I am vehemently self sufficient. True, I enjoy the barrage of gifts -appropriately covered in a fine balance of Wonder Woman, Grumpy Cat and f-bombs (seriously, if profanity were a cure for cancer, I would have been healed by my well-wishers via the US Postal Service) – but I’ll be darned if someone else is going to come in and take care of me and my family just because I have cancer. I’m not dead yet. In my 100 square foot galley kitchen, I choose to undertake six months of cooking in the short week between now and my next surgery. The freezer friendly Tupperware teeters three feet high on my single foot of countertop. I make batch after batch of potato soups, chicken and dumplings, cheesecakes, banana breads, lasagnas, turkeys, assorted casseroles and freeze everything in single servings. My house smells like a test kitchen. I think of the $400 grocery bill as cheap therapy.
I also refuse to let anyone pay my way, nor drag my husband and daughter into crushing medical debt. I understand we will have substantial bills, beyond what our insurance will cover. I’ve spent most of my career running a non-profit. I take as gospel that if I don’t require a fundraiser, my problems cannot be that bad. Instead, I sell my motorcycle, give up my art studio and auction my art. The pieces are worth far less that the prices they fetch. There is an unspoken understanding that this is the only handout I am willing to accept and my friends go all in.
Feeling over appreciated for doing no more than growing some mutated rouge cells, it’s time to face my sentinel node surgery. Time to see if the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes, determining how aggressive the next steps of treatment will be. While I am awake, they inject four vials of radioactive dye into my areola to find my sentinel node. The box that holds the 1950s sci-fi looking glass vials is metal and double locked and marked with several “Danger, Radioactive” stickers. I make lots of She-Hulk jokes to my husband through the tears and the anxiety meds. How much will he still want a green, one and a half boobed baldy? He lovingly assures me, “Very much”.
My sentinel node is marked. I am put under while it gets removed and biopsied. If there is cancer, they keep removing lymph nodes until there isn’t. My mantra of the week has been “one and done”. If there is only one node removed, I have the opportunity to avoid the evil surgical drain. It’s basically a booger ball that lives half in and half out of your body with the job of sucking out post surgical fluid. It’s at this point I realize I don’t really have a needle phobia…I have a phobia of things being inserted into newly created and non traditional orifices. Stated that way it seems less like a phobia and more like a rational self preservation belief system.
When I wake, I immediately check for a drain. There is so much padding around the surgical site I cannot tell if it is there or not. My husband is smiling over me. His first words are “No drain.” No affected nodes, the surgery was relatively minor. Suck it cancer moment number three.
When I get home, I initiate my “best moments of the day” posts to Facebook. To get through the rest of this road, I have to hold on to the good bits and frankly, sharing gratitude helps me feel less afraid. My short list: one and done, no drains, great nurses and radioactive Hulk pee.