The day before my surgery we received the PET/CT scan results and found out that they were clear. We were elated, knowing that this at least meant I was stage IV because there were no masses. However, we quickly learned that this type of scan does up cancer cells, only masses, so the melanoma could have already spread to my lymph nodes. Only a biopsy would determine. We quickly went from elation to tempered enthusiasm.
We checked into HOAG hospital at 8:45 am and left just after 3 pm. It was a long day, but I was under anesthesia for most of it. When I arrived I was taken to the pre-op room. My husband and daughter were brought back to visit with me before I was taken down to nuclear medicine for mapping of my sentinel lymph node. I have always said she was a good sleeper, and this was no exception. Less than five minutes after she was placed on me, she was out and even stayed on my while they hooked up my IV on the top of my left hand. Holding her is the best calming drug out there.
I was wheeled down to nuclear medicine so that they could do some mapping and find which lymph node the melanoma would go to if it had spread. I was a bit alarmed to be told that due to the location (over right shoulder blade) which was more in the middle of my back, it could go to either the lymph nodes by my right armpit, or the ones near my right groin, or both. This was alarming. Each of the four injections stung and burned and I held my breath with each one. Laying as still as possible so they could get good images for 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there, I was quickly told that the radioactive dye only traveled to my right armpit area and was relieved. The radiologist came out and drew the location with a marker.
Then I was wheeled back up to the pre-op room where my husband and daughter were waiting, and met my anesthesiologist and my surgeon that we had met just a few days prior. We had been under the impression that he was going to biopsy my lymph node(s), but were a bit confused to learn that he would actually be removing 3 of them. Since there are about 50, he explained it as "picking grapes." I gave kisses to my loves, and was taken into the surgery room.
The surgery rooms are always so bright and cold. As I was injected with the medicine to put me under, my blood pressure cuff was inflating and it burned and hurt so bad. Even though I had been given something to relax me, tears immediately started flowing. "Hold off on her cuff" was the last thing I remember hearing someone say as I was placed on the surgery table and quietly said three Hail Mary's before drifting off.
Hours passed and the surgeries were successful I would find out later. Well, we will not know if they "got" all of the melanoma until the results of the tissue being analyzed come back and the margins are clear. And the real game changer: has it spread to my lymph nodes. Apparently, there is only a 6% chance that it has for me, based on my data.
As I "came to" while being wheeled into recovery, I was crying. I vaguely remember someone asking if I was in pain, and trying to articulate, no, I was not in pain but I lost my Mom to cancer and now I have and a 9 month old little girl. I don't think I got much out because it was hard to form words.
I was told that the lymph node surgery was a success - that they removed three - and was happy. At our consultation earlier in the week, he said that there was a small chance he would not be able to "find" it so, I was relieved. Anxious to see my husband and my girl, I had to wait an additional 30 minutes in recovery after being given a narcotic in my IV. My right arm hurt the most, more than my back incision.
It was so wonderful to see them and be reunited after what had seemed like a much longer period of time. "I'm glad that it is out of you. I love you, you're my baby." He whispered in my ear as we both nuzzled our 9 month old girl.
I felt pretty optimistic on the drive home, and for the rest of the evening. I tried to stay positive and said that this would be looked back on as the great cancer scare of 2016. We walked around the block with baby A in her SmartTrike and I did some watering of my recently planted sunflower seeds for her party. I talked to my Mom Cathy who also seemed very cheerful and my Dad and friend Andrea. My husband was beyond amazing doing everything to prepare baby A for bed. She drifted off to sleep at 7pm and I carried her into her nursery, as he transferred her from my arms to her crib.
We had time alone together to start reading The Catechism of The Catholic Church, our "homework" assignment from the priest who had visited the night before, in response to me asking him what I could do to grow in my faith. He suggested we read it slowly over a year or two, together, and discuss it. We both very much felt that if we can get through this we will be stronger and focus on what is really important in life: being kind and good to each other and to our girl and growing in our faith.
I tried to sleep and could not stop thinking about planning for her first birthday. My mind was racing, which I didn't understand since my medication was supposed to make me drowsy. It took an hour of laying there party planning with no chance of sleep for me to realize that maybe the grande caramel machiatio I had on the drive home at 4pm wasn't the best idea. I finally took a sleeping pill at 11:30 pm when she awoke for a feeding and my husband brought her to me.
When I woke up, I was in pain, and found that my happy, optimistic fog had dissolved during the night. Still not knowing what stage I was, I started looking up stats, which I hadn't done before and started crying. My husband came out and found me holding our girl, and my phone, looking at this:
What stage am I? We won't know until Tuesday or Wednesday...but I'm at least 1B. I kept staring at the 86% and was so focused on that. But I didn't have too long to feel sorry for myself, because we had to get ready for my Dad and brother and take our Baby A to see the Easter Bunny for the first time.
What else do you do when you find yourself down and in the doldrums? Get out there and put some wind in your sails! For us, this was a trip to the Irvine Park Railroad and our little girl's first experience of terror.
As Andy from Shawshank Redemption said I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.