The past couple of months have been a whirlwind on so many levels. The Move to Chicago, our dog Zoey’s illness, and my sister Barb’s diagnosis of breast cancer have left me wanting to run away to Mongolia. Seriously, one of my Peace Corps applicants went to Mongolia last month on a photo shoot and challenged everyone to put Mongolia on their bucket list. Why not this summer? Someone else can deal with this mess! Yeah, well, we know how that works. Just like when I was diagnosed with BC in December 2011 and my sister-in-law told me to “put my big girl pants on”, I’ve had to be a big girl about this whole thing and it hasn’t been easy. The move itself is done, but we will probably continue unpacking until we move again and Zoey is an outlier, so we will be caring for her indefinitely which is a good thing on many levels, but stressful on others.
However, this week the focus is on my sister Barb and the fact that BC has once again slammed itself into our world. Barb was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast on July 18th. Hers is ER+ like mine, but she has a history of cysts in her right breast that I did not have. Neither of us has tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation (which only effects 5-10 percent of the population anyway), but who knows what genetic links we have that are yet to be found. Anyway, she spent late July and early August meeting with medical personnel including a nurse navigator, surgeon, oncologist, plastic surgeon and geneticist and it was decided that she would have a bilateral mastectomy with a sentinel node biopsy before and reconstruction immediately afterwards.
Well, although it seemed like it took forever to happen, surgery was yesterday.
Our parents and I met Barb and her husband, Mike, at the hospital at 9:30AM for pre-op preparations and for her injection of dye for the sentinel node biopsy. She didn’t go in to the actual operating room until after 1PM so there was definitely a lot of waiting, but what can you do? Barb had a great attitude and really appreciated all of the support she was receiving through texts, FB messages and emails.
Her surgeon was first up, completing the sentinel node biopsy and bilateral mastectomy. It took him and his team almost 2 hours to take care of his part (enough time for my parents, Mike and I to go grab lunch) and he came out afterwards to give a status update, pleased with his work.
Next were Barb’s plastic surgeon and his team. Thank goodness Barb was knocked out with general anesthesia because a major storm blew through during her reconstructive part of surgery! In the Detroit Metro area, 150,000 homes and businesses lost power and freeways flooded. It freaked us (our parents, Mike and I) out when lights were flickering as we sat in the hospital waiting room playing euchre, although we were informed that the generators had been turned on in the operating room. Surgeries scheduled for 6:00PM were actually postponed, however.
Barb came out of surgery at around 6:40PM and while she was in post op/recovery, her plastic surgeon met with her support team (my parents, Mike and I) in a conference room in the waiting room. I truly appreciated the time Dr. B took to map out Barb’s post-surgery care and thoroughly answer questions. He did a rock star job!!!! We went to dinner and when we got back at about 7:45PM, we were finally able to see Barb—and that was scary because she was in major pain and miserable. She was feeling a 9 out of 10 on the pain scale and even breathing hurt. Someone on the hospital staff missed a step in dealing with Barb’s pain medication while she was in recovery, but we got things back on track when she was set up in her room. When my parents and I left at 9PM, however, we were still very concerned about her condition. I went back to the hospital at about 11 to relieve Mike and her pain was down to an acceptable 2-3 on the pain scale and she was able to smile. Much better!! However, she definitely wasn’t in good enough shape to go home–which her insurance company wanted to have happen.
I spent the night at the hospital on a pullout couch in her room and was actually able to get some sleep! Granted there were beeping machines, nurse visits, and a 4AM walk that was cut short because of nausea (Barb’s, not mine) to contend with, but it was a good night overall. Barb’s night nurse and nursing assistant were awesome and were able to give her lots of support and care.
Members of the surgeon’s team were in Barb’s room this morning by 8:00AM on rounds. They were pleased with the surgery site, apologetic about the pain that Barb had experienced after surgery and very adamant that Barb is not heading home until she is ready. This means that her nausea and pain need to be under control first–which hasn’t quite happened yet. She was all excited about ordering breakfast and the idea of it, but didn’t feel up to eating it when the food actually arrived.
Let’s hope lunch is different!