"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes." Psalm 119:71

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Say What?" Part II

And now for the second edition of "Say What?"  (Which is all in jest, so please don't think I'm angry at any of the following people! I consider it a calling to get to tell my story of sickness and health and God's part in my life to anyone who asks. So I smile in response and then come here to rant, where it's safe and you won't judge me! :)

Before I could be cleared for surgery, I had to have a cardiac exam. My surgeons wanted to know that my heart could withstand the long time under anesthesia, etc. I showed up on the day of my "stress test" in flip-flops. And so began the drama of the day...

I know all of you are much smarter than me, so it might be hard for you to understand that when they told me I was having a stress test, I had no clue what that meant. They sent me home with instructions that told me not to eat after midnight and to wear warm clothes since the exam room is cold. They did not advise me against wearing flip-flops. But, my oh my, was I harangued for my footwear by the nurse who rolled her eyes when she told me I'd be running on a treadmill.

All the testing took about 5 hours in the hospital (which, by the way, I LOVE! Sorry, Brandy, but this place kicks St Lukes rear! It's beautiful and there are the prettiest stained glass windows in it!) and for 4.5 of those 5 hours, I was being poked fun of for showing up in flip-flops. Finally, while I'm on the treadmill and two nurses are laughing at me run in backless shoes, I say, "I'm in my twenties! Why in the world should I have knowledge of a stress test? I can tell you anything you want to know about cancer (I can't) but I know nothing of heart problems (thanks, to Brandy, actually, I do know some)."

During the day, I also had some classic "Say What?" moments:

1. The Negative Nurse
The nurse who was checking me in read my chart, and then commented on how young I was to be a cancer survivor. Wishing to nip that too-familiar line of talk in the bud, I said, "But I've been really blessed and I have a great family who have all been really supportive." And so she asks about my family. I say, "I have two little boys. I wanted a little girl, but it's a blessing I got my boys because they won't be at risk for breast cancer." She says, "Oh, but their daughters will!" I say, "Oh my gosh, what a negative thing to tell a person!" And she says she's not being negative, just realistic.

What's Wrong With That? I give her credit by assuming that she probably thought this was helpful medical information that I needed. But it's such a negative thought and something that would have been better left unsaid. Surely she must have realized how snarky she sounded. Rule of thumb: Only oncologists should speak of things like that.

2. The Blame Game
Next they sent me down the hall for blood work. I can't have blood taken on my left arm anymore since I had a lymph node removal and I'm at risk for infection. So I always have to direct people to take blood on the right arm. And I'm always frustrated by the next inevitable question, "Why?"

Really, I don't understand why the Phlebotomists need further information. I say, 'right arm.' They should say 'okie-dokie.' I've actually had a handful of medical professionals (not phlebotomists) ask to see my surgery site when I don't understand how it can possibly be relevant to their job. And this nosiness and pushiness by those in the medical field rubs me the wrong way. Back to the story: When I tell her that I've had breast cancer, she asks the same thing everyone asks: "Is there a history of it in your family?" (Why do people desire to attribute your disease to something other than chance? If they find something to blame it on, does it make them feel safer? As if they can avoid the disease by avoiding the assumed cause?)

I say no. And she says...

"You must have worn too much deodorant."

To humor what I assume is an odd attempt at hilarity, I laugh a laugh that is full of confusion and ends with a "Huh??"

She says, "Deodorant causes breast cancer. So if you have to wear it, you should only wear a little."

What's Wrong With That: It's extremely insulting to have someone try to blame you for an illness. My oncologist likes to say that, depending on what article you read, the sun, moon, and stars could be causing your cancer. The truth is we get cancer from plain ol' life. If blame must be assigned, blame it on Adam and Eve. Don't blame it on me!

3. The worst offender of all!
Ok, so I'm having an ultrasound of my heart. Adriamyacin, a drug I took during chemotherapy, can cause your heart to enlarge. So this very kind man who is probably around 45 years old, is using a wand to look inside my chest and take pictures of my heart. I am not worried in the least bit. My heart will be declared in superb condition and I'll get approval for surgery! I'm thinking these very things when this kind man stops in the middle of his story about fishing with his kids and says, "Do you ever have heart palpitations?"

"Um, no. Why, do you see something?"

"I can't answer that."

Ok, then why do you ask it?!  You know I won't get the results from a doctor for four days!

So, I am slightly more worried now, and it shows because the glowing green numbers of my heart rate on the monitor, jump up by about ten. It's a long appointment, and by the time it's over and I'm able to sit up on the bed, I've had time to calm myself and the fleeting worry is already gone. For the moment...

'Kind man' grabs my hands and holds them both in his. "Before you go," he says, "I want to tell you something someone told me when my daughter was very young. Spend as much time with your kids as you can. They grow up too fast and you don't want to miss any of it."

What's Wrong With That: Everything. And nothing. Ok, so if he'd met me on a train, plane, or automobile and shared this news, I would have thought, "How nice. How kind." But given the environment we were in and the fact that he had just been taking images of my enlarged, ready-to-burst, gonna-give-out-any-second heart, EVERYTHING was wrong with this! (My heart turned out to be fine so he was actually just trying to share some wisdom and it was just bad timing.)

4. My Eavesdropping Realization
I was at the hospital yesterday doing all my pre-registration stuff. I was sitting in a long waiting room, half hidden by a pillar, when a stranger near me started up a conversation with another stranger. From my hiding place I heard their entire conversation. Stranger #1 was waiting for his wife who was doing pre-resgistration for a back surgery she was soon to have. He was in his 70s, well-spoken, and from what I heard him say, I can assume he was very well-traveled too. He was worried about his wife and he shared his worries with Stranger #2. They both got on the subject of church and that made me smile. People are so passionate about their home churches, and these two were no different.

"You know," said the old man, "we've got a lot of friends in our church who are in their 70's and haven't had any health problems. None at all! Why, I've got a neighbor down the street who is 75 and she's never spent a day in the hospital! Except when she had her babies!" They just don't know how lucky they are! How blessed to be in their 70's and have had no major health problems!"

What's Wrong With That: Nothing. Really nothing. He was justifiable in his feelings of worry for his wife and wishing she were one of the lucky ones who'd made it to her 70's with no health problems. I only mention this conversation here because of its impact on me. Having just made it passed my yearly scan, I am once again invincible and I will remain invincible until about 2 weeks before my next scan is scheduled. And even though I can push worry aside in between scans, I've been face to face with my own fatality, and memory of that, awareness of that, are never too far below the surface. And so I hear this man speak of those lucky to be healthy into their 70's and all I can think is what I would have given to be healthy into my 30's.

And it dawns on me that in this area I might have more wisdom than this man who has lived more than twice my years. And at first I blanch at the thought. Wisdom comes from experience and I'd like to give my experience back. I want to sit at some old man's feet and say, "Tell me, sir. Tell me all the things you've learned from your broken hearts and all those miles you've walked." Truthfully, I've much to learn from men and women everywhere. But, I've got some experience, too. Namely, I've been taught to number my days.

5. The Woman I'll Never Forget
I've saved the best for last. I was in the cardiologist's waiting room when a man wheeled in a small, elderly, grinning lady in a wheel chair. He backed her up into the far corner of the room and then told her he'd be right back. She noticed me right away and loudly, from across the room, set out trying to nonchalantly deduce what I was doing in a cardiologist's office. I'm familiar with these type of questions from people who want to know your story. "What brings you here today?" "Are you at the hospital a lot?" Etc. She asked these questions in a loud voice, but a sweet one.

I politely answered all the questions, but without sharing my medical history. And so she made one final attmept to discover my ailment. It was a simple question that no one really asks. I hadn't even really thought about it until she said:

"And, Sarah, do you have a happy life?"

Well, yes, I do. I told her about God healing me, about my kids and how much I was in love with them. And I asked her the same question. "Do you have a happy life?"

"Oh, yes! I will turn 90 in December and we're planning a big party!"

She was one of the really lucky ones, I guess.

Friday, June 24, 2011

God Sends Us Some Mail

SURGERY IS SET FOR MONDAY!!! I am flabbergasted at how many obstacles we had to overcome just to get my surgery scheduled! Since about April I've been thinking: "After the surgery, I will..."

In other words, while I'm hoping that my recovery will be speedy, I'm expecting that life will be on hold for a while during recovery. So I'm glad to get the show on the road already, so I can be one step closer to back to normal!

Since I'll be spending the next few weeks in a sedentary state, it was extra wonderful to get to spend last weekend in San Antonio with my three guys. If you know us personally or have read the blog for a while, you know how we've made financial adjustments in the past months. And I wouldn't be honoring God if I didn't mention his blessing of this trip.

About a month ago I realized that Terry's 30th birthday was approaching and we weren't in a position to do anything extra special to usher him into this new decade. So I prayed about it. And over the next week, and in fact, beginning that very next day, we got three unexpected checks in the mail from various places! I was so excited when I finally got to tell Terry that I had a weekend in our favorite Texas town planned and that it wasn't happening because of anything we'd done. But rather, it was possible because of God! And in the end, doesn't all of our money come from God anyway?

This surprise blessing helped us understand better what God expects of us financially. If we try to give like He asks, we won't feel deprived (and 'try' is the key word- because although we've made adjustments, they've been small and we have a long way to go before we can say we're doing exactly what we should.). When you don't have mountains of money in the bank, you have the chance to give God so much more control. Maybe you think I'm silly for thinking God had a birthday present in mind when we got those checks. But I'd rather give God credit every chance I get!

All the glory is to God for working in our hearts to change us before we even knew what change we needed! I think it was in The Hole in Our Gospel where the author wrote that when he started to wonder how much money he had, he knew it was time to give some away. I hope we can feel like that some day. After seeing the way money came from The Church during all of my treatment, you'd think we had complete grasp over the fact that God will provide. But I still get really nervous where money is concerned. Like, for example, when our tire blew out on I-10 on the way home from San Antonio. It ricocheted up and hit the door so that the driver's side door wasn't able to open. And all I could see were dollar signs! I'm a work in progress!

Thank you, God, for small blessings, caring about birthdays, and teaching us lessons. And Happy 30th Birthday, husband!

Ecclesiastes 5
10He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. 13(P) There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Surgery Stuff

So much has happened regarding my surgery that I don't even know where to begin. Had I not taken so long to update the blog, this would be easier. But I've been hiding from my computer lately! Ok, here come the updates:

-I have a new plastic surgeon. If you asked my old surgeon what happened, they would blame me for a misunderstanding. I blame them for miscommunication. In the end, it doesn't matter. I left their office last week, upset about the likelihood of having to reschedule a surgery that'd been on the books for 2 months, and within 45 minutes I was meeting my new, beloved plastic surgeon, Dr. Rock. He's beloved because he saved me agreeing to cancel his appointments for June 27th and allow me to KEEP MY SAME SURGERY DAY! I loved him immediately! But, beyond his eagerness to help me out, he is also the most personable of surgeon's I've met with and explained the surgery in such a way that I was absolutely fascinated with the whole concept by the time I left his office!

Which brings me to the info everyone wants to know about-- My TRAM flap surgery! I opted not to have implants (an easy decision for me) because of 2 main reasons: 1.) Every doctor I spoke with said that they could guarantee that I would be back on the operating table about once a decade to re-do the implants. My goal is to get through this surgery and say goodbye to operating rooms forever, so I didn't like all the up-keep involved. 2.) The surgeons explained that 100% of women who get implants have a pocket of scar tissue that forms around the implant making the breasts hard. And due to my radiation, mine would be harder than most. Which would also make finding any tumors hiding in the chest wall (the most common place for recurrence) difficult which would possibly lead to more MRIs and scans, meaning more radiation, which is a big negative.

I am very excited about my TRAM flap surgery and I'm going to explain it in the simplest terms that I can. I know a lot of readers are in the medical profession, so I'll try to get this right: (Please don't be offended at the medical information shared below. Some of it is graphic or possibly too intimate a thing to share online. But it's my reality and because I've been asked about it so frequently, I'd like to share details.)

1. My general surgeon will immediately remove the right breast. They call this a prophylactic mastectomy since it's precautionary. This tissue will be sent off to pathology just as a formality.

2. My plastic surgeon will begin the same time as the mastectomy is being perfromed. He'll make an incision from hip bone to hip bone and pull that skin back. He'll seperate the tissue and muscle below my belly button into 2 sections. The tissue and muscle is cut-- the blood vessels are not.

3.Each of these sections of fat will be "tunneled" up through my body and placed into the chest area and molded into the shape of breasts. I can expect to be 5 cup sizes smaller than I am now. (That's a lot, right!)

4. They might have to use skin from my stomach to cover the new "mounds' as they're called. But, if you'll recall from my original post about my mastectomy, they left me with a fair amount of skin, so we'll see. There will be just skin covering this new tissue- none of the normal anatomical features associated with this body part will exist after this surgery. They can be re-created later, after surgery is healed. This is done primarily by tattooing.

5. It's also possible that they'll need to put some mesh over the wound in my stomach. This is to prevent hernias, which are the second biggest risk factor with this surgery.

6. The #1 risk factor is that the newly transplanted tissue won't live once the blood vessels are re-directed to go up, rather than down. If that happens on the operating table, they'll take the tissue back down to the stomach and see if it turns red again. If it doesn't, they close me up and I'm breast- and mound-less for a while.

7. The biggest perk of the surgery happens last- they pull the fat and skin above the belly button down to close the incision in my stomach, creating a tummy tuck effect. Yay!

8. I will get two drains below my belly button and one at each reconstruction site. They'll stay in about a week. I'm hoping for five days though, because I'd like them removed when I'm released from hospital. Don't know if y'all remember how big of a baby I was after I had my original drains removed, but I am dreading, dreading, dreading this part!

9. The average hospital stay is 4 days. I can't drive or lift more than 1 pound for 6 weeks. The Dr. says I should feel normal again after 3 months. He says that the time spent under anesthesia is directly related to how long it takes to gain energy back. My surgery should last around 8 hours.

BUT: I went to the Med Center yesterday and got some bad news. My name was no longer on the hospital's calendar for surgery on my expected surgery date, June 27th. Somehow my surgery got cancelled! Both surgeon's still have the day blocked off for me, and their staffs are, as we speak, trying to get me back on the schedule so I don't have to postpone surgery. Please pray that we can move ahead with the originally scheduled day!