Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Surgery

The surgery is done and my mother is recovering.

This has been the most difficult thing my mother has ever been through. She has handled it with amazing grace and positivity and her strength is absolutely amazing.

Friday we arrived at the hospital at 8:30. They took her to nuclear medicine to scan her lymph nodes to determine which would stay and which would go. She went back around 9am and the scan took about 45 minutes which seemed to fly by. My brother, father and I sat and waited. We would be doing a lot of that over the next 14 hours. By 10am she was back with us and we walked to the fourth floor where we would spend most of the day. Around 11:15 they took her back to the pre-op area to prep her for surgery. Slightly after noon we were asked to go back to see her before she goes for surgery. She had already been given a few doses of meds which had her very calm. A few tears were shed, I love you's were said and we soon found ourselves back in the waiting room where we would be for the next nine hours.

We tried to pass the time with books, games, electronic devices and television. Around 2:30 the breast surgeon came out to let us know that the mastectomy went well and she only had to remove three lymph nodes - one from the right and two from the left. She believes the nodes were benign but it would be confirmed with pathology. Naturally, our hope is that the cancer had not spread to the nodes - so we are still waiting but going with the idea that they were benign and she won't have to undergo aggressive chemotherapy.

Now we had to wait for the longer surgery - the reconstruction phase. We watched the hours tick by and around 5:30 we started to get a bit antsy. At 6:20pm the plastic surgeon found us in the waiting room and explained that surgery was complete, the implants, filled very little, were placed and she did very well through surgery. She was in recovery and we would be allowed back to see her very soon. Relief. It was done! We would be able to see her! Finally!

At 7pm my dad was allowed to go back to see her. My brother and I were just arriving back from grabbing a bite to eat. I immediately went back to see her. She wasn't feeling well coming out of the anesthesia. She was nauseous. The meds they were giving her to fight that were causing her to be drowsy. Her body temperature had dipped down, so they were warming her up. But, oh sweet relief, the surgery was over.

The next few hours were a bit intense. She wasn't moved to her room from recovery until nearly 9pm. My only complaint was if it was going to take that long, a family member should have been permitted to stay with her. Once on the floor, we were told we would have to stay out of her room until they "finished" - but again, being the patient advocate that I am, I firmly believe one family member should have been permitted to be with her at that point. I've worked in hospitals and I know that the decisions to exclude family are often made by nurses that just feel family will be in the way. I "get" not wanting a throng of people in a patient's room while doing assessments; however, one family member isn't going to be in the way and may actually be of assistance. But, I digress. That truly was my ONLY complaint with her care throughout the surgery and hospital stay. She had AMAZING care.

That evening was rough. For anyone ever facing this with a loved one, please know, after surgery they will always be grumpy and short tempered. They don't feel well. They are often in pain (perhaps not intense pain due to drugs) but the pain IS still there. They are hungry. They are thirsty. They are fighting to stay awake but keep drifting. They are frustrated. They itch. They feel cold. All of the above was true for my mother and it was certainly true for me after having surgery. So before getting annoyed or taking anything they say personally - step back and realize that this is the typical reaction after surgery and it will pass.

I stayed the night with her. Around midnight she really wanted a cup of coffee and some food. It had been 26 hours since she last put anything in her stomach. I made a run to McDonald's, as the hospital was no longer serving food, and I purchased their oatmeal, a large coffee and a peanut butter cup McFlurry (she wanted ice cream as her throat hurt from the tube). Once she had coffee and food, she felt much, much better.

She was a bit alarmed that she couldn't move her arms very well. But with a little reassurance that it was perfectly normal and soon she would be able to lift her arms, she felt a bit better. We giggled a bit about my feeding her ice cream and oatmeal - naturally making a bit of a mess with it and her - but it felt good to giggle a bit.

We both finally fell asleep a little after 1am. The night went smoothly, her pain was under control and by morning she was feeling weak but much better. The surgeon came in to talk to her while I was out grabbing more coffee. He told her she could go home!! Her nurse came in and said the goal would be 11am and sure enough - by 11:30 we were waiting on an orderly to bring the wheelchair.

Getting home was exhausting but she did well. I asked her what sounded good for dinner and the choice was lasagna, so that's what I made. She has JP (Jackson Pratt) drains which I go over twice a day to empty. This morning she was able to shower with some assistance, which made her feel so much better.

Each day she progresses towards normalcy again.

I write this much detail, as if anyone else is facing a similar circumstance, they at least know what to expect. I'm going to save the emotions for another post, as this one has grown extremely long. But there is another emotional aspect that really needs to be shared.

But for now, friends, I'm ready for sleep. Good night. :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Emotional Days

Today is one of those days. I'm emotional. Every little bit I cry. I've tried to be the rock. I'm trying to stay strong for my mom. But today it feels like reality has hit me like a ton of bricks. This week is it. Friday my mom goes in for surgery to have her breasts removed. My heart aches for her. I wish we could turn the clock backwards and live in a place where the word cancer wasn't part of our daily vocabulary.

To compound it, I had to use all of my time off work when Nick had both knees replaced earlier this year. It is absolutely killing me inside that on Thursday, as my mom goes to the plastic surgeon to have him mark up her body and then to MD Anderson for the lymph node biopsy followed by a visit to the breast surgeon to have guide wires placed in her breasts. . .I won't be there. Friday morning, as she waits at the hospital for surgery, with all the anxiety that will go along with that wait, I won't be there. Never in a million years would I have ever predicted that my mother would go through such a life changing event without me at her side. I will be there when she is out of surgery but I am struggling with the thought that I'm letting my family down.

I know she says all will be fine, she understands, but it doesn't change the fact that I haven't been to her doctor appointments with her, I'm not going to be there with her as she goes through all of this. . .it's like I'm the absentee daughter - and I HATE IT. I'm a caregiver by nature. When someone is sick - I'm there. When I'm needed - I'm there. The idea of not being there goes against every fiber in my being and it makes my heart hurt.

So today has been one of those really rough days. I know the first response of comfort everyone wants to give is, "everything will be ok." I appreciate that people want to reach out and give comfort, but sometimes we have to let out the emotion. Sometimes we have to cry. Right now, I'm sad. It doesn't mean I'm not positive about the future. I'm sad for today. I'm sad that my mom is going through this. I'm sad that she is losing her breasts, will be in pain, will undergo uncomfortable treatments. I'm sad that she is going to be sick. I'm sad that life as we know it is changing and will be this new kind of "different" for quite a while.

I'm just sad. There is a grieving process that takes place - a grieving of the life we all once knew. I have to go through it, I have to release this emotion. No matter how much push there is to stay positive - it mustn't stifle the process of releasing the emotions that go along with the Big C.

So this week I'm keeping the tissues handy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Decision Has Been Made

The last couple weeks have been extremely difficult. My mother has faced probably the most difficult decision she has ever faced. Mastectomy vs. lumpectomy. She's spent much time speaking with doctors and seeking opinions. She has made a very educated, thought-out decision.

Friday, August 19th, she will be going to surgery for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. It wasn't easy to come to that conclusion but it is what she feels most comfortable with.

She's met with the breast cancer surgeon, oncologist, breast cancer doctor, plastic surgeon, the doctor in radiation oncology and the dietician. The MD Anderson team is amazing and she feels so confident in the work they do.

Monday morning she goes for the PET scan. This scan will tell them if the cancer is anywhere else in her body and could change the course of treatment depending on what it reveals. We are praying very hard that only her breasts are affected and no surprises will show on the scan.

Thursday, the surgery prep begins, first with another type of scan followed by a lymph node biopsy. On Friday, it's another type of scan followed by the five hour surgery to remove her breasts and prepare her body for reconstruction. She has opted for implants, but those will not come for several months.

The doctors also advised that there is a good chance she will be undergoing some chemotherapy and radiation.

So, that's where we are today. This is her last weekend before surgery.

Please send prayers that the PET scan results from Monday will be all clear.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Appointments, appointments and more appointments - update

We have had a few weeks and the cancer diagnosis has set in. I think the shock has warn off and we are moving forward with plans.

My mom is so strong. I'm amazed at the strength she has had through all of this.

On July 19th we met with the surgeon. A few days later she had the MRI. What was revealed was the cancer in the left breast is a 1cm tumor. The right breast is so small it didn't even show on the MRI. This was excellent news. In fact, if you are going to have cancer, this seems like the best news you can really get with the big C - SMALL.

The surgeon suggested a lumpectomy and radiation. However, mom has received some other advice from other doctors and friends/family that are breast cancer survivors. She has been leaning towards the double mastectomy with reconstruction but wanted to wait for the appointment with the plastic surgeon before making a final decision.

Today that appointment took place. It was a hard day for her. She heard the process she will go through to have breasts again after the double mastectomy. It's not an easy process and it's certainly not a "go in for surgery, have the old one's removed, the new ones put back and it's done" kind of thing. No, it will be months before her body is "normal" again. But, she's fairly certain the double mastectomy is the way to go.

Next week, on Wednesday, 8/10, she has an appointment with the oncologist. There she will find out about the radiation/chemotherapy options she may have to consider.

Surgery is scheduled for August 19th.

So, there we have it. The update on where we are. I'm thankful there are treatment options, but I know how hard all these decisions are for my mom.