Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 18, 2022

"Knockers up!"

I've had mammograms for years, but always understood they weren't foolproof. So, I've asked husband Art to be my back-up. It was an assignment he accepted with unusual vigor.

That turned out to be wise. Despite having a mammogram in September, in late January Art found a lump in my left breast that was not of the usual come-and-go variety.

We were in Wisconsin when it was discovered and I called my doctor during our return trip. She got me in the following day, but the next available radiological and sonogram screening appointment was a week out. For me, waiting is the worst!

Then it was another week for a biopsy slot. I told the doctor I was trying hard not to hyperventilate. He assured me that mine was one of hundreds he�s done in his medical career. That wasn't all that comforting as it was my first!

The office staff told me the results would be available Friday, but when I called about noon, I was told it would probably be Monday. Aagghh!

But late in the day, my family doctor called. The results were positive for cancer. She said she hesitated, fearing the news would put a dent in my weekend. I told her she had done the right thing - waiting until Monday would have added an extra layer of anxiety.

I learned Monday that the earliest consultation day with the surgeon was another week out. I told Art I had always thought of my "ta-tas" as my friends, but suddenly they seemed like my enemies.

As usual, Art had been researching and had found the national average from detection to surgery is 27 days. My consultation date with the surgeon was about 30 days after the lump was discovered.

Our various projects kept me occupied during the days, but night-times were challenging. Sleep was fitful. I vacillated between sheer terror and absolute calm.

We met with the surgeon on March 1 and immediately liked him. He grew up on a Kansas farm and his matter-of-fact explanations gave me confidence. My options were: 1) mastectomy or 2) lumpectomy. Depending on the pathology reports, there might be chemotherapy with either and quite likely radiation with the latter. A lymph node or two near the armpit would be removed and examined as they are normally the first place a spread occurs.

I opted to go with the lumpectomy. I had already decided I'd write a column about the experience and given my choice, Art suggested I call it "Keeping a breast."

Surgery was scheduled for March 9 - another week wait. I would go to the hospital the day before to have a radioactive blue dye injected into my left breast. It, much like any cancer cells that may have left the lump, would accumulate in the "sentinel" lymph node. The radioactivity and the dye would allow the doctor to more easily locate it for biopsy. I had heard the insertion of the needle was quite painful, but it was no more than a slight prick.

We arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. on the 9th. A technician used a gamma camera to pinpoint the sentinel lymph node near my armpit by watching for the telltale radiation concentration. He marked an "X" on my skin over the node. Then we were off to the surgery unit.

The technician guided me through the waiting room where he called to Art, "I assume you want to come along with us?"

"Will it be interesting?" Art replied.

He smiled and said, "These are not the sort of things you want to be interesting."

Once in my room, I changed into a hospital gown and a nurse took my vital signs, entered medical information into the computer, and tried to start an IV. My thin wrists and small veins were not cooperative. After three unsuccessful attempts, she called a colleague, who found a vein in the back of my hand immediately and soon the IV was dripping away.

Then we settled in for a three-hour wait. At 11:12 a.m. - Art knows exactly as he texted our daughters - I was carted off to surgery. I met my recovery nurse and an anesthesiologist, who told me he was going to inject a pain blocker into my back on the left side. The next thing I remember was being wheeled back to the room at about 2 p.m. where Art was waiting.

I was thirsty and selected grape juice from the options offered. Not having eaten since the previous evening, I was also hungry. The nurse gave me several choices: toast, muffin, applesauce, etc. I opted for toast with jelly. It wasn't the wisest decision. My mouth was dry from the drugs and the toast glued itself to the roof of my mouth and gums!

Once I had largely recovered from the anesthetic, I was allowed to get dressed and was then discharged. After stopping by the pharmacy for some pain medications, we arrived home at 4:30 p.m. I was told I might want to apply cold compresses to help with the pain. A bag of frozen peas in a pillowcase placed on my incisions worked pretty well.

An hour later, a local florist called, saying she couldn't find our place. I gave her directions and soon, a pretty bouquet from son-in-law Matt's mom and her husband arrived. A couple of hours later, daughter Mariya and wife Miriam came by with another bouquet from them, daughter Katie and Matt.

Since then, family and friends have provided soups, salads, meatballs, bread and desserts, along with an ample supply of love and support.

Now, it's another waiting game until I get the pathology report.

Oh, and the column title? It came from friend Jo. She has a way of summing things up quite nicely. Her advice? "Knockers up!"

I had to laugh - and they say laughter is the best medicine!

Left: My left arm with its "Restricted Extremity" tag rests on the pillowcase bag I'd fill with frozen peas to use as a compress on my breast to reduce the pain. At no time was the pain great, but was, instead, distracting. Right: A cherry pie baked by a friend had a "G" in the crust. Insert: A portion of my left breast. The fading dye had turned from blue to green a few days after surgery and "X marks the spot" where the sentinel lymph node was removed.

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