OldDogNewTits











{March 5, 2012}   Keeping that tumor in my past

Today started like any other Monday during the school year. We all woke up overtired from the weekend.  Dave immediately flung himself into the shower.  I began rousing sleepy children who, unlike either of the kids of the past two mornings, would have been willing to stay in bed until noon if I had allowed it. My girl was very cranky and my boy needed to look over a little something for a test today so I raced to get him ready and to his books while trying to exhibit any patience a Monday morning would allow me with my daughter.  Suffice it to say, we got through everything and I watched as they rode away with their dad to school.

I had a few things to take care of at home before jumping into the shower for my doctor’s appointment.  Today I would be seeing the thorascopic surgeon who removed the tumor in my chest cavity last December.  I can hardly believe it’s been three months.  It sort of seems like ten years ago … and, then again, it sort of seems like ten minutes ago. Much has happened in my life since then and, while I try to remind myself every day of how lucky I am to have received such a positive outcome with everything, I will admit that I am human and have had plenty of selfish ‘woe-is-me’ moments since the surgery.

Truthfully though, I mostly don’t think about it much anymore.  Every now and then, I run into a family member or a friend who I haven’t seen in a while. Someone who keeps up with the blog but hasn’t seen me since everything happened. And they always hug me and ask “How are you feeling?” And I find myself standing there, stupefied for a few seconds, fighting the urge to say “Fine.  And you?” because I know what they mean.  I just keep forgetting that the story in the back of my mind was my own.  I forget about all of the doctors I saw, for business and for pleasure last fall … and all of the tests I took … and all of the reports I wrote.  Frankly, I don’t know how I had the energy.  It’s been a very exhausting 2012 so far.

But today I was anxious to put things behind me for a while with this appointment.  To get it over with, as they say.  Which is why I was a little frustrated when I got the call from the doctor’s office to come in two hours later.  But I know my doctor and I know how busy he is so I complied and busied myself with some of the many things I put off around the house until it was time to leave.  I literally had one foot out the door when my phone rang.  Not recognizing the number, I took the call. It was the radiology department of the hospital calling to make an appointment for a chest x-ray.  No one mentioned anything about it to me so I called my doctor from the car to confirm it and learned that I did in fact need to have the x-ray.  It would be my 6th since November. 106th if you count my CT scan, which my doctor says is equal to 100 x-rays.  (Incidentally, when I googled it, all the other websites had even higher ratios.  The record was one CT scan being equal to 1,000 chest rays.  So perhaps this would be my 1,006th x-ray since November.)

In any event, I needed to get another one. Today. This morning. Before moving on to another part of the hospital for the actual doctor’s appointment, for which I was clearly now going to be late.  I managed to find a parking spot pretty quickly and headed off through the garage to enter the hospital. I realized as I was walking toward the main building that I hadn’t been in that area since my big surgery weekend.  It was kind of odd being back there again walking into the door I walked out of after the surgery.  I remember sitting pathetically on that bench while Dave went to get the car and save me the long walk.  And making small talk with a very bothersome but very well-meaning old man who wanted nothing more than to hear all about my surgery while I was still looped on its accompanying drugs.  This time, I walked in by myself, fully coherent but increasingly anxious about the whole thing.  Something I was just now realizing about myself.

I took a few wrong turns once inside the building and was about to call the radiology department from my cell when I finally saw the signage I was seeking.  Honestly, it was such a direct path inside the building that I have no idea how I got lost in the first place.  Then again, I get disoriented traveling from my bed to the bathroom in the middle of the night so it’s really no big surprise.

I approached the desk and was just starting to get my bearings back when the receptionist began speaking to me.  It was obvious she had no idea what I was talking about when I began explaining why I was there.  So, she called over a co-worker who seemed equally confused about the strange woman who materialized requesting an unauthorized chest x-ray.

Do I have the papers? Who called me? When did they call?

Shit if I knew. I just wanted to get my damned x-ray and get out of there.

And then, thankfully, I remembered that the caller left a voice mail on my cell phone.  So, I played the message which, apparently, unlocked the mystery and revealed the desk upon which my paperwork sat uselessly. And I was granted permission to begin the process of registering for the x-ray that I didn’t even know I needed thirty minutes ago.

Finally.  Everything was rolling along.  Until I made a big mistake.  Huge.  With an x-ray, you always get asked the pregnancy question. Well, women do anyway.  Only this time, it wasn’t as black and white as I remember.  It seems like in the past they’ve merely asked ‘Are you pregnant?’ It’s a simple yes or no question, to which I would have answered ‘No!’ But today, they threw me for a loop and asked some existential version of the same question.  I think it went something like …

“Is there any chance that, in this life or past, based on the Moon being in the 7th House and Jupiter aligning with Mars, to the best of your knowledge, establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility, you could be pregnant … with liberty and justice for all … on a sesame seed bun?”

I was confused.  I was in the headlights.  And I was a complete and utter dumb ass. Geez, I don’t know.  Is there a chance? Between 0 and 100%?? And all the decimal points in between???

Me: “Uh, yeah, I guess there’s a chance,” I stammered … like a COMPLETE idiot.

Her: “Then you need to take a pregnancy test. And that’ll take another hour.”

Me: “What? Noooo! I mean NO, I’M NOT.  I’m definitely not pregnant.”

Her: (laughing apologetically) “Sorry, baby. It’s the rules. You said you weren’t sure so now you have to take the test.”

Me: (defeated) “Fine. I’ll take the stupid test.  What is it? Just a urinalysis?”

Her: “No, it’s a blood test.”

Me: “Of course it’s a blood test.”

So, I surrendered to the lab tech, thankful that she was at least quite handy with a needle and that my bitching completely distracted me from the one prick necessary to obtain the sample she needed. I asked permission to grab lunch during my hour wait, since I hadn’t eaten since 6pm the night before and it was now past noon.  I went downstairs in the hospital and grabbed a surprisingly good sandwich.  Rosemary bread.  Better than I expected for hospital fare. Oh, and I had a cookie. Totally cheated considering I’m trying to lay off sweets. And now I’m confessing it … to you. Please just tell me to say ten Hail Marys and let’s get on with it.  I also killed time reading my book.  Thank you, Suzanne Collins, for occupying me with the second installment of your Hunger Games series.  I think I speak for tweens everywhere and the moms (like me) pretending to read your books for the sake of our children when I say your work has definitely sucked me in.

At the end of the hour, I returned to radiology ready to learn if my family was getting any bigger or if I was getting a chest x-ray.  My money was on the latter.  And I really wish I had placed that bet because I was in a hospital gown prepping to be exposed to more radiation within minutes.  The tech took only two images, confirmed that they were satisfactory and sent me on my way (scans in hand) to see my doctor.

As I walked out, I wondered about the scans and what they revealed. I resisted the urge to look at them.  Until suddenly, I was overcome with curiosity and thought “They’re my damned scans.  I don’t need anyone’s permission to look at them.” (I am such my son’s mother.) So, I stepped to the side in the long hallway, slid one out and stared at the now eerily familiar images of my own bones.  I checked the spot where the tumor had formed previously. Nothing.  Well, at least nothing as far as I could tell.  My years of medical training total exactly zero.  Still, I thought seeing nothing on the scan was better than seeing something, right?

Now operating on autopilot, I finished my walk and found myself standing at the door of my doctor’s office.  I went in, approached the receptionist and explained, no doubt unintelligibly, why I was arriving nearly five hours later than my original appointment time and handed her the scans. I don’t know if she even said anything back to me.  God, I was more nervous than I thought.

I sat in the waiting room, taking in more of my book.  I’ll probably have to read those pages again though.  I’m not sure I actually processed any of the words.  I noticed every person sitting around me was holding the same, oversized white envelope from radiology.  And I wondered about their back stories.  Was this their first visit? Were they about to get life-altering news? Were people waiting for their calls as soon as they left the building?  Yeah, I probably need to read those pages of my book again.

Then, they called my name.  And the first thing they did was to weigh me. Really?  I’d just had a Bacchanalian feast in their coffee shop. Well, at least I won’t be surprised at the staggering numbers. Blood pressure was next.  I really would have worn a different top had I thought about all of the things that were being done to me today.  It was bad enough that I had blood drawn topless.  (How many of you can say that? Stupid fitted sleeves.) After a few attempts to get a good reading through the fabric, the nurse was finally satisfied with my pressure results.  She exited the room and I waited to see my doctor.

When he came in, he looked just how I remembered him.  Jerry Van Dyke.  My family thinks that comparison is hilarious, given the actor’s usual dimwitted, slapstick performances. But, of course, that’s not how I mean it.  The two men simply look alike physically to me.  But that’s where the similarity ends.  Fortuitously.

He took a few minutes to review my files and re-familiarize himself with who I am and why I was there. I heard him talking to himself about “tumors” and “spindle cells” and “schwannomas.” (How many of you think of that old song by The Knack every time you hear the word ‘schwannoma?’ No one else? Just me? Guess that figures.) He seemed surprised all over again that someone like me would exhibit this medical condition. I reminded him of my actual age.  He laughed and said he thought I was “much younger.” (If you thought for a moment that I wouldn’t share that little gem then you don’t know me very well.)

He tacked one of the scans up onto the light and stared at it. “Not even a trace of it,” he muttered under his breath. Then, he put the second image up. “I don’t see anything there at all.”

These are good words to be hearing from my doctor.  I exhaled.

He took a look at the actual incisions and I explained that I had my dermatologist zap the scars with a laser to help diminish them just last Friday.  I also explained that, just prior to that treatment, the largest incision (from which the tumor was removed … I know, gross. Sorry!) was starting to bother me a little again.  I talked about my recent vacation and everything else I was doing around the time the pain started and he said that it was normal for these feelings to occur.  Especially with the jerking around associated with roller coasters and rides of that nature.  Oops.

We talked a bit longer and he deliberated the need for another CT scan but then decided against it.  He went on to discuss the dangers associated with repeated and unnecessary exposure to radiation.  (“That’s alright, Doc. I’ve already been exposed a potentially deadly 1,006 times,” I thought to myself.) And, in the end, he merely recommended that I come back to visit in the next year or so.  We both laughed when he suggested making an appointment for that future visit.  There’s no way in hell I’d remember something that far away.  Of course, now it’s even worse because I have to remember to call and actually make the appointment in the first place.  Can I assign someone here the job of reminding me in a year or two? Will you all still be around?

I will.  I confirmed that today. I wasn’t aware of how nervous I was until I started encountering all the obstacles blocking me from getting through this appointment.  I walked back to my car and realized that I felt like I was about to fall asleep.  I’d used up my entire day at the hospital and it was now time to pick up my kids.  I drove through McDonald’s on the way home and bought a giant Diet Coke.  Besides the obvious caffeine, a bursting bladder always has a magical way of keeping me uncomfortably awake.

Everything looks good.  That’s the three-word version of the ridiculously verbose epistle above.  I needed to flesh it all out in writing.  If not for you, then for me.  Thanks for “listening.”

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I have a lot of goofball friends … and they’re really helping me get through the waiting and ‘bang my head against the wallness’ of everything. Here I share with you some of the nuttier emails, texts, Facebook messages, blog comments, etc. that I’ve received during the last week:
  • That morning is really going to suck. I feel for you. Definitely sleep in your clothes and a pony tail and have gum ready in the morning.
  • Go Xanax!!!!! All spazzing justified!
  • Where is the surgery? How long is the surgery? Do you have to stay in the hospital long? Does your mother play the tuba?
  • Well, that stinks. How about lunch tomorrow to take your mind off things? Or a movie? Or a roll of cookie dough w/2 spoons?
  • I prayed for you last night.  After I reminded The Big Guy who I was (I had to give him my SSN and my DOB), we had some good dialogue.
  • It seems like most of the time when boobs and health are joined together in a sentence, the loss of boobs are the outcome.   Some people out there have dogs that detect illness. You have super boobs to aide in the detection of potential illness.
  • If you want to scream or sing, be happy or sad or just shoot the shit, all you have to do is call!
  • Your boobs totally saved your life. They deserve a spa day.
  • Obviously, these boobs are a blessing so after you get past this scare, you will have to get them for sure. May this pass quickly and benignly into your blog posting history.
  • Well, that sounds kind of scary. Do you recall ever inhaling a jawbreaker and getting it stuck in your pleura? Or a ping pong ball? Sorry, that’s absurd. Why would anyone inhale a ping pong ball?
  • Shit. I’m thinking about you. And text me if you really want Valium. I know people.
And, of course, I’ve had scores of more serious messages offering everything from prayers and childcare to excessively cheesy, meatless lasagna (made to order!) and long distance cookies. It all counts.  It all helps. And it all will not soon be forgotten.

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It’s now the end of another long day. I had my specialist appointment today. He was very knowledgeable and had a great bedside manner. And he is apparently the best in his field anywhere in this area.

Thankfully, my husband and father came along with me or there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be able to report on a damned thing. For every ‘it has the look of a benign mass’ there was a ‘we can easily collapse the lung and remove a chunk of it or your chest wall to get everything out.’ (Deep breaths.) He does this kind of thing every day. But I don’t.

Following the appointment, my husband carefully scripted the following text that we have now collectively forwarded to more than fifty people:

“We saw the thoracic surgeon today. He looked at the CAT scan, etc. He seemed pretty confident that the mass is benign, again citing shape, location and density. But we won’t know for sure until he is in there. Regardless of what it is, he wants to go in, check it out and remove it. He might be able to do everything thoracoscopically but will be prepared to go in with traditional surgery to remove it if necessary. The next step is an MRI, which will happen either Friday or Monday. We should also have a surgery date by Monday. It will probably happen right after Thanksgiving.”

Since his text, we have scheduled my MRI for the crack of dawn tomorrow morning. Which will be good practice for the 5am arrival time I’ve already been quoted for the upcoming surgery. I am a big baby about sleep. I love it and don’t like ending it so early in the morning. So, the sweats I’m sleeping in tonight added to a ponytail and possible toothbrushing should complete my morning regimen before my mom (who is sleeping here tonight) and I head out tomorrow morning.

I had another little moment of anxiety today when the surgery options were being explained to me. A little dizziness as I’m prone to nervous fainting and some nausea. So I was prescribed a little oral ‘help’ from my doctor and am feeling well enough to write everything down tonight before I fall asleep. (Here’s hoping I sound lucid.) Writing about everything may seem odd at a time like this one but organizing my brain is helpful, even therapeutic, for me. So thanks for listening.

And please continue to keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers. She still really needs all the positivity she can get.

Talk to everyone soon. Oh, and if you’ve ever had an MRI, I’d love details and advice for tomorrow. Thanks, all.

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So, we went into the examination room, still tasteful and completely boob-less in décor, and waited for the doctor.  My stupid phone rang again but, this time, I ignored it.  Not going to fall for that one again, iPhone.  I wanted to be mentally prepared for her when she came in.  So, I started trying to organize my thoughts.  Virginia wanted to throw her gum away and we joked about what she might see in the ‘Biohazard’ bin in the room with us.   She screwed up her courage, lifted the lid and tossed in her wad of gum.  Of course, we saw no used saline bags or spare nipples (sorry to my friend who can’t stand the sound of that word).  Too bad though.  That would’ve been a cool addition to this story, wouldn’t it?

It wasn’t long until the doctor came in.  She was very down to earth and Virginia and I both felt immediately at ease with her.  Score for the introductory appointment! The first thing she did was have the two of us switch places so I’d be across from her for the consultation.  I can’t imagine how she was able to determine so quickly that the patient was me and not my ‘gifted’ friend, Virginia. (Um, yes, I’m totally being sarcastic.  You don’t really know me that well yet so I thought I’d clue you in.)

The doctor interviewed me first.  I think that’s standard protocol, or at least it should be so they can get to know you and therefore know what best suits you boob-wise.  She listened to me explain that I was a 42-year-old mom of two who nursed nearly four years between the two of my children.  She laughed and said that, with most moms nursing an average of six months per child, it’s like I’ve nursed eight kids.  Damn.  Kate Gosselin I am not.  But maybe my boobs are.

And just as we were laughing and feeling very comfortable about the whole thing, she called for my top to come off. (My brain was racing. She had complimented it when she first came in.  Maybe she just wanted to try it on.  Geez … wake up, Michele!)  The moment of truth was here.  I think I actually looked at Virginia at that point and apologized. She offered to leave but I said no.  I’m supposed to be public here.  I mean … not webcam-for-the-blog public … but public in the sense that I wanted other opinions.  I wanted another set of ears hearing everything from the doctor.  Helping me remember everything. And digest everything, for that matter.

With me now topless, we started to get into the nitty gritty of it all.  She measured me to determine where my nipples fell (Again, sorry to my nipple-fearing friend.  You might just need to skip this chapter) and get the whole lay of the land, if you will.  The long and the short of it is that my breasts weren’t the worst things she’s ever seen.  And my nipples weren’t ridiculously low or anything like that. We then proceeded to discuss a worst case scenario or two that made me feel a little better about myself.

So, after seeing my ‘presentation’ and getting to know me a bit, she said she would recommend a lift for me personally.  She explained that, by grabbing everything that had spread out (and down) over the years and clustering it up back together in a higher place on my chest, I was likely to get exactly what I was looking for in boob-wear. My nipples would also be moved up and slightly reduced in size. (FYI to nursing mothers, this procedure does not impede your ability to breastfeed in the future. No nerves or anything else are cut here.) My breasts, now higher and more compact, would in fact appear larger.  She added that, if at a later date I decided I wanted a more substantial size, I could always go back there and slip a pair of implants into the higher, fully healed breasts.

I cannot stress enough how much she encouraged having these two procedures (the lift and the implants) done separately for the sake of healing and minimal scarring. She explained that the incisions made from the lift (described as anchor scars) would be nominal if you don’t overfill the breast at the same time with an implant.  They would only serve to push out against the healing incisions and thus create a more visible scar. And I saw several before and after pictures testifying to this fact.  She further added, as it’s the first place many of us go in our minds, that her costs for doing the two surgeries individually or together are nearly the exact same (as she gives discounts to repeat clients) … but she said many of her patients are so satisfied with the lift that they don’t always return for the additional implant surgery.

We talked a little about implants as well and she said she preferred saline to silicone. I mentioned that I’ve heard silicone seems to be coming back into vogue now but, after so many years of being removed from the market due links to cancer and other health issues, I had no interest in being a guinea pig for the new and improved version. Especially since they’ve only been made available again as an option for the last few years. She agreed.

She also said the exact same thing that I have heard from woman after woman with whom I’ve spoken about this project.

“Don’t go too big!

She said that, particularly on a smaller person like myself, oversized breasts will actually create a look of added weight overall on a woman’s frame.  Yeah, not really what I’m looking for here at all. I already enjoy cheese enough that I don’t need my boobs helping to make me look fat.

So, armed with more knowledge than I knew what to do with … and scared shitless that I needed to go through this process three or four more times …. I left the office with Virginia.  But not before telling the doctor about my online journal.  She loved the idea and its name and encouraged me to come back to visit again if I had more questions or needed explanations about anything.  I’m a big fan of this doctor so far. Of course, I’m not sure what I’m going to decide in the end … but she was a very good place to begin.

My next consultation appointment is Tuesday, September 20.  And I feel like I need to start getting organized already!

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et cetera
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