Tuesday, May 26, 2015

And Then Breast Cancer Happened #breastcancer

Yeah, I've been quiet here lately.

Part of it was finishing a story I was working on, and part of it was decompressing after a challenging work season. Part of it was still grieving my beloved brother in love (deathversary on April 19) and concerns for my oldest sister's health (since relieved), and trying to get back on track with taking care of my own health.

Only my mammo, at the end of April, turned up something different from my usual lumps and bumps and cysts. Something that needed to be biopsied.

When you have a mother who died of breast cancer, whenever you hear the word "abnormal" from a medical professional in reference to your love jugs, you don't take that shit well. The French have a term, bête noire, the black beast, the deepest, soul-fear a person has. Mine has long been that I would get breast cancer like my mother, and that I would endure a long, dehumanizing, and ultimately fruitless struggle to defeat BC, as she did.

Sometimes when they've said, "We need to take another look," or "Let's do an ultrasound just to be sure," or worse, "There's a spot here I think we might want to biopsy," I've launched into full panic mode. Other times I've been cool on the outside, melting down on the inside.

And after all, I've had two previous biopsies that turned out benign. 80% of biopsies turn out to be nothin' to worry about. But this time, I knew.

And I needed a little extra oomph.

Enter the Tiara

So I decided to wear my tiara to the biopsy. During the procedure, because why not?


Sticking my tongue out at the possibility of cancer.
The mammography-biopsy set-up. Instead of lying on a table, tits down, they wheeled me up to this gizmo.
Despite being numbed up, yes, it hurt. During, and afterwards, if not unbearably.

The medical staff, at the biopsy, which happened on a Thursday, were tickled by my idea of wearing my tiara to tell cancer who's in charge. Told me to follow up if I had not heard back from my gynecologist, who had been getting the results, by Tuesday.

I spent the weekend sharing the news with a few close friends, and some of my family, including my fabulous niece, who's a mammography technician. Querying my lovers, "Will you still find me sexy if I end up lopsided?"

This was and is hugely important to me, even if I tried to put a light spin on it. One of my wish-I-could-but-can't-forget-it memories is walking in on my mother, on one of the nights my father was "working late," as she examined her mutilated body in the mirror. She had her breast cancer back in the day, and endured a radical mastectomy, followed by radiation, which were pretty barbaric treatments, even if they were the best medical science knew how to do at the time.

The most horrible image that sticks in my mind is not my mother's scarred, unsymmetrical body, but the look on her face. That look of self-loathing, of fear, of heartbreak and horror... Which included, I know now, the knowledge that my father was out screwing around, undoubtedly looking for women with two whole, unscarred breasts.

My breasts have always been an important part of my womanly identity. Waiting impatiently for them to appear (I was a "Pirate's Dream" - flat as a plank - till I was almost 14). Flaunting the girls, once they did grow in. Nursing my baby with them. My breasts are an important part of my sex life to this day. Will I really be me, if I have to sacrifice part of a breast, all of a breast, or both of them?

And how will men react - how will my men react, to the idea?  Would they be repulsed? Will they be kind and sympathetic and slowly distance themselves?

Good guys all, they responded "Of course, I will still find you sexy!" and they have been 50 Shades of Supportive and Caring in the days that have followed.

Getting the Call

Oddly, I felt a sense of calm and finality over the weekend.  Kind of like that moment in the movies, when it's the final confrontation between the villain and the good guy. The time is here. Let's roll.

My gyno called Monday afternoon. The bad news - yep, cancer. The good news, slow-growing, low-grade.  Rattled of a bunch of names of surgeons, and oncologists, and...

That night, I Googled everyone he'd mentioned, and picked a surgeon.  Called and left a message that night for her office. They called me back the next morning and set an appointment for the initial consultation.  Emailed me a bunch of forms to fill out, because you can't do ANYTHING, these days, without mountains of paperwork.

Cue Tom Petty's The Waiting (Is the Hardest Part)

That song is definitely going on my cancer playlist. Along with Sara Bareilles' Brave, and Triumph's Fight the Good Fight.  Anyway, it was both a very long, and very short time before I got in to see the surgeon - about a week. During that time I downloaded and ordered several books on breast cancer.

Until I could actually see my pathology report, where I was on this was kinda fuzzy.

But the day arrived and I met my surgeon, who is/was awesome. I also had to undress (top off, tiara stayed on) for an exam, which made little sense to me, until she explained that she was checking to see if there was any change in my lymph nodes. No, no indication of swelling, another good thing.

After my first exam by my new surgeon
The path report, which I finally have a copy of, confirmed DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ), with some involvement of the nearest lymph node. It's hormone-receptor positive, HER negative, slow-growing... Basically, if you have to have breast cancer, mine is the best kind of breast cancer to have, easiest to treat, with a super-high not only remission, but CURE rate (90-100%).

The plan of action: genetic testing, where I had to try to fill two small plastic tubes with saliva. Not as easy as it sounds, since you can't have water or anything else to help you out.

Eventually, I imagined I was playing with one of my lovers and wanted to lube my hand to play with his penis, and my mouth watered up nicely.

Next Up, an MRI

While my surgeon felt pretty confident the cancer had not spread, as a precaution, she also wanted me to have an MRI, just in case. Of course, I wore my tiara.

They did not let me take my phone or camera into the MRI room, because, magnets. Something about erasing all the memory on my phone. Nor did they let me wear the tiara inside the tube - the technician tested it, and she said the magnet would have ripped it right off my head.  But they let me wear it into the room, at least.

Gorgeous faux-ceiling, but unfortunately, you don't get this view from inside the tube.
They had already inserted an IV port, to infuse with contrasting solution during the procedure. They put in earplugs, and asked if I wanted headphones, & music. Hell, yes! I chose the Pandora channel Led Zeppelin, because that's how I (rock-and) roll. They put a panic bulb in my left palm, and slid me in, boobs in free fall underneath me, arms pinned to my side.

The machine sounds like the love child of a clothes dryer and a machine gun. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat.  So, the music began with Jimmy Page's guitar riff on Whole Lotta Love: Da-da-da-da-dah, eeeerum [rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat], da-da-da-da-dah, eeeerum [rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat], and Robert Plant howling, "You need cooling, baby I'm not foolin..."

It was a good distraction, mostly, although I found I did need cooling. First my elbows got hot, and then, weirdly, I felt my vagina heat up.  Then everything kind of evened out.

I was in the tube for about 30 minutes altogether. 15 minutes, then they injected the contrast solution, and that was creepy. I was feeling pretty warm (was I having a hot flash, I wondered), and I could feel the cold slithering up the tube to the insertion point in my right elbow, and into my body, cool.  Another ten minutes or so. Then the tech's voice comes on in my headphones, "You're doing great, Just another four minutes."

And Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody begins. And I am hot. I have since heard, that the machine itself causes the body temperature to rise, and that  sometimes people have a reaction to the contrast solution. I can feel my face sweating, my arms feel hot, the bar supporting my body between my breasts hurts, my legs want to move around...  And am I drooling? It feels all wet around my mouth.

Then the chorus begins. "Let me go!" "Bismillah, we will not let him go!" "Let me go!" "Bismillah, we will not let him go!" And I was starting to lose my shit. Wasn't it only four more minutes an hour or so ago? There was no fucking oxygen left in the tube, I was trying to breathe deeply and relax, but it just seemed like I was rebreathing my own warm, oxygen-depleted exhales.

I was torn between squeezing the hell out of the panic bulb, waiting like a good little girl, and just clawing the machine apart, except that I couldn't, because my arms were pinned against my side and the whole thing was closing in on me... "Mamma Mia, Mamma Mia, Mamma Mia let me go!"

And then they said, "All done!" and finally the thing rolled out of the tube. I drew in as much oxygen as I could, and finally sat up. I felt wobbly and shaky and regretted not taking the time for lunch, before, because maybe part of my problem was low blood sugar.

Also, maybe next time I have an MRI I will choose something New Age-y and more relaxing.

And Now, Let's Buy Some Sex Toys

I had already scheduled a jaunt to The Pleasure Chest for a class by Elle Chase, sex educator extraordinaire, before my MRI was scheduled, on the same evening. And both Cedars-Sinai and TPC are in WeHo, so.... One of the tricks I used to distract myself from getting all worked up about the MRI, was texting my guys about it, in the upcoming week, asking them what toys they might like me to pick up while I was there.  Thinking about sex toy shopping did help, somewhat, while I was trapped in the tube. It also helped while I was waiting for the results.

Odd how Mojo finds the quirt end more interesting than the feather end.
*I* prefer the feather end. Quite fun.

I have the MRI results. No sign of other trouble spots, no sign of spreading. Yay! I get to have a lumpectomy, and keep "the girls." Surgery tentatively scheduled for about three weeks from now.

The bad thing, besides, cancer, is it has been difficult for me to focus on anything else, like my writing.  But this too shall pass.

To be continued...

Got any good songs for my "Kicking Cancer's Ass" playlist?
What strategies have you have used to get through challenging medical procedures?
Your thoughts?