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March 2014: Consult and Preparation for Surgery

ejourneys's picture

'Twas the Night Before Consult (copied from blog entry of March 12, 2014)

More prep:

 (1) Joined websites PatientsLikeMe.com and Breastcancer.org;

 (2) Checked into taxi services and touched base with the one I'll likely use when I need to (but see (11), below);

 (3) Drafted various correspondence;

 (4) Decompressed: caught up on (and am enjoying) "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" (thank you, Hulu!) -- first time I've tuned into that show since Carson. Also decompressed by sitting at "my" picnic table at our community park;

 (5) Read the Amer. Cancer Society's 133-page breast cancer guide -- my questions for the surgeon topped out at 21 before I printed them out. I'll add any new ones by hand;

 (6) Taxes; my accountant now has me on the fast track so that the gov't. gets its cut before I go into surgery;

 (7) Dropped off a printout at the hospital of a fellow caregiver's latest blog, to go to a nurse who took very good care of me during my biopsy and who is caregiver to someone with epilepsy. The blogger cares for her brother, who has intractable epilepsy, and I was telling the nurse about the blog during the biopsy;

 (8) Left my contact info and message for the nurse who did my biopsy pre-op, because I'd like to treat her to lunch and pick her brains after hearing about ways she helped heal from her own breast cancer;

 (9) Scoped out the location of the place near the hospital where I'll have my consult;

 (10) Shopped and broke the news at our natural foods store; one staffer there is a 17-year cancer survivor;

 (11) Stopped at a well-recommended in-home care company and had a terrific talk with a coordinator about all the options available. Given my situation with M, what I've learned gives me tremendous peace of mind. I'll reconnect with them after the consult;

 (12) Conducted successful test of a newly-purchased body pillow as a way to keep me from rolling onto my left side, since I'll need to keep off it after surgery.

The other day M was quizzing the pharmacist because she believes the topical steroid cream prescribed for a spot on her cheek had given her cramps in her legs. (I'm voting for her MS on the cramps; she denies MS has anything to do with them.) The spot, already fading very nicely, is likely an irritation due to something she had slept on. The pharmacist was saying things like, "Well, you do what you want, but I'm telling you that..." because she started arguing with him, going on at length about her connective tissue.

I reminded her that we're both having various stress responses right now.

She asked me, "What's your stress?"

I looked at her.

I said, "You're kidding, right?"

"No, I really want to know!"

I said, "I have cancer?"

Then she remembered. She had been focused on her cheek spot.

That's another reason I'm leaning toward in-home care. In addition to any physical help (at this point I don't know how much I'll need after surgery), I might need someone to be a buffer between M and me. I spelled out the situation to the in-home care coordinator, who said that her staff is trained to deal with people who have [dementia]. There are three levels of help: homemaker/companion services, personal care services, and private duty nursing. Services also include errands like grocery shopping and driving to and from medical appointments.

The night after I spoke with the coordinator was the first night since my biopsy that TMJ pain didn't keep me awake.

T Minus 3 Days to Surgery (copied from blog entry dated March 23, 2014)

At some point, all the stuff becomes a blur.

My consult on the 12th went very well. I had 21 questions for the surgeon. He could answer most of them; some have to wait for the oncologist, who won't be able to answer them until after the surgery.

The very good news is that I am HER2-negative. Or, as the surgeon put it, "You've got the good cancer." Barring any surprises, my surgery will take a couple of hours on Tuesday, but will be surrounded by pre- and post-surgical stuff for what sounds like the rest of the day. In addition to removing the tumor, they'll do a sentinel node biopsy to see if anything's spread. I've reserved a cab for round-trip transportation; M will accompany me to and back from the hospital.

M wasn't happy that I didn't want her driving me, but I think she's gotten over it -- especially since she had overdone it on some yard work and was effectively knocked out for the rest of the day. I pointed out to her that I can't afford that happening if I am in a situation where I need her. I also warned her that if I'm convalescing, I can't drive her to the ER if she overreaches.

I attended my first breast cancer support group meeting on the 14th -- they meet monthly. Was immediately paired up with a Reach to Recovery volunteer and we hit it off. Reach to Recovery is a program of the American Cancer Society wherein cancer patients are paired with mentors who have had similar cancer experiences.

Flowers arrived from a longstanding client:

 

Through our local cancer center's Facebook page I learned of the Lilly drug company's "Oncology on Canvas" contest. I've registered and done up a submission, but they take all rights (including attribution!), so I'm still undecided as to whether to send anything in. The deadline isn't until June 30. On the other hand, they partner with the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, which does education and advocacy, plus the 2012 winners include some stunning work.

Last weekend I spent 3-1/2 hours weed-whacking the yard on Saturday, then 2 hours of yard work on Sunday. This is the time of year when everything starts growing like gangbusters, plus I've had to do a lot of [cutting back] left over from last year. From what I've read, after breast cancer surgery the risk of lymphedema lasts for life, so I'm looking at the possibility that I might need to hire help for the yard rather than doing most of that work myself. It's also recommended that I cut my sun exposure due to the radiation treatments I'll receive. So I'm doing what I can, while I can.

I had planned to meet a couple of friends for lunch on Monday, but nasty thunderstorms rolled through and we decided not to risk it on the roads. (We all live some distance from each other, so we lunch at a roughly central location that's about 30 miles from me.) Was able to lunch with one of the two on Thursday, where she gave me this perfect mug:

 

On Tuesday I met with the RN who had done my biopsy pre-op. In addition to sharing various life stories, our discussion centered around some alternative medicine therapies. I'll just say my reactions are mixed, and I've been doing some research on the products she's involved with.

On Wednesday M and I attended our weekly support group. I don't know when I'll be back there, especially with 5-6 weeks of M-F radiation treatments ahead of me, once I heal from the surgery.

Thursday was my lunch with K, which was awesome. It just feels so good to sit down with someone and have a regular conversation.

Friday was my pre-op, which was mainly paperwork and payment, followed by an ECG -- wow, those things are fast these days! I'm trying to get any post-surgical Rx filled before surgery or delivered to the hospital before I go home on Tuesday. After the pre-op, I stopped at the hospital cashier to check on a bill I received, which it turns out is already covered (yay!). Then made stops at the post office, bank, and supermarket. After some rest at home, I put in 2-1/2 hours of branch [cutting], headlined by a showdown between Buddy Hollies and Cyndi Lopper. :-) Also granted permission (with delight) to an artist in Sweden, who is using this moth photo as a model for her drawing. She'll share the finished product with me. Friday night and Saturday I completed a short freelance job.

I need to make one more trip to the supermarket to stock up (and to use a coupon), plus pick up a special order at the natural foods store. Monday I'll check with the surgical office to see if they have an Rx ready for me to pick up and fill in advance. If they don't, I can tell them on the day of surgery to use the Walgreens bedside service. They have a system in place where Walgreens will deliver the Rx directly to the hospital, so that I can take it home with me.

In addition to the Rx, another question I'm glad I asked at pre-op was whether it was better to wear a shirt that buttoned down the front rather than a pullover. (Yep.) I'm to take the absolute minimum amount of stuff to surgery (I'll feel naked without my journal notebook and camera!), but I'm going to leave a packed bag at home in case something goes awry during outpatient surgery and I become an inpatient. That way, the bag can just be retrieved and brought to me.

I've decided to forego the home health care, mainly because my motivation for using it would be as a buffer during M's emotional flare-ups. The thing is, those are impossible to predict. And from the surgical consult plus conversation with Reach to Recovery volunteer N, my surgery should be pretty straightforward (barring any surprises). N had the same kind of surgery and was able to drive three days later; the surgeon predicts I should be able to drive 4 days afterward. Meanwhile, M and I have been working on communication, though admittedly some days are better than others.

My TMJ pain (which might not be TMJ so much as post-menopausal changes, from what I've read) has decreased considerably and is all but gone (whew!). I think my decrease in coffee consumption helped. Also, the better prepared I feel for surgery, the lower my stress level.

I won't know until Monday afternoon what time I need to show up at the hospital. As soon as I know, I'll call the cab company and tell them.

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