a failure?

Brent told me about a TED talk the other day: Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are.  It talks about going into a stressful situation and how you go in shapes how you come out.  For example a job interview: go in tentative and uncertain, not feeling adequate for the job and chances are you come out without getting the job.  Go in confident, assured, knowing you can vanquish the world, go in like Wonder Woman and chances are you will get the job. Take a look at the Amy Cuddy video then think of me the day of surgery.  Right before I go in, I will be standing there next to the gurney for 2 minutes, huge blue gown hanging down to my calves-open in the back-attractive paper cap on my head, IV hanging from my arm, gray socks on my feet, hands on my hips, standing like Wonder Woman, ready to vanquish the world!


Another day another IV

Today is my Herceptin infusion and it’s the first infusion I’ve come to all by myself. Seemly not a big deal but it’s the small steps and simple things that remind me of how lucky I am on this crazy journey. As I sit and write I am interrupted by two police officers walking into the women’s cancer unit. What would be the first thing to come to your mind as the reason two police would come here?
A parking infraction?
An accident?
Someone died?
They stopped at the front desk and then in walked three more police surrounding a humongous bald man in a mustard colored jumpsuit hands and feet shackled with chains. They walked him into the back and all I could think was hmmm.

Of course prisoners get sick, get cancers and need treatments, but until one walked right in front of me I’d never given it much thought, or any thought. Men, women, children, friends, family, personalities, fighting cancer and thousands of people walking for cancer, but never have I considered being incarcerated with cancer. I cannot imagine getting one of the ACT or Taxetere infusions and then heading back to the comfort of my 6×6 cell-at least the toilet is close.

Food at prisons is not the best and i don’t imagine they cater to your needs should you find what they are serving unpalatable. Nor would they be willing to serve you 6-8 small meals during the day. All in all glad I am free to come and go as I please, drive myself to treatments.
Another day another IV!

Gat Wal Soon!


The first day out of surgery Miriam shows up with cards from the kids.  This Zelda wrote completely on her own without asking for any help.  Worthy of framing!!

The story I mentioned about IV’s…In the old days when Tom went to Medical School, medical students were thrown in to the fray and learned how to do everything starting year two (correct me if I am wrong honey).  They practiced giving shots, IV’s, all the stuff necessary to take care of a patient just in case you were the only Doctor available on Gilligan’s Island.  The Professor and Maryanne were good, but a fourth year medical student could have ministered to all of their needs, back in the day.  Today’s students are a different breed entirely, not given as many opportunities because of specialists, nurse specialists, PAs, nurses and IV teams!  To be the first guinea pig on which a newly minted medical student tries to put in an IV, not where you want to be.  However, Presby, Montefiore, Magee, all teaching hospitals and one of the benefits is the talent it attracts, but also the ability for new students, interns, etc. to learn.  Someone has to be your first.

When I went in for the sentinel node biopsy there was a medical student with the anesthesiologist.  He asked if the medical student could put in my IV and I said sure, they have to learn and I should help just as everyone else should.  Keep in mind I still have 8 IV treatments to go and need to not blow out any veins or lose possible sites for an IV or they would need to put in a port.  I don’t care who does that, its something I do not want to have!

Tom jumped in and said, NO WAY, she needs to keep all of her veins in tact.  Then he asked how many the medical student had done…this would be his first.  Tom turned to the medical student and said, “sorry, she needs all her veins for chemo and we can’t afford to blow one.”  The anesthesiologist, I felt almost begrudgingly, put in the IV.

Comes pre op for my mastectomy and in walks a young man and introduces himself as a nurse anesthesiology student and he is here to put in my IV.  I said, sorry you can’t put it in.  The pre op nurse comes over immediately looking very upset and says, “oh dear, you must have an IV to do the surgery.”  I said, “I know that but HE can’t put it in get me someone else!”  I thought I was so smart.

Tom jumped in once again, “no Barb he can do it he’s not a medical student he is a nurse anesthesiology student and has to be an RN before he can do this.” Man I thought I had this all down!

I asked how many he’d done…he said 40 -50 as a student, but he’d  been a nurse for a while. He said,”I’ll make a deal with you, I get one shot and if I can’t do it I’ll have someone else come in and do it.”  He did a fine job.  But medicine is certainly confusing.

And one wonders why Obamacare is 900 pages and complicated, you need a playbook for everything, setting up surgery, morning of, letting the patients know, pre op, surgery, post op, floor care, nurses, aids, dietary, it’s remarkable.  When I get the bill I am astounded by the cost- I/we must not forget everything that had to happen to get me to surgery, and successfully through surgery and the number of people who touched me literally and figuratively. Lets not even consider all that has transpired to get me to this point.

All the people who I interacted with in the 24-48 hours surrounding my mastectomy:

Scheduling/coordinating surgery: 2 people; morning of surgery: 8 people; surgery I can only guess: 10-12 people; recovery and transport to room: 4 : in the room: nurses, residents, interns, medical students, post doc and aides: 16 that I saw, this does not count anyone behind the scenes in the pharmacy, kitchen, housekeeping, pathology,etc. Discharge and transport: 2.  In 16 1/2 hours  42 people took care of me and those are only the ones I remember.  Those 42 people took me safely through this surgery and one more step to survive breast cancer.  Sure medicine is messed up financially and could use some reworking, but 42 people…whatever the cost it is worth every penny.

Thank you to each and everyone who helped me and also to those I did not see who I know were essential to the entire process.

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