The scene is a vivid one, as I’ve been there many times before and I know what those final moments are like, when the surgeon comes to your side, places his or her hand on your arm, asks you if you are ready to go.
You nod and try to smile from beneath the blue hair net, already groggy from the IV drugs that are the first phase of the anesthesia. They roll you into the operating room, you look up long enough to see the bright cluster of lights overhead, and then everything goes black.
My niece Natalie’s surgery began at 7 a.m. this morning. The surgeon will first perform a Sentinel Node biopsy on both sides just as an extreme precaution. I am thrilled that Natalie has a surgeon with that kind of wisdom. The results will answer the question as to whether or not any breast cancer cells had begun to develop prior to her surgery and if so, if they had had a chance to spread. Chances are very slim, so we are not worried. We are just happy that her doctors are taking the extra step.
Next, her surgeon will perform the double mastectomy and then the plastic surgeon will step in immediately to begin the first steps of Natalie’s reconstruction — placement of her temporary implants, which will slowly be inflated with fluids in the coming months. She will likely be released from the hospital tomorrow or Saturday.
Please keep her in your prayers today and in the upcoming days and weeks. The surgery is both physically a nightmare (my sister Julie says she remembers every detail and she had hers back in the late 1980s) and mentally a challenge as well.
I must add, however, that all of the anxiety that I was feeling dissipated after conversations with both my sister Julie, and my niece (Julie’s daughter) Natalie. Both were so at peace with the decision that after talking with them, I was able to calm myself and work through the pain of seeing Natalie go through this.
There are, and have been, some interesting signs along the way. Back in 2006, my double-mastecomy was scheduled for Good Friday — the same day we lost my Mom to cancer in 1992. It was such an odd day for the surgeons to schedule surgery, and it was just odd that that was the date that came up on their calendars, that they offered to me. I found comfort in that, that somehow, it was a sign from my parents in heaven above that they were watching over me and that all would be fine.
More irony in today’s date. Today would have been my Dad’s 76th birthday. How strange that the surgeons looked at their calendars, coordinated their schedules, and today is the date that came up. When I mentioned this to my bff Kristi Rugh Kahl, she said there was no other explanation than that my parents were once again sending a sign that they are right beside us as my sisters and niece and our families go through this together, and do what must be done. There’s not a doubt in my mind that she’s right.
Meanwhile, I will also be at the hospital today, receiving the second of four treatments in Round 10 of my chemotherapy. I guess our family is keeping the hospital staff quite busy today.
Please continue to pray for Natalie, that the surgery goes off without a hitch, and that her healing does, too. She will be sent home with drainage tubes, as was I, which will remain in place for a couple of weeks. I couldn’t wait to get those things out.
The recovery is pretty grueling as well. I remember my sister Julie taking me to the park on a fresh, sunny spring day — out for my first walk since surgery. I envisioned myself, well, walking. Not a 5K or anything, but hey, a quarter mile would have been terrific. I couldn’t do more than shuffle about 10 steps — and that was about 10 days after my surgery. I remember being just oh so shocked at how reluctant my body was, how desperately it wanted to hang on to all it had so that every ounce could go toward my healing.
But Natalie is amazing, and the fourth woman in our family to undergo this procedure. I know she will come through with flying colors. And what I wish for her, what we all wish and pray for her, is a long, happy, cancer-free life. After today, she is well on her way to just that.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson