I’m Still Standin’
I haven’t posted in ages & ages, but I’m back. I’ve been busy ummm… well, busy & preoccupied &… recovering. Remember when I talked about YAAAY, my lung biopsy came back negative? Yeah… well… the report also said “this may represent adjacent tissue,” and dag nabbit, that’s exactly what it did. It missed the cancer that was hiding in the middle of some non-cancerous tissue in my lung.
Another CT was scheduled for three months later, just to check for any growth or change in the nodule. I went in for my appointment feeling confident and secure, but as soon as I signed in and sat down to wait, it hit me. I started to cry. I knew, I just KNEW with all my heart & soul what the outcome of that CT would be. And sure enough, the CT showed some growth in the nodule, as well as an appearance that had become more consistent–actually, very consistent–with a malignancy.
My pulmonologist recommended surgery to remove the nodule and find out once and for all whether it was cancerous. She referred me to a surgeon who specializes in Video Assisted Throacic (heart/lung) Surgery using the daVinci Robot. The Youtube video below shows how the robot works… didn’t want to gross you out (don’t worry, that’s coming…) with a real operation, so I’m gonna show you how da Vinci works with the game “Operation.”
The surgeon explained the procedure, which involves this very cool robot that can git ‘er done with several small incisions. Traditional lung surgery involves much larger incisions, more blood loss, the spreading of the ribs (youch!) and obviously, a lot more pain. The robot, however, has four “arms” which are inserted through small incisions, along with a camera. The doctor would operate the robot while watching my innards on a video screen. He told me they would remove the nodule and immediately do the pathology to determine whether it was cancer while I was still knocked out in the operating room. If it turned out the nodule WAS cancer, they would likely remove the entire lower left lung lobe, making the operation more complicated.
It’s pretty scary to go to sleep not knowing what exactly will happen to you! Would this operation be a fairly simple one, or would they have to crack me open like a walnut and pull out a an entire lobe? (In case you don’t already know, we do have five lobes–two on our left and three on our right. Dogs actually have 7! I know this because my dog had one removed due to a torsion/twisting, but that’s a whole other story…) Did I have cancer or not? If so… how bad was it? Was this the beginning of the end?
When they rolled me into the operating room, I got to see da Vinci. He’s pretty cool, but I panicked* just the same. They quickly shot something into my IV & I left this realm for a bit, though they told my husband I needed extra anesthesia because I became very wiggly, just as a I had during the biopsy… LOL! I must’ve thought it was a party or something… woo hoooo, let’s dance!
When I woke up, the pain was incredible, horrific! I think they must refrain from giving you too much pain medication until you’re fully awake, and once I was, that initial hellaciousness was quickly lessened by a shot into the IV tube. I found that yes, the thing in my lung WAS cancer; no, they did NOT need to take the entire lobe, but they got it all out, 100%, all gone, buh-bye cancer.
It’s a very surreal feeling to go to sleep not knowing whether you have cancer, then wake up knowing that you did, but you don’t anymore.
So back to my room I went, with a tube draining the blood, air and fluid from my chest cavity. This is necessary because they deflate your lung… yup, they flatten it out like a balloon! Then after they do the surgery, they blow it up again. But just to make sure it’s not leaking air, they then put water in your chest cavity so they can look for bubbles! Yikes! Anyway, between oxygen, IVs & the chest tube, I looked and felt like a marionette. Of course, they wouldn’t let me go to the… ahem… powder room, so every time I had to… ahem… powder my nose, I had to call for assistance. They’re so afraid you’re going to fall, especially with the morphine & all. Anyway, with that IV pumping fluid into me constantly, of course I had to “call for assistance” a lot. Man, I hated that!!! Hated that goofy porta-pot thing, too.
And then it happened. In the middle of the night, a sweet patient care tech came in & I asked her to help me use that damned porta-torture-chamber-pot, and during the ensuing chaotic tangle of tubes, the chest tube popped out. It didn’t come all the way out of my body, where it went in just below the ribs… but it came unplugged & kind of squirted blood everywhere. Including my fashionable hospital gown. Yuck. It must’ve looked a lot like the movie “Carrie.” The nurse assigned to me came running in, freaking out and YELLED AT ME.
Yup. She yelled at me. And I. Went. Ballistic. Don’t think a little morphine is gonna make me docile, honey. It would take a lot more than that, especially when you’re being ignorant, unprofessional and disrespectful. I told her that’s what she was & that I was going to report her. Then she turned her wrath on the sweet patient care tech, so I went to her defense. Just a little accident, too much stuff getting tangled up, could happen to anyone. No need to seek someone to blame. So they cleaned up my bed, me and my gown, and “Carrie” went back to sleep sitting up in the reclining chair, which was far more comfortable than the bed.
The next morning, the doc came in and checked me. He looked at the machine responsible for collecting all the blood, and with surprise he said, “Oh, look! You didn’t even bleed that much! You can go home today.” I didn’t bother telling him that there was quite a bit more of my blood in the trash, the mop & the laundry room, because getting out of there sounded mighty good to me!
I was very surprised at the amount of pain I had following the surgery, for about five weeks! Though the incisions were pretty small, there are a bunch of delicate nerves between the ribs called “intercostal nerves,” and when they get disturbed, they retaliate rather violently. OWWWW!!! The pain was at its worst late at night, and it seemed nothing and no drug could help. Still… I’m a very, very lucky lady.
A cancer diagnosis changes everything. Everything. Suddenly you think more about the people you love, about showing you love them, about spending more time with them. Tomorrow is only something we hope will come. It’s not guaranteed.
I don’t know why I got so lucky while others do not. I’m certainly not some wonderful, saintly person who DESERVES to be spared. That’s just not how it works. By sheer luck, an accidental finding saved my life.
Oh, how fervently I wish every cancer patient could be so lucky!!! So many lose their lives to this vicious disease. Every day I pray for a cure, as well as for the people I know who are fighting for their lives right now.
So… I’ve been MIA for a while, but I’m still here. I’m a cancer survivor,though I sometimes feel like a fraud even calling myself one. It was very early, stage 1A, and it’s gone. I’m beyond lucky, beyond blessed, and waaaaay beyond grateful. Right now I’m spending a LOT more time with family at our little seasonal park model trailer in a camping resort up in Northern Illinois. My husband and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary here, with our family and friends, in July.
And in August, when the resort holds a cancer fundraiser on the beach, I really want to be there. I will light luminaria for myself & my son (also a survivor), for those who’ve lost their lives to this disease, & for those who are battling this beast right now.
And I’ll be wearing waterproof mascara, because I know I’ll be crying like a baby… just like I am right now.
*Yes, that’s how you spell the past tense of panic, so don’t panic! I lost a small chunk of a lung, not my grammar mojo!