February 21, 2012

My Week(s) of Medical Procedures

I am so lucky to work for such a great employer and have such great insurance. I shudder to think if this had happened last year when we were unemployed with only catastrophic insurance!

So - I arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area to get this lump taken out.  After traveling 30 hours, I arrived at my doctor's office with all my luggage.  Everyone was super nice, letting me call family to let them know I had arrived safely (cell phone not yet hooked up to US carrier) and giving me a place to store my luggage.

My doctor spent a lot of time with me making sure that I understood everything that was going on, and that could go on.  I am really impressed at the effort he made to ensure that I am well educated about the situation and am able to make informed decisions.  The only problem was that after all that travel - I was not really in a place to hear it all.  I had left Brazil thinking I'll just zip in, get this taken out, and zip back - no big deal (I know - sometimes I don't really take in the whole picture).  Sitting in his office learning about different types of cells and their reactions to hormones and the body's life cycle - not to mention discussion of survival rates - was all a bit much.  All I could think of was that I wanted a Manhattan, a nice baguette and some good pate (foodie to the end!).

When my appointment was over, I used their phone to call my good friend A.  All I had to do was say "Come get me" and he was there, whisking me away and finding me a good Manhattan and a great burger (pate being hard to find, and burgers being my go-to survival food).  A. and his husband D. and their two great children enveloped me in their cozy home and made me feel so much better.  If I couldn't be with my family, it was nice to be with theirs.

The next day, I had an MRI to determine the location of the cancer and the extent of it.  They give you a contrast that under the MRI makes the cancer cells light up - kind of like streets and cities at night from an airplane.  I've heard many stories about MRI's - how it's claustrophobic and people often panic.  The folks at the imaging center couldn't have been nicer.  They hooked me up and got me in machine, giving me earplugs and headphones.  The hardest part is that you have to remain still.  But since I was face down - it felt like a massage table - I just shut my eyes and was grateful I wasn't claustrophobic.  The machine makes a lot of very loud noises that are somewhat rhythmic and I found oddly soothing.  There was even one sequence that sounded like the beginning of the song "CarWash" (the part with the jackhammers).

After the MRI I had another mammogram and then was free until the next day when I had to do all my pre-op stuff.  That day, I made the rounds (kind of like a scavenger hunt).  I had blood drawn and X-Rays and EKGs - they need to make sure that everything is in order before they take you to surgery.  Then we met with the surgeon again.  I say "we" because my wonderful dad drove up to be with me for all of this.  Not only was it nice to have my family here (especially since K. and the kids were back in Brazil), but since my dad is a doctor, I had someone with me whose eyes wouldn't glaze over with all the detailed medical talk.

The next morning we were up bright and early to have all the procedures.  My dad got breakfast, but I couldn't eat past midnight (it always comes back to the food!).  First we went to the MRI center where I got another MRI.  Since the cancer isn't totally obvious to the naked eye, they needed to mark the cancerous area with wires so the surgeons know where to cut.  Unfortunately, they couldn't put me to sleep for that.  I did get a local anesthetic, and once again, the nurses were amazing - giving me little massages in between times in the MRI.

After the wires were in place, they took me to the hospital where they got me ready for surgery.  They give you this great paper blanket that gets filled with hot air - very cozy.  And I got these cool leg wraps that massage your calves - very nice.  The anesthesiologist came and made everything go away and the next thing I knew I was waking up and having a great conversation with the post-Op nurse about the best restaurants in Oakland (the foodie part of me just doesn't stop!).  Soon after that, they took me to recovery where I got to see my dad and Skype K. (I am so thankful for modern technology!).  Once I was able to move around, they let me leave with my dad.  I'm very lucky in that anesthesia doesn't leave me sick like some people.  The drugs they gave me left me happy and silly - so I was quite amusing to my father as we picked up my prescriptions and headed back to the hotel.

And then, especially since I was feeling no pain - and was super hungry - we went out to dinner to one of my favorite places.  The following day, my sister came to join us and we all hung out as I rested and started mending.  Since I was doing so well, my dad headed back home to his life after a few days and I continued to rest and recuperate and see some friends. 

But, at my follow-up doctor's appointment where I had expected to get the "good-to-go", I learned that the good news was that I only had DCIS - no invasive cancer, but that the bad news was that the margins were too small (1mm) and that I had to have another surgery.

So - we did a repeat of the previous week.  My dad drove up again (the man is a saint - the best dad ever!) on Thursday and I had surgery again on Friday.  Luckily, I didn't need the MRI wire procedure again.  Other than that - the same plan, hopefully the same recovery, and hopefully I'll head out to DC at the end of this week for radiation.

My dad and I even went to the same place for dinner on Friday.  We joked about our Friday tradition - surgery and dinner at Oliveto's - but it's not a tradition I want to start.


  1. Hang in there. It's a bummer about that second surgery, but it sounds like you got through it fine. Enjoy the good news!

  2. Wow, you have been through so much...definitely a whirlwind! Please let me know if you would like to have coffee or lunch when you are in this area and very glad the news is good from the surgeries!

  3. oh goodness, so sorry you had to have a 2nd one. But so glad about the good news. thinking of you.

  4. Happy to hear the good news. Sounds like you've had a crazy time of it though. I'm glad you had support there. Thinking of you.

  5. For some reason I didn't figure out till today that you will be in DC later. Please let me know if I can do anything. And hopefully we can catch you with a blogger potluck too :)

  6. I realize I am reading this all backwards and you are now back home and on the mend, but sucked in by someone else's experience. You and I could not be more polar opposite with MRIs and surgery. Your details sounds so easy breezy, where I was hating the warm blanket, claustrophic, hated the wrapped compression around my calves (I made a bargain with the nurse to drink everything and pee so she would take them off!) and after 2 MRIs and each time almost pushing the panic button after an hour, I will pay whatever to do an open MRI if ever needed again. Love the "at the car wash" read though. You are truly amazing..we miss you here in CA. But love that you are living life to the fullest in yet another amazing angle to your career path!! XO