M Day


My alarm goes off at 6:45 am.  It is the sound I never wanted to hear, because it means today I will lose my breast.  I am beyond distraught from the second I sit up, and yet my demeanor is somehow calm.  Breath in.  Breath out.  Breath in.  Breath out.  I still cannot even grasp my thoughts around what is about to happen to me as my husband and I make our way to the hospital.  My surgery is not until noon but I have been asked to be there at 8 am to do a CAT scan to locate a marker in one of my lymph nodes.  They need to take one out as it had signs of cancer.  It was tagged with a marker last March when I did my biopsies.  However, since my chemo has kicked some serious ass, my lymph node has shrunk to the point where they cant see this marker under ultrasound.  And they want to make sure they take out the right one which of course I do too.

Firstly, I would just like to say that I am not a morning person.  Eight in the morning may not seem early to some but I don’t like it.  I don’t like it at all.  And especially since there is no eating before surgery, I really don’t like it.  I’m hungry.   Secondly, I walk in naively as I have no idea what they are going to do to me with this “marker lymph node thing.”  Then they tell me.  Great.  This sounds amazing.  I lie in the CAT scan machine half on my side, half on my back with my arms raised above my head, and my knees in some weird position while they try and locate this marker for over 40 minutes.  Oh, and no moving, or it will mess everything up.   Every muscle in my body aches even the ones that I didn’t know existed.  I think I deserve an award for best contortionist in a CAT scan machine.  I’ll take the bronze.  I’m not greedy.  It doesn’t have to be the gold.  The bronze is fine.  Or maybe just some chocolate!  Except that I can’t eat it.   Dang it.  I am really hungry.

After they finally find this marker, they literally take a wire and stick it through my armpit into my lymph node.  Yes, this really happens.  I have a wire hanging out of me.  They tape it up of course but by 9:30 am, I wasn’t planning on being a contortionist, hungry or having a wire dangling from under my arm.  The food better seriously be good after this day.

Once my wire is nicely taped to my side and my body unwound without breakage, I am wheeled to the holding room where Chris and my mom meet me.  We joke and laugh which takes my mind off my surgery for a bit.  The best part is my mom telling a nice breakfast story of a restaurant where she had waffles and chocolate of course not realizing I haven’t eaten in over 14 hours.  Chris and I just laugh, and it is even cuter once she realizes what she has done.

One by one the nurses, the anesthesiologist, and my doctors come by to talk to me and to explain the upcoming events.  It really starts to sink in.  This is real.  I cannot believe this is happening to me.  I really don’t understand what I did.  Honestly, what did I do to deserve this?  What did I do?  Soon after they come for me.  I say my goodbyes to my mom and Chris, and they wheel me out the door in the hospital bed.

As the nurses push me down the hall, all I can see are the bright lights on the ceiling.   As I pass them one by one,  I can’t catch my breath.  My fingers begin to tingle. My hands tremble.  Tears start to fall.  I begin to cry.  I can’t control it.  I am frightened.  I am scared.  I am alone.  I cry out loud.  Each cry echoing down the long corridor.

I am wheeled into the operating room and slid over onto the operating table.  It’s so bright and cold in this room.  Nothing is inviting.  Everyone is bustling  getting ready for me.  As I look around, I just can’t help it.  I cry uncontrollably and loudly.  The nurses stop their preparations.  They come running with tissues though my arms are strapped down.  I just keep saying,  “I know I don’t have much but I nursed all my babies with my breast, and it is mine.  And I don’t want them to take it.”  I repeat this over and over again.  I am panicked.  My sobbing is hysterical.  I can’t stop.  A sweet nurse grabs my left hand, leans down and whispers in my ear that she is going to say an extra special prayer for me.  This calms me.   I am still crying, but it soothes me.  As she is doing this, Dr. Attai, my breast surgeon, is now holding my right hand.  She tells me that everything is going to be okay, and she is going to take good care of me.  I look at her, tears streaming down my face, as I feel the dose of meds go through my arm.  I say, “Here we go.”  I am out.

The night before


Tomorrow is the big day.  The day I never wanted to come.  It is the mastectomy of my left breast.  It is the day that I will go from having two breasts to one.  It seems likes something so trivial, and yet I can’t get it out of my mind.   It’s just a boob, but it is mine.  By letting my doctor take it, I get to live, and I know this is the most important thing, but it is mine.  Mine.  Mine.  Mine.  IT IS MY BREAST.   It is a part of my womanhood.  It is a body part that I have had since the day I was born.  It is something that I have appreciated in all its smallness, perkiness and flat chestedness even when the boys teased me.   I never cared.  It is mine.  I have nursed all three of my children with these breasts, and now one is going to be taken.  Fear does not even begin to convey the numbness pumping through my veins

I do okay for the most part of the day.  I go through the motions as I head to my plastic surgeon’s office so he can “mark” me.  Apparently, he has to draw on me while I am standing up so he knows where things fall and how my body aligns.  When I am in surgery tomorrow, my breast surgeon will begin and when she finishes the mastectomy, my plastic surgeon will take over.  At this point, I will already be lying down on the table with my breast gone so he needs to know where to start the beginning process of reconstruction.  My friend DeAun has taken me to this “mark me up” appointment for which I am grateful.  On the way home, we laugh, giggle and chat though I remember none of it.  I do okay on the ride home.  I think I hide it well.  I think.

It doesn’t truly hit me until I get home.  I walk into the bathroom, and I take off my shirt to see what he has drawn on me.  There are two big circles in purple marker around my breasts, lines going from here to there and back again.  Like a treasure map, with a line that goes up the center of my chest bone.  There are a few arrows pointing to the left breast and then the word “YES” written on the top of this breast.  As I see this, I let out a nervous laugh.  I can’t keep it together anymore.   I lose it.  I sob and sob and sob.  I stare at myself in the mirror with purple marker all over me knowing that I will never again see myself as I once was.  Never again.

As it is finally time for bed though I know I will barely be sleeping, something reassuring crosses my mind.  My brother was born on November 22nd.  My basketball number in high school was number 22.  My brother’s Special Olympic’s basketball number was 22.  My best friend’s dad, Frank, was killed in an automobile accident on February 22nd.  It was a horrible day for years and years and years.  But then years later, though I tried to hold her in with all my might, my first daughter was born on February 22nd.  My second child was born on June 22nd.  My third was born on April 22nd.  My best friend, Stacie, who’s dad died on the 22nd, had her son 5 years ago on September 22nd.  AND TOMORROW IS SEPTEMBER 22ND!  I just can’t help but think that how is it that this is my surgery date?   I have to be in good hands.  All of this involved two surgeons and a hospital all having to coordinate a date and a time to match their schedules.  What are the chances?  I imagine Frank looking down on me.  My children smiling and giggling.  My basketball years and my brother smiling from ear to ear in his Special Olympic’s jersey.  Although my body is still numb with fear, a calmness begins to regulate me.  With visions and memories of the number 22 in my mind, I fall asleep on a night that I thought it impossible.