Category Archives: Breast cancer

I Found A Lump, Part III

Click on either title to link back to:

I Found A Lump, Part I
I Found A Lump, Part II

The knockout drugs worked this time.

I remember the placement of the IV, oxygen mask, BP cuff, and pulse/ox monitor. I remember being wheeled into the operating room and moving myself from gurney to table, wishing I was anyplace else. I had a strangely casual conversation with the surgical nurses about my pulse and blood pressure, which were “surprisingly high for someone of my stature.” Ha. Yep, put me in a medical situation, and my normally healthy numbers hit the roof. Good news for me, according to the nurses — high blood pressure meant that they could give me more of The Good Drugs since my body would metabolize them quickly. I did not argue!

I don’t remember getting drowsy. I anticipated heavy eyelids and that dreamlike “I know what’s happening, but I don’t care” feeling — I have always been aware during sedated surgery, and remember much of it in detail. Not this time. I remember nothing. Totally looped.

I woke up later to too many faces above me, and a sense of desperation as I tried to will my way back toward consciousness. Dr. T. explained things and I wanted to listen, but I knew I wouldn’t remember. I heard her say that my blood was refusing to clot, and that they had pressure wrapped me. I quickly became aware of what would become my primary source of torture — and comfort — over the next 24 hours: a huge ace bandage wrapped several times around my chest and back, stubbornly pinching just under my left arm. I felt tape corners in my armpit and suppressed the urge to rip them off. I wasn’t quite awake yet, but was already thinking about how my skin would object when it was time to remove the tape and the gauze. Hospital budgets may be slim, but my nurses did not skimp on tape. Dammit.

Rest, ice, Darvocet. Repeat as needed. I got home and deposited myself on the couch, feeling relieved and fairly comfortable. But as the local wore off… not so much. Ice did nothing through the thick pressure wrap, nor did Darvocet. I called and spoke to the surgical nurse who said, “With the amount of surgery we did on you, you can double up the dose.”

The amount of surgery they did on me? Hm, that’s… interesting.

Dose doubled, and an hour later, still no relief. Too much pain and too much nausea. Got through to my surgeon at 10:00 PM and will forever be in her debt, because she called in a prescription for Vicodin.

Relief. Sleep.

I went back to the gym three days later. Ha! That was stupid. I had hoped it would make me feel better; more normal. But instead it made me feel weak.

I hate weak.

Spent most of the next week in elective time out, trying to sleep. I was hurting, sleep-deprived and generally not fit to be around humans.

At my post-surgical appointment with Dr. T., the stitches came out, and I learned that the pathology report read: “Benign ruptured cyst with granulation due to probable bleeding. No malignancy. Case closed.” There is no sweeter word than “benign.” I need a copy of that report. I should frame it.

It surprised me to hear that I need a medic alert bracelet that labels me, from here on out, as someone with “coagulopathy.” I am now considered a “free bleeder.” No bike racing for me.

My surgeon told me that she used “quite a lot” of electrocautery to stop the bleeding, and that it simply didn’t work. She said that she finally stopped trying; that’s when they pressure wrapped me. Evidently, I am also not a good candidate for sedation in the future. I am supposed to tell doctors that I need an anesthesiologist and should be knocked out at the next level with Propofol. The surgical team used the maximum amount of sedative, and while I thought I was out cold, they were concerned that I was far too alert. I talked to the doctor and nurses throughout the surgery and they thought I might try to get up, thrash about, or remember things.

I laughed and cringed as I asked my doctor, “What did I say?” She looked me straight in the eye with a half-smile and deadpanned, “You do not want to know.” I didn’t pursue it.

I’m not sure how to process the whole “free bleeder” thing. Dr. T. told me that I would likely have to advocate hard with any physician… she said that most surgeons “will take one look at you, see a healthy, strong person who doesn’t drink a lot or do drugs, is small-framed, and will roll their eyes and be generally skeptical of both the bleeding tendency and your strong resistance to anesthesia.” Even with complete knowledge of my bleeding disorder and my body’s tendency to need more drugs than most, they were very surprised by what actually happened.

So chalk up a couple more medical oddities for my Krypton File. I don’t like the idea that no procedure is “minor.” And the thought of something like a serious accident and my increased potential for just plain bleeding to death scares the hell out of me. But mostly pisses me off.

Eleven days out, I’m still not where I want to be. I am starting to feel more like myself again, thinking about things like school supply shopping, dinner, and catching up with laundry. As I told a friend, I’ll feel a lot better when my left breast no longer looks as if it was in a bar fight.

My new Medic Alert bling should be here by Tuesday.

And my morning coffee tastes better than ever.

I Found A Lump, Part II

Click on either title to link to:

I Found A Lump, Part I
I Found A Lump, Part III

Are you sure you have something scheduled here today?

Anxiety. Frustration. Rage! Lady, don’t make me come over there. I haven’t had anything to eat or drink since midnight, and I REALLY don’t want to be here, and you’re going to make me late for my surgical prep because you can’t find my name in your &%#$ing computer?

But what I really said, after chuckling nervously, was, “Yes, ma’am, I’m sure.”

I would have paid big bucks for a cup of coffee.

I usually start my day with a bowl of oatmeal or an egg white omelette with sauteed veggies and cheddar, and God help the poor fool who gets between me and my favorite extra-large coffee cup. So while I knew I would survive a couple of hungry hours before my 11:00 AM surgical start time, I was more than a little concerned about the possibility of caffeine-deprivation and nerves combining and exploding in the face of anyone who dared to wish me a good morning.

We straightened out the confusion, I signed a stack of papers, then I settled into a chair in the surgical waiting room, where someone sat and sipped a cup of hospital cafeteria coffee. How dare they? Normally, that slightly stale, industrial grade coffee scent offends me, but that day the very idea of anything resembling my favorite morning addiction made me want to jump up and run to the nearest Starbucks and forget the whole thing.

Ah, Starbucks. How I love you.

I was relieved to have finally reached Thursday, the day of surgery, so that I could get it over with, but now I wanted to be anywhere but here. All week when asked how I was feeling about things, I replied, “I really just need it to be Friday.”

I had almost forgotten about the first time I had a lump removed, fifteen years ago, when the local anesthetic didn’t work. The sedation drugs snowed me under enough that I could not speak or open my eyes, but I could hear and understand everything, as if I was awake. And I most certainly did not receive any benefit of the merciful “amnesia” that was supposed to come from one of the drugs. I remember it vividly. The surgeon began to cut, and I felt all of it, but couldn’t get the words out to tell them so. After a few seconds, someone saw my face and asked, “Can you feel that, Kathryn?” at which point I was able to squeak out a pathetic, “It hurts; hard to talk.”

They stopped, told me that I needed to tell them if I felt pain (gee, thanks, wish I had thought of that) injected more local anesthetic, and got on with it. But the memory remains.

I worried a lot about that this week. What if the anesthesia doesn’t work? What if I can’t say anything this time? What if nobody notices?

I also worried about my extremely agitating tendency to bleed. My brother and I have joked for years that we must be from the planet Krypton, with our odd medical anomalies. I have enough platelets for three or four people, and I take an aspirin daily to keep them moving along. The concern about bleeding is trumped by the worry over clotting; in my case, the benefits of the aspirin outweigh the risk.

Hard to quiet those damned worry voices. They’ve kept up their blasted whispering for a week.

I Found A Lump

It’s not my first… this one makes number five since I started growing fibroadenomas in 1994, if you’re keeping score, which I suppose I am.

Lumps suck. Lumps are scary, not supposed to be there, infuriating, disempowering and defeminizing. In my case, so far, they have all come through pathology with labels that are always somewhat “unique,” but also, thankfully, always something other than cancer. But no matter how much my body seems determined to make ambulatory surgery with local anesthesia and IV sedation a hobby, I have never gotten used to it.

My last lump adventure was in 2005. It was a seven appointments long, high-stress, multiple-biopsied extravaganza which culminated in the surgical removal of two “areas of concern.” In the end, my “atypical apocrine-like cells” were passed around to several pathologists at two different teaching hospitals, and ultimately labeled as indeterminate and rare, but most likely benign anomalies.

So here I am with four surgical scars and deeply insulted breasts, but also with my (“most likely”) good health and an ever growing secret stash of four-leaf clovers and lucky pennies.

Deep breath.

Five weeks or so ago, I found a new lump. One would think I’d be downright religious by now about regularly checking myself, but with all my scar tissue and surgical troughs, I find it almost impossible to tell whether or not there’s anything different going on from month to month. I’m not very good about checking. But this sucker was big. A good inch and a half across. I was horrified as I realized, a day or so after I found it, that I could see the lump in a mirror at my gym, through two layers of fabric, mid bicep-curl.

These things get scarier as I get older. While I know that statistics are on my side and that the vast majority of lumps are benign, I also know that the numbers get slightly less favorable when lumps appear after age 40. I have not spent the past five weeks worried sick about cancer — I know that would be highly unlikely, and have instead used my negative energy worrying about surgery. But it’s still impossible to completely quiet the “what ifs.” They have a way of murmuring and whispering their way through each day until the final post-surgical pathology report comes in, no matter how much the odds tell them to shut the hell up.

As a doctor’s kid, I was well-taught to comfort myself with the knowledge that “medicine is all odds.” I know that getting ahead of myself with worry takes a physical toll as well as an emotional one, so for the most part, I try to focus on the procedure itself and the pain-in-the-assedness of it all, rather than get caught up in the possibility that I may be in for a longer, far more difficult journey in the case of any malignancy. So I tend to walk into pre-surgical appointments feeling fairly confident. “Yeah, I know the drill,” I think to myself, having been here several times before.

But then, something always cues those damned murmurings. The “Understanding Breast Cancer” poster in the exam room, or the sterile white room itself, which someone has attempted to soften with sparsely placed home decor, including a framed landscape scene of a barn in a field of bluebonnets. The wall art is oddly soothing in its serenity, until one notices its awkward placement near a needle disposal box marked “BIOHAZARD.” I appreciate the efforts to smooth out the rough edges of a sterile environment, but also find it darkly humorous.

Ultrasound. Unsettling statements like, “here’s what concerns us” and “possible solid mass” and “next week’s surgical schedule.” Mammogram and second ultrasound to confirm findings.

Fill the fridge with groceries. Take the kids swimming. Pretend there’s not a golf ball-sized lump in the left half of my swimsuit top. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Click on either title to link to:

I Found A Lump, Part II
I Found A Lump, Part III