By Tanya Dodd-Hise
It’s April first. The day after Easter, where we spent a nice weekend out of town visiting with Erikka’s extended family, like we do every year. Like I hope to continue to do for many years to come. Today is April Fool’s Day. I was SO hoping that when I woke up, all of this cancer business would have been a dream or some bad April Fool’s joke. But no. Today brought me no joking or pranks. Today brought me an 11 AM appointment at the surgeon’s office; the one whom I already knew from previous procedures with loved ones.
We loaded up and went to Dr. Carolyn Garner’s office right on time this morning, where I was filled with anxiety, ready to see what was coming up for me next. After the obligatory blood pressure reading, weight report, and listing of meds that I take, we waited a few more minutes for the doc to come get us. Soon she was there at the door, with greetings and catching up, going on about how big the baby has gotten since she had last seen her (Harrison was 4 weeks old when this doctor performed surgery on Erikka). She then ushered us into her office-slash-examining room. This is where she does minimal exams, but mostly consults with patients; we had been in there twice before.
Her first questions were mainly wanting to know how and when I discovered the mass – was it found on a routine mammogram or did I find it myself? So I told her the details of how I found it, and what transpired from there. She said, at that point, that “today, unfortunately, we don’t have anything good to talk about.” Yeah. I know. I handed over the large envelope that had pathology reports from my biopsies, reports from mammograms past and present, and two CDs with mammogram images from 2008 and 2013, for comparison. I told her that I have had the genetics testing done, and that they had put a surgical rush on it, so hopefully the results would be back by the end of the week. I then told her that regardless of the results, I wanted her to take both breasts off. She nodded and said, “Okay. I agree.” I was a little surprised that she was so agreeable so fast! I proceeded to tell her that I understand, being a Medicaid patient, that there are stipulations based on the genetics testing to what will be paid; but I don’t care. I don’t ever want to go through this again. She said that given my family history, it will probably be paid for, but in the case that it isn’t, they will have me sign a form that basically states that IF it isn’t paid by Medicaid, then I will be responsible for the difference. Fine. I will sign it. My next question: When can we do this? She said, “Well, I can’t do it today.” Ha! Funny lady. “I do breast surgeries on Wednesdays, so I can do it this Wednesday, if you want. Or I can do it next Wednesday.” So after a moment of thinking, I said, “Next Wednesday it is.” Within a few minutes, my surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, April 10th at Denton Regional Hospital: a Radical Modified Mastectomy on the left side, and a Simple Mastectomy on the right side.
I then went on to tell her that I do not want reconstruction. I am not interested in having fake breasts, as I am not a girly-girl who really cares about my curves; to which she responded, “I understand.” From there we discussed the details about the surgery: how she will remove the breasts (how the cuts will be done), the fact that she will be removing ALL of the lymph nodes on the right side under my arm, and what the scars should look like, given the fact that I am not doing reconstruction. I will basically have scars across each side of my chest, and no nipples.
I can either have them tattooed on, or I can have other cool looking tattoos done if I don’t want to leave it plain. We discussed the time frames: length of stay in hospital, recovery time, visit to oncologist, and approximate time for chemo to begin. Radiation will probably not be necessary, unless the cancer has invaded the chest wall. She said I should be in the hospital for one night – what??!! One night?? Her response to my surprise? “Welcome to drive-thru surgery.” I’m not sure if it is a Medicaid thing or just an insurance thing. When my mom had her mastectomy and reconstruction, they tried to send her home after one night; to which I bitched and told them that I REFUSED to take her home that early….so they kept her a second night. So the plan is one night, however, I typically get a fever every time I have surgery, and end up having to stay an extra night. She said that recovery time is about two weeks, but I find that highly optimistic. I’m betting it’s more along the lines of 2-4 weeks. That’s 2-4 weeks of trying to recover a range-of-motion in my arms. That’s 2-4 weeks unable to drive, raise my arms above chest level, pick up my sweet baby girl, work out. She said that after that time, I can go back to cardio activities, but no weights for a while. I will have to find an oncologist and plan to go a week or two after my surgery; and will likely begin chemo 4-6 weeks after surgery, depending on how the healing is going.
After that, she took a few minutes to examine the “affected breast.” She barely touched me and responded, “Oh wow. That really IS big.” Um, yes, I know. After her exam, she told me again that she thought that mastectomy of both sides was definitely the way to go, and she would tell her own sister the very same thing. Soon we were on our way out with paperwork to take when I go to register. By the time we reached the Jeep and got loaded up, we were both in a much more somber place. As I tried to discuss some of the details of surgery day (who can keep kids, etc.), my beautiful and strong wife became a little overcome by emotion. This was the first time that I had seen her show anything but positive words or strength through all of this. But yeah. It hit us both. This was overwhelming for her – for us. And as the day went on, it became way too “real” for me. This is really happening. I REALLY have cancer.
And I’m not going to wake up and it just be a dream.