Monday, March 10, 2014

A Pound of Flesh

It felt like March 5th would never come and then when it was close at hand I wanted to do anything to postpone it. I spent that morning at the gym trying to work out any anxiety that I could then met Jeffrey on the Upper West Side at Holy Trinity Church for Ash Wednesday service. We were the only ones in there at the time and I really appreciated that we could sit alone and pray. During the imposition of ashes it is customary to say "remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Message heard loud and clear!
We went home to spend a little time together. Jeff managed to lull me into a cat nap much in the way a parent puts down a reluctant toddler, wrapping himself around me so that I could melt into him. It worked brilliantly and we made our way to Lenox Hill Hospital in as calm a state as possibly could be expected.
The day prior a rep from the hospital had called and told me that I'd be checking in on the first floor then would be sent to the 3rd floor to Nuclear Medicine before heading up to Surgery on 10th.  Instead I was told to go straight to 10th to check in (despite my assertions to the contrary) and upon arriving at the surgery check in I repeated that I should go to N.M. Instead I was told that I needed to answer some questions then Jeff could join me.
I thought I was being led into an office room to answer medical questions but instead was shocked to be led into a large room with outdated curtains serving as "rooms" for patients all dressed in hospital gowns awaiting surgery. I sat there in what I now refer to as my Cancer Dress ( it is perfect for quickly undressing for these endless appointments) staring at old men. I've never felt like I didn't belong somewhere with more conviction.  I'm healthy, young, happy....why am I in this glorified holding area with sick old men and Croc wearing hospital staff? It was a lot of reality to process and there o was left alone to stare it right in the face. Finally after more than half an hour someone seemed to take notice of me. I told her I was told I had to answer questions before I could have my husband. She said that wasn't necessary and would get him. Having him sit beside me made every difference.
Nurses popped by to check vitals, ask me to pee in a cup, glamorous stuff like that. Then one finally came and was giving me the speech about what to expect in the O.R. She said it'd be just a few minutes more
Um, I still haven't been to Nuclear Medicine!
This seemed to be revolutionary news even though I'd been repeating it to anyone who would listen to me for 45 minutes.  They called down to the 3rd floor and exclaimed that the staff down there was waiting for me and I needed to hurry down.....this is disturbing. Had I not done my own research and known what to expect, they'd have taken me into surgery without any idea of which lymph nodes to biopsy!
Down in N.M. I met Dr.Sharf and his technician. They injected me with a radioactive dye directly above and below my melanoma site. Dr.S then massaged me to get the fluid going. There was a risk that because of my cancer's location it might not pick a direct route. Everyone drains to different lymph nodes,there is no hard and fast rule. This fluid is injected to show where my melanoma would have drained to in my body if it has indeed left the primary site. The idea is to isolate those specific lymph nodes and biopsy them to detect if spreading has occurred. Luckily the technique worked and the juice made a beeline for my right armpit. Dr.S held a wand up to me that beeped like a metal detector as it got closer and closer to the correct lymph nodes. I have to say it was pretty cool stuff and for at least a moment I was enthralled with modern medicine and my body's new Geiger counter skill.
Back up to 10th and we met with the anesthesiologist. He listened kindly to my concerns about intubation and also gave me a patch to help with nausea front the anastesia . He promised me he'd been doing this for 22 years and only he would insert and remove the tube. Then I handed my glasses to Jeff and kissed him goodbye.
I was led down a dark hallway into the bright, open OR. I could see the two tables I knew my body was meant for, since I'd be flipped from back to stomach and then on to my back again in order to operate on my head (basal cell),  under arm (sentinel lymph node biopsy), and back (melanoma).  Two men had their backs to me and one said hello, the Eastern European accent helped me determine that was my anesthesiologist. I stood there feeling small and scared. I remember a nurse taking my wrap off and guiding me to the table, politely holding the back of my dressing gown closed (though I was actually breaking the rule and was determined to keep my underwear on so no one saw my bottom when they flipped me). I layed down and Dr.Glasberg pulled my right arm out and started trying to locate the beeping lymph nodes. My left arm was pulled by the anesthesiologist as he looked for a vein. I realized I was flayed out in a cross and suddenly scenes of Passion of the Christ started running through my head! Someone was strapping my body in while another man was taping monitors to my chest. No one acknowledged me or spoke to me, I felt like a lab animal or a piece of meat waiting to be processed. So many strangers were touching me and yet no one saw me. It was horrible. I tried to muster out some words to my surgeon so at least he'd have to look at me but it wasn't very successful. Then the burn of the sleepy juice invaded my arm and an oxygen mask was put on my face. I began to cry and suck in air, refusing to close my eyes so they wouldn't mistake me for being out before I really was...
...and then someone was calling my name and I knew it was over. I reached my hand down to make sure they hadn't cut off my underwear and was happy to discover I'd beaten the system :).
I was freezing and my legs were shaking but no one noticed me. My arm hurt and I eventually started to groan to try and get a nurse to come over. It took a frustratingly long time to accomplish this task. I was given morphine and asked for my husband. Poor Jeff hadn't even been notified my surgery was over. The OR staff had just left and he was sitting in the waiting room worrying until I was able to get my bearings to request him.
A few hours later and I was dismissed and have been home since. The Scop patch proved a Godsend as I never got nauseous and the Vicodin was enough to manage my pain. My arm is a bit useless for the time being and I can't wait to properly wash my hair but recovery has been better than expected. The worst was actually my sore muscles. It felt like id been hit my a crosstown bus. Perhaps this was from being flipped repeatedly? I dont know.

Tomorrow we meet with the surgeon for a follow up. Most importantly, we should be told the results of the biopsy. This is a crucial step in staging my melanoma. If the biopsy is negative then I am indeed Stage 1. If the cancer has spread then a much scarier, more treacherous road is ahead of us. I'm frightened out of my mind. Jeff will be with me and I'm so grateful for it. This is our diagnosis, it is our life together that could be ravaged. I can't really prepare myself but I will be grateful for this night where I am suspended halfway between hope and fear since tomorrow could bring a new awareness of weights we do not yet carry.


  1. Emily, thanks for sharing your story. Thinking good thoughts for you and your husband tonight. Strength and Courage, now and forever! Karen P.

  2. Beat the system, baby! Beat with your knickers on. Beaitiful, unflinching writing.

  3. Hey Emily! My name is Cameron Von St. James and I had a quick question for you! I was wondering if you could email me at your earliest convenience at cvonstjames AT gmail DOT com :-) I greatly appreciate your time!!

  4. Where do you go? No follow up, no more blogging? I hope you are okay.