I bought a cane. Yes, a cane. It’s a folding cane and I try to have it with me all the time. You see about 4 months I started to have severe pain in my left hip and thigh. The pain was so severe I had to take pain meds. Usually my pain threshold is high but not this time. I don’t know if it’s because of the radiation to my left femur or not. Sometimes, I get stiff and experience muscle tightness to the area and walking sometimes helps. I don’t like using the pain because I think it makes me weak. I don’t want to rely on it. I want to be the healthy me before cancer invaded my body. Cancer sucks.
Waiting for my surgery date was probably the most boring thing. Sure, I had some visitors, but mostly it was just husband, kids and me. Not talking really, each in our own thoughts. I’m sure my kids, ages 16 and 12, weren’t too thrilled to be stuck in the hospital with me. Not that I can blame them, I didn’t want to be in the hospital either, but because of my back…well, I didn’t really have a choice.
Surgery day, I don’t think I was nervous at all. I know my husband was. I was wheeled to OR about a hour before. Nurses did the prep and I answered a few questions. I met and spoke with the surgeon, whom my husband has issues. I really didn’t care if he had terrible bedside manners (he did). All I wanted to know and cared about was that he was the best.
My surgery was on a Wednesday afternoon. I woke up Thursday afternoon. I heard my husband’s annoying text message notification going off and all I wanted was to have him turn it off.
Things I learned while I was in ICU: my surgery took longer; I was transfused 9 units of blood; my surgeon left during surgery and had a PA close me; my husband saw him leave and get in the elevator; my husband spoke with the chief of surgery and I was on a ventilator for two days.
While in ICU, I was transfused two more units of blood. It seems I had a difficult time clotting.
Fast forward to July 2015. “Good news, you don’t have kidney stones, but I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the radiologist wanted to know if there was a history of cancer and I said yes. Your cancer is back. It’s Stage 4 and it is in your C5, T3, T5,T11 and in your left ribs (8-12) and you also have a lesion on your rib. You also have 75 percent compression fracture of your T11 and you also have osteoporosis. The cancer and osteo weakened your T11 and that’s it fractured.”
I think my first response was, “Shit.” And then I cried.
Let me back track a little bit. In 2014, my reconstructed right breast developed capsular contracture. Capsular contracture develops when internal scar tissue forms a tight or constricting capsule around a breast implant, contracting it until it becomes misshapen and hard. As a result, the breast may feel painful and stiff, and the capsule may affect the appearance or shape of the breast. And I also developed cellulitis in that “breast”.
I met with a plastic surgeon and he brought in a breast surgeon, who happened to be his wife, for a consultation. This husband and wife team is great. I wish I met them sooner. My breast surgeon is a breast cancer survivor. After a few more appointments I was scheduled to have the implant removed in August. Surgery went well. I went home later in the afternoon with a Jackson Pratt.
I went back to work on Monday and I was fine.
In November, I had another surgery on the right breast, this time to place an expander to begin reconstruction.Everything seemed okay until my incision opened. I developed seromas and an infection post-op and in December, I had surgery again to remove the expander. My plastic surgeon and breast surgeon decided to let me heal and the plan was to start again in the spring or maybe summer.
Fast forward to June 2015. My back had been bothering me for a couple of weeks. Actually, that’s not true, it was bothering me in January, but my back got better. In June it start to bother me again, mild at first. Someone recommended a chiropractor for my back and against my better judgment, I went. I went everyday for almost three weeks. Every time I left the chiropractor my back felt worse. I could barely stand straight and it hurt like hell.
In July, while seated in the passenger seat, my husband hit a bump without warning me. My ass went up and I went down hard and I felt and heard a crunch in my back. If you want to know how it sounded, take a plastic bottle and squeeze it. Hear that sound? That’s the sound my back made. Yeah, it was bad.
Ice packs and hot packs to my back following that day. Over the counter pain meds not working. Unable to sit for long periods of time at work.
July 23, 2015; 11:10pm “Listen, when you come home you have to take me to the ER. My back is killing me. I think I have kidney stones because of all of this pain meds I’m taking. I can barely stand.”
July 24, 2015; 12:45 “You’re going to have an MRI in about half an hour. Do you want Tramadol or morphine?” “I think I’ll take the Tramadol. Morphine makes me want to vomit.” “Okay, I’ll be back to with the Tramadol.”
1:15am “How’s the Tramadol working for you?” “It’s not.” “Do you want the morphine now?” “Yeah.” “Okay, I’ll give you Tylenol, Benadryl, in case you develop a reaction and a shot of morphine.” “Okay.”
1:25am “How are you feeling?” “Fine. My back doesn’t hurt.”
I napped or tried to anyway while waiting to be admitted in the hospital. Around six, I called my eldest sister to let her know what was going on, then I called my brother, my other sister and finally my manager.
I was wheeled to my room and met with the nurse and the aide. I met the neurosurgeon physician assistant. She did a few tests like on my legs and feet. “Do you have feeling there?” “Yes.” “Can you feel this?” “Yes.” “Any numbness here?” “No” “Do you have difficulty in walking?” “No.” “Did you fall?” “No.” “Explain to me what happened.” “My back was bothering me. My husband hit a bump, my ass went up and I landed hard on the seat and heard a crunch.” “Do you know that the fracture is pressing against your spinal cord.” “No.” “Yes, it’s actually pressing against it about 50 percent.” “Wow, really.” “Do you know how lucky you are that you still having feeling and movement?” “I do now.”
I met my doctor. Not my GYN, but my primary doctor. You know when you have to choose a doctor when you have insurance, well I chose a doctor, but that doctor was busy and by that I mean he had a lot (a lot) of patients. So he sent his partner whom I liked better. Then I met the oncologist who is really (really) a nice person and very smart. He explained what was going on and was very optimist about the outcome.
I met with the neurosurgeon about two or three days later. He told me he scheduled my surgery for August 5th. August 5th? What the fuck was I going to do while I waited. I mean, that’s seven days away. “You can go home and come back as an out patient if you want.” “I don’t think my PMD and other doctors want me going home. They’re afraid I may fall or something.”
The neurosurgeon assigned to me was supposed to be the best, but he had terrible bedside manners. I didn’t care about bedside manners. I just wanted him to be good.
My first week in the hospital, I had a lot of visitors. Friends and siblings. My dad, man, my dad couldn’t even speak to me. All he did was cry. My mom passed away in 2012. Complications from cancer treatment. Second week, fewer visitors, just family members.
While I waited for my surgery date, I tried to keep myself busy by knitting. I tried to watch some Korean drama (obsessed with them) and I tried to keep positive. My husband didn’t go to work and basically stayed by my side from 8:30 to 10pm when visiting hours were over. Between those times, he would drop the kids off at camp (older son was a camp counselor and younger son was a camper) and picked them up and bring them to me. They weren’t thrilled to having to spend their free time at the hospital with me.
Did I tell you morphine became my best friend while I waited for my surgery date? Well, it did. Morphine was for the lesion on my rib that would throb something fierce. It was a toothache and migraine combined. My back didn’t bother me. It seems the brain has a way of dealing with pain and it doesn’t let you experience pain in more than one area. In my case, the pain was directed to the lesion. Morphine and an ice pack was how I dealt with the lesion to my rib.