I have WHAT? Coda: Mastectomy

Breast cancer cellThis week I posted the last of three posts about my diagnosis with breast cancer at the end of 2003. Now it seems appropriate to post about my mastectomy. This post, originally called “Valentine’s Day 2004 or… I left my breast on the Mount of Olives” first ran on February 14, 2012. To recap: Part 1 (discovery), Part 2 (biopsy), Part 3 (diagnosis).

Fourteenth of February, 2004. There was a heavy snowfall. In Jerusalem that is almost as rare as it is in Los Angeles. Many streets were closed, and many people were afraid to drive on the streets that were open because, after all, Who knows how to drive in the snow in Jerusalem?

I was in my bed in the hospital and prepped for surgery. The orderly came to take me up to the operating room and I freaked out. No, don’t want! Stop – there must be a mistake – no, no, no! But all that was mostly on the inside. On the outside I appeared anxious (who wouldn’t be?) but rational.

In pre-surgery a male nurse came over to take report on me and check me over. He introduced himself and asked all the questions. He took a marking pen and made a huge mark on my left breast. Goodbye left breast. I made some feeble joke about not getting the wrong one, and he kindly and seriously told me that he would make sure of that. He stayed with me until I went under the anesthesia.

They wheeled me into operating room. People were bustling around doing their jobs. The nurse stayed with me. I heard two other nurses talking about the snow and wondering aloud if the surgeon would make it in. What? He’s not here yet? Please don’t tell me I’ll have to go through this again.

A surgery tech brought out the instrument tray. I looked at it with what I hoped was an interested expression on my face. It was probably more like sheer terror, because my nurse asked another one to set up the screen in front of my chin. “But isn’t she having a general?” “Please, I’m asking you. She’s looking at the tray.” So they set the screen up. But now I can’t see! How can I be sure you’ll do everything right? I can’t see! 

All of a sudden I felt a bustling, a purposefulness in the room. “Is the surgeon here?” “Yes.” Terror. Oh dear Lord! God, my God, bless his hands. Bless the work of this team. Bless me and give me strength to get through whatever comes next. Dear God, I am so afraid! Be with me now.

The anesthesiologist came up next to me and uttered the canonical phrase, “You’re going to feel a little prick now.” Excellent! The pleasantly heavy calmness settled over me, and…

* * * * *

Pain! I started panting like a woman in labor. Hoo hoo hoo hoo. My friend Jeannie, also a nurse, was standing next to me. She signaled the Recovery nurse who came over with an injection. I slept again.

The next time I awoke, still in Recovery, I was in pain again but aware of my surroundings, aware of Jeannie. Aware of the bulky dressing and the surgical drains where my breast used to be. Aware of the drain under my left arm. Aware that the surgery was over. Aware that pain could be controlled.

Aware that my life had forever changed.

My friend Aliza wrote about this day from her point of view. Please read her guest post here

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22 thoughts on “I have WHAT? Coda: Mastectomy

  1. Thanks for sharing this TK – that was certainly and auspicious day to be scheduled for surgery!!

    It was also interesting to read Aliza’s post and see another perspective. Sometimes ‘being there’, and praying, is all we can do. And it can be powerful, as I discovered after sitting with an Uncle three times after surgery. His wife and he both thanked me profusely for ‘being there’.
    Blessings and Prayers
    Maxine

  2. I wish I could say something other than that you’re brave for writing about this and I’m sure it can be helpful for others to read about your experiences. Hugs.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Grace. You know, it’s not really a question of bravery at all. It helps me when I can get the hard things out into the light.

  3. I wish I had something profound to say. Two months later I found out that I had cancer in my left breast. Reading this just made me sad for all of us who have gone through this, sad for the women who are finding out today.

  4. TK,

    Thank you for your words. Thank you for the courage it takes to not only go back to a very painful & frightening time of your life, but to openly share that pain with the world us. The world. You are undoubtedly ministering to countless many that you will never even know. And for that, you WILL be blessed!

    M

  5. I understand the terror of that day. Amazing it was snowing in Jerusalem. I hate when they bring us in the OR and have not given us any medication before. I am sure not knowing if the surgeon was coming certainly was scary. I also remember the pain in my chest and forever knowing my life was changed. Thank you for sharing this beautifully written post about a difficult time. Hugs and xoxo – Susan

    • Thank you for this comment, Susan. It’s always helpful for me to know that I’m not alone, that other people have (oh so sadly!) gone through the same thing.

  6. The whole cancer experience really sucks, doesn’t it? I’m sorry for your suffering — all the suffering you’ve been through. Your work really resonates with me; I’ve had similar experiences.

  7. So sorry for all of us who have to go through this. I remember actually telling God in my prayers shortly before the surgery that “now” (as in before the surgery) would be a good time for the Second Coming. My surgeon had pity on me and had them give me something that had me out before I was taken to the actual operating room. Yes, the first thought when you wake up is that your life is changed forever.

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