Saturday, June 10, 2017
Month of June. So far.
Since we last talked, on top working every day, I've had dinner with my kids at the beach at English Bay, hung out at Chapters/Starbucks in Langley with Terry, had a breast biopsy in Surrey, went to the library then Pokemon catching with Heather in New West, listened to The Best Lecture ever at Regent College in Vancouver with Kim, had dinner and saw Wonder Woman in Coquitlam with Jenn and spent a solo night at the lake alternating between not obsessing about the possibility of drunk young people peering in the front window and talking to God about my life.
(That was one sentence.
I rock at saying many words in a row.)
I've been out for 17 consecutive nights, doing fun things with my favorite people, but I am completely enjoying being by myself right now. I just love the quiet. The privacy. The freedom. It's the introvert in me; it bubbles out when I'm doing a solitary weekend at the lake.
Back in March when I was contemplating this stage of life (menopause) I had strong feelings.
I'm on the descent side of the hill.
Had I wasted the trip up?
Aging is A Thing.
Our bodies were never created to last forever. There is an expiry date and mine is likely closer to me at this point than my birthdate is.
Like, I will not be 35 again.
I will not be able to do the things that a 35 year old can do. Things such as, have a baby. Plan to have a 50th wedding anniversary. Get up off the floor without groaning. Go bra-less. Repair instead of pull teeth. Remember entire grocery lists. Read menus without pulling out a flashlight and magnifying glass.
So back in March, I made my peace about that.
I was going to embrace this new balding-in-some-areas-super-hairy-in-others stage of life.
I start by booking an appointment to have a complete physical on the Thursday before long Easter weekend (April 12). (Might as well chat with my doc about My Changing Body.) In anticipation of that chat, I arrange appointments to have blood tests and a mammogram done on April 3.
But the weeks before those tests? I am preparing.
I plan to get "A" in Blood and "A" in Boob. So I get a membership to my local gym, stop eating chocolate and bread, add salmon and flax to my diet, massage a serum onto my scalp to stimulate new growth, and loose zero pounds and 0 inches while gaining 36 new baby hairs.
On April 3 I take a number at the blood clinic, and realizing that I have an hour wait, go over to the mammogram office, have my breast-squishing appointment which takes 32 seconds, go back to the blood clinic and have 14 vials of blood removed. We be testing e'rrthing.
On April 5, my doctor calls me. My potassium numbers are off, he is issuing another test be done in a few days. He is NOT concerned; he figures it is a just a glitchy thing; nothing to be worried about. When he tells me not to worry? I don't.
I buy a few bananas and plan on getting my bloodwork re-done a few days later. Then on Thurs April 6 afternoon, Valley Imaging calls. Something has shown up on my films, could I come back in? They'd like to redo the left side and get a better look. Like, come in, right away? Like the following day? Could I come back on Friday?
So I go back on Friday, their last appointment of the day. The technician assures me that in most cases its nothing, but they just need to see the cluster of cells from another angle. She shows me the film (and, ahem, if I do say so myself, my boob looked awfully perky when squished and photographed from that angle) and I'm glad I'm not the radiologist in charge because I cannot see a cluster of anything.
She takes the photo, then asks me to go back into the changing room while the radiologist views it. If he isn't satisfied, we'd try again.
He's not satisfied, so we do it again, from a different angle.
Again, I sit in the changing room. Again, he needs another angle.
We repeat this a few times and by the last time I am praying in my head, "Dear God. No cancer. No cancer. No cancer. No cancer. No cancer. Please..."
"You can go now," she says. "But your doctor will be calling you. You'll need an appointment so it can be looked at with an ultrasound machine..."
So I go home on Friday afternoon thinking I am going to skip over menopause and head right for the finish line. There would be no long, slow decline into old age, I am going straight to dead.
On Monday morning (April 10) at 9 am, my doctor calls, "Jane? Can you come in to the office? Today? Right away?"
"So, I guess you know that there is a cluster of calcified cells in your left breast. Most times it doesn't mean anything, but we won't know for sure until we do a biopsy. I've been in touch with the Jimmy Pattison Outpatient Centre and they'll call you in a day or two to set up the appointment..."
Things were moving so fast. There was such a sense of immediacy to it all. Get er done, now.
I leave his office and get my blood retested. Now that I'd eaten three bananas, I am confident my potassium levels will be excellent. (Spoiler alert. They are.)
On Thursday (April 12) I am back at the doctor's office, the date of my previously arranged full physical appointment. Every part of me is very thoroughly examined. We check my blood pressure twice, because the first time I am naked and thinking about breast cancer. Which really messes with the numbers. The second time I am dressed and thinking about things that are good, and excellent, and beautiful, and worthy of praise, and the text message that makes me smile - and the outcome is perfect.
"Have they called you about an appointment yet?"
"Nope, not yet."
"Well they will. It might be because it's a short week, due to Easter, that they haven't yet. But they will. And you're in good hands. If they find something, you'll be automatically booked to see a cancer specialist, a breast specialist and a plastic surgeon. You'll be in their system and you will be well cared for."
On Mon April 24, I call my doctor's office to make an appointment to have my moles removed. "By the way," I say to the regular admin assistant, back from two weeks vacation, "I still haven't heard about an appointment. Can you check for me?"
"Sure. OH, it looks like they're still waiting for paperwork from us. We faxed it but they didn't receive it. I'll get that over to them today."
Meanwhile, I'm reading books. I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy has me bawling on the exercise bike at the gym. She describes, in detail, the journey from discovering the lump, to having her left breast removed (two week journey) to chemo and radiation to reconstructive surgery and years of follow up. Sigh. I too, could have a breast removed, so for the next few weeks, as I sleep on my right side, my left hand cups my left boob. It would be so empty and vacant with it gone. Brenda's But If Not has me facing the possibility of God saying 'no' to the "Please no cancer" plea. Find the Good has me thinking about my obituary... what would mine say? Who would write it? Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, is a behind the scenes look at cremation, and well, just yuck.
"Dear God. Cancer? Oy. My life is Yours, so do what is best for Your purposes. I don't think I'm making much of a difference with my life, so if You can use my death, for something good, then have at 'er. But can it not hurt? Why am I such a weinie about pain? Help me to be brave. And strong. And an "A" student in ending well. Could you look after my kids? Bring into their lives someone who loves them like You do. Someone who will remind them that You are good..."
"PS. Could you arrange for that biopsy appointment to happen soon. This waiting bit is hard."
(So many conversations between me and The Almighty lately.)
On Thurs May 4, I am naked again, on the examining table at my doctor's office. He has a needle in one hand and a scalpel in the other. While he removes moles he asks, "Have they called? Booked an appointment yet?"
"Not yet. Ow. I asked Christine to check for me a few minutes ago, and apparently they still haven't received, ow, the paperwork from you."
"Shame. I think they're having problems with their fax machine."
"Would it be OK if, ow, you gave me the papers and I just drive them over there?"
"Sure! Are you certain you want to do that? It's not out of your way?"
"Well. It's my boob. And I'd like it looked at. At this point, I'd drive those papers to Toronto. But, no, it's not out of my way. I live close to the clinic."
So the next morning, May 5, with the freezing out and all my former mole sites aching with the sting of a million bees, I drive over to the clinic, take a number and wait for the opportunity to make an appointment.
I will spare you the details, but between May 5 and May 24, there are many phone calls, lost films, broken fax machines, and voicemail messages resulting in an appointment for a breast biopsy scheduled Tues June 6.
I keep myself very busy between May 24 and June 6. I am out every night with friends or family. I see movies, read books, go out for tea. Or coffee. Or dinners. I pray incessantly. I make plans for the summer. I dream about next summer. I catch Pokemon. I tell my kids. And my mom, sister, cousin. I let my boss know why I keeping needing time off for doctor appointments. I look at my chest every day because there's a chance it won't look like this forever. I do NOT go on the internet to look at pictures of breast cancer survivors. I DO buy a new expensive lacy bra in anticipation that I will be wearing it all year.
But mostly, despite the busy-ness and all the people in my life, this is a solo-journey. I allow myself to be scared for only ten minutes a day. The other 23 hours and 50 minutes, I think on things that are good, and excellent, and beautiful, and wonderful, and fun and lovely, and worthy of praise.
I work from home on Tues June 6, until Julie arrives. I am in the midst of eating a healthy breakfast:
She brings an alternative:
And we leave a few minutes later.
For those who may be facing Breast Biopsies in their future, I'll write out the details. Knowledge is power. Feel free to stop reading if this post has gone on long enough already. No really. My feelings won't be hurt (haha, like I'd even know) if you close this page right now.
First of all, I was planning on driving to the appointment myself. I'm independent that way. But their third reminder phone message, "You are encouraged to bring someone along for support and transportation ..." prompted me to accept Julie's offer to give me a ride. I warned her that this could be a three hour ordeal, so she was prepared with a fully charged phone and some new games. I had a book along.
We park, pay, then go directly to 2C as instructed. I hand them my ID then find a seat in the bright, windowed waiting area. Five minutes later, I am given a file folder and instructed to go around the corner to Corridor 5. There is another waiting room there, so Jule comes with me. A few minutes later a man requiring a breast ultrasound and much attention joins our little group in Corridor 5. My name is called and I am directed to a changing room where I remove everything from the waist up and put on two blue gowns, one opening front, and one opening to the back.
I put my clothes in the plastic bag supplied and return to my seat next to Jule. Discussion in our waiting room has moved on to a Surrey-inspired mix of theology and biology as folks passionately argue about the extra rib men have ("myth has it that women were formed from one of man's ribs, that's why you have one more...") ("women have less ribs because they need more interior space to grow a baby, everyone knows that..."). The (overweight, whining, middle-aged) male who is waiting for his ultrasound contributes his two bits by declaring HIS procedure is going to hurt way more than ours. He knew that for sure.
Jule mentions that while I was changing, nurses had been calling those that had afternoon ultrasound appointments asking them to delay coming in. They were running about two hours behind schedule and only starting the 10:30 am ultrasounds now at 12:30.
"Good thing I paid for three hours."
"Good thing I've got a fully charged phone."
"Jane? This way."
I follow the technician/nurse (Shawna) into the room across the hall, assuming I'm going into another holding area.
"You can put your bag and your gowns on the chair, here, then come sit here."
I am in a procedure room. They may be running behind in giving ultrasounds, but they're right on time doing biopsies.
"Have you ever had a breast biopsy before? No? Well, I'll walk you through it. My name's Shawna and from now til we're done, I won't be leaving this room. There will be another technician helping and Dr. LongNameThatICannotRemember will be here shortly. The first thing we'll do is get you into a position that best allows us to photograph and remove those calcified cells. You may be in a sitting position, or we may have you lying down. Once we've found the best position, you'll have to hold it for at least 20 minutes, so we need to make sure you're comfortable. Once we're set, we'll take a set of photos, to make sure we've got them in the centre of this tray. Then Dr. LongName will come in, clean the area, and freeze it. Once you're frozen, we'll take another set of pics to make sure you've not moved, then he will insert a long needle and extract some cells. Then he'll lift it up, give it a bit of a twist and go back to pick up some more. He will repeat this 6 times, gathering cells in the entire area.
You won't feel any pain, but you will feel the pressure of the needle going up and down, and you will hear the machines making a noise with every extraction.
Once he's removed them, we will pause to photograph again, making sure he removed cells from the correct area. If something has slipped, we're re-do that procedure. Sometimes it takes 2 - 3 times to get it. Nothing to worry about. It won't hurt. It's common to redo any of these procedures along the way.
Once we've got a good sampling, he'll remove the needle, insert this tiny metal clip, and put it deep into your breast as a marker for the future.
We'll take a few more pictures to ensure the clip is in the right spot. If it's not, he'll go back. Again, nothing to worry about.
When he's given us the all clear, he'll leave and I'll remove your breast from the machine, apply pressure to stop the bleeding, use two steri-strips to cover the wound, pack it, then bandage you. The bleeding should stop in an hour or so. I should mention that there's a risk of infection, but it's very rare. We are very sterile here.
So, just relax, and we'll get started."
I mention that I faint around needles. And am a little bit nervous about potential pain. She says it's good that I will be in the lying down position, and if I feel ANY pain, I'm to let her know and they'll give me more freezing.
I was hoping they could freeze my brain. While there is only a 20% chance that the cells are cancerous, I have friends with cancer. They are part of that 20%. I could be too. And while they use sterilized equipment and only 2% get an infection, I have a friend who's been hooked up to an IV for over two weeks getting mega doses of antibiotics fighting an E.Coli infection he got during a prostrate biopsy. Those numbers and faces were on my mind while she maneuvers me into position.
"God? Help me be brave. I do not want to cry. Or carry on. Help me think about things that are good. And beautiful. And lovely. And excellent. And worthy of praise. Please let me not imagine pain where there is none. Please help me to lie still so they don't have to do things over and over again. Your will be done. Could Your will not include pain?"
A tear escapes as she gently mashes my left boob into the machine. She puts her hand on my arm and asks if I'm OK. Now that I'm positioned correctly, her goal is to make me as comfortable as possible.
"How's this arm?" she asks. It's the one stretched up and out, and my head is resting on it.
"I think it's going to fall asleep."
"Let's put it here, then, shall we?" And she adds an extension to the gurney, giving my arm a place to land. "Let's add a pillow under here..."
"Would you like a pillow between your knees?" (I'm lying on my left side with my knees bent.)
"How about behind your back, would a pillow feel good there?"
"Your right arm? Is it going to be OK, resting on your hip? Or should we find another position? Another pillow perhaps? How about a warm blanket?..."
I want to marry Shawna and have her tuck me in at night.
With me all comfy, the show gets started, exactly as she described.
A small area is cleaned with solution, I feel a small prick as the doc starts freezing the area, and then the apparatus that's housing the needle is pulled into position and the cell retrieval begins. Shawna is sitting beside my head, giving me a running commentary. "He's just removed the first cells. And he's removed the second batch. You're half way done...."
I slip into my own thoughts, feeling confident that I'm with a team who knows what they're doing.
"Do you have any summer vacation plans?" Shawna asks.
"Yeah, Going to New York with friends at the end of July."
"Fun! Shopping and sight-seeing?"
"Abit, but mostly we're going to see a concert. Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles... How about you? Any holiday plans?"
"We get the last week of July off, and thought we'd go to Iceland, but flights are way more than we expected and we can't find a direct flight..."
"Iceland is on my list places to visit too! ..."
We talk about travel for a few seconds and then we're done. Cells have been removed (all of them, it turns out. He didn't just take a sampling, he took them all), pics have been taken, metal clip has been inserted, doc has left the room and the body part that's been squished has been released from the machine.
Shawna removes the pillows and has me lie flat on my back while she applies a surprising amount of pressure for such a small gal. Once she's satisfied I won't bleed out, she bandages me up, applies the cutest lil ice pack you ever did see, and tells me I can get dressed.
As I go behind the curtain to put my top on, I overhear them; "That was the quickest, most efficient, easiest biopsy ever. It was perfect." They high five each other. Thank you, God.
I thank them both for being totally awesome at what they do and give Shawna an (likely, inappropriate) hug. She hands me a take-home package of gauze and instructions and reminds me to take some Tylenol to help with pain management once the freezing is out.
"Your doctor will call you with the results in a week. Maybe 10 days. Possibly two weeks. Try not to worry; in 80% of the cases, it's absolutely nothing."
Jule looks at me when I step into the hallway.
"WHAT? You're done already? It hasn't even been 20 minutes. I haven't eaten my packed lunch. Or played any games..." (She's been visiting with the crowd in the waiting room.)
She took me home, I swallowed two Tylenol, worked for an hour, then had a nap in the sun.
That evening I went looking for Pokemon in New West while my freezing came out. Pffft. It was uncomfortable, but pain? Not a bit. Maybe 2/10 if I bumped the site.
The next day I went to work, then spent the evening listening to the very best seminar/lecture at Regent. If you ever get a chance to listen to Gordon T Smith of Ambrose University talk on the topic of Being A Christian in a Secular World, GO. SO inspiring. So entertaining. So wisdom-packed. So good. So encouraging. We need to be leading the charge in areas of social justice, in the fight against sex-trafficking, in the care and compassion for refugees and homeless...
The following day after work, I met Jenn for dinner at the Coquitlam VIP theatres. Her bday gift to me was Wonder Woman. I whispered to her, half way through, "I friggen love this movie..." Haha. It was so much fun. Just the right amount of dialogue and action and romance and fighting and I think I'd be up to seeing it again. We sat in the theatre and talked for awhile (usually my favorite part of the evening... unwrapping what we'd both just watched) before saying goodbye in the parking lot.
Once I was settled in my truck, I turned on my phone and caught a few Pokemon, checked my twitter notifications, read my messenger conversations, sent a note to the kids telling them that Wonder Woman was incredible, then noticed a voice mail message from an unknown phone number, left at 8 pm.
Two seconds later, I listen to my doc say, "Jane, your biopsy results are negative. You are totally clear."
And then I had a little cry.
Three things I'm thankful for:
1. Our medical services. The gentle care of biopsy nurses/ultrasound technicians. The wisdom of doctors. The modern facilities that are so close to home.
2. The peace I felt once I turned the whole thing over to God. (I may have had to turn it over to him a couple times a day, but still. These past two months of waiting have mostly been peace-filled.)
3. Fun, full days. And quiet, reflective ones.