Thursday was hard. Possibly the hardest day I've endured since the start of this journey that has both dragged and flown by simultaneously. There was comfort food and of course pink pinging me all day by text, by email, by facebook and loving phone calls. Yesterday could have been so much worse without the groundswell of support.
My mom and I went to see Billy Elliot, a Broadway show I've been wanting to see for a while. It was perfect. Lively and upbeat with a heartwarming story of overcoming hardship. Full of hope. With tap dancing, sparkle and a stunning male ballet dancer who was riveting for the one scene he was onstage.
I fell asleep easily but slept fitfully until about 3:30 am. After an hour of spinning thoughts I caved and retrieved my computer to make myself useful and distract from the loop in my head. By 6 my mom was up as well. We didn't need to be at the hospital until 8 am but we wanted to be on time. And ready. By 7 we were ready to walk out the door and had to sit around pretending to be interested in what was on the Today Show while we waited. We left by 7:30 and I turned back at the elevator for an umbrella and a book and something else that seemed important at the time.
The hospital is one long cross-town block and a short uptown block away. We walked slowly in silence each carrying the weight of the prior day's news. I signed in at the reception desk for "Ambulatory Surgery" which I presumed meant outpatient surgery and sat staring ahead until I couldn't take the overly loud voice of the man sitting to my right giving his daughter/friend/sister a pep talk for an audition or job interview - it wasn't clear which but when he told her it was okay to make up an anecdote I couldn't take it anymore and I asked my mom to listen for my name and put my headphones on. Reading was out of the question.
After ten or fifteen minutes my name was called and I signed several forms and returned to my seat. Another five to ten minutes went by and I looked through the magazine my mom was flipping through and was grateful the loud guy had either run out of things to say or possibly realized a surgical waiting room might not be the place for loud lectures. My name was called again and my mom was told to wait while I was led to the back and handed off to a nurse who asked me lots of questions and handed me a gown to change into. I asked if I would be able to see my mom and she said they would call her when it was over. This panicked me a little. I needed her to wait with me. I needed her to hear what the doctor was going to do to me.
I texted her as I was walked by an orderly (or someone I presume was an orderly, I really don't know hospital titles very well yet) to a locker where I was to leave all my things. When I came out in the disposable purple gown with ready-made holes for strategic access I asked if I could see my mom again and this time I was told they would call her back.
The intake/recovery area was a long room with very few beds and lots of recliners on wheels with those curtains that can be pulled for semi-privacy. I was instructed to wait on one of the very few beds in the room while I watched many other people pointed to chairs to wait in their disposable gowns. I followed the instructions in the changing room and successfully put mine on but I saw one woman come out with an arm stuck through one of the holes made for IVs or catheters or something and the sleeve was pointing up out of her shoulder. I giggled a little knowing that could have easily been me.
Soon my mom walked in and sat in the chair to keep me company. But I was asleep before too long. After a short nap and about two hours of waiting I flagged someone down to see if I had been forgotten. We were told there had been an emergency downstairs so we continued to wait. By 10:30 or so I was collected by a large man named Andre who maneuvered me through the maze of hallways filled with sharp corners, abandoned equipment and people to the elevator and then down to the now familiar Nuclear Medicine floor. I was parked in another curtained off cubby and someone brought my mom a chair for another wait.
Before long we met Maria, the RN who assisted in my procedure, and all of our impatience and tension disappeared as she made small talk and joked around with us. She was upbeat and funny and exactly what we both needed after a tense morning of waiting. We went through more questions and forms and she inserted my IV and introduced me to the PA and reassured me that she would be generous with the medication. She also explained (for the first time) that although I would not be out, she would be giving me a combination of Valium and a morphine-like pain killer. She also said she hates assisting in these procedures because they look so painful . . . I told her about my breast biopsy and how nervous I was about more pain. Again, she reassured me she would be free-flowing with my drug cocktail.
The PA explained the entire procedure and then I met the radiologist who explained it all again and listened to my fear of pain. Both were reassuring. I also appreciated it when the radiologist explained he had studied my scans and told me in detail how he would perform the biopsy and how careful he would be about all the vital organs the sternum protects. He also said he wouldn't do the biopsy if he didn't think he could do it and while this one was difficult, he knew the angle he needed to use to get at it. I thanked him for squeezing me into his schedule on short notice.
I was taken into the procedure room around 11:15 - I think. I remember squinting (no contacts or glasses) at the clock on the wall shortly before I was no longer allowed to move. I was moved to the table of a donut-shaped scanner (CT or MRI, I don't know the difference) and the front of my gown, which was velcroed to my shoulders, was pulled down and I was given a warm blanket to compensate for the chill of the room. Maria placed heart monitors all over me and put the blood pressure cuff on my ankle while the PA put a plastic grid on my chest which is how they would locate that damn spot in my sternum. My arms were akimbo above my head where they would remain throughout the procedure.
I was soon left alone in the room while the scanner hummed into action and the table I was lying on slid further under the donut. The tech told me to breathe out, breathe in and hold my breath several times and at one point Maria came back into the room as everyone told me "DON'T MOVE!!!" Maria put an oxygen tube under my nose and left me to more scans. The oxygen in my nose made it more difficult to hold my breath.
The table slid out of the machine and I was again told multiple times "DON'T MOVE!" as everyone swarmed around me into action. It was soon discovered that this paper gown with all of the strategic access holes was unacceptable and the PA demanded scissors and it was cut off me and someone made sure to reassure me that I would be given another gown. I tried to hold still as much as possible as the PA and radiologist leaned over me and shouted the coordinates on the grid on my chest which marked the spot. The most painful part of the entire procedure was when someone pushed the marker really hard through the grid and onto my skin.
Then Maria said she was giving me the sedative and everything got warm. She patted my arm and held my hand above my head and urged me to relax as the doctor scrubbed and scrubbed my sternum and then gave me a couple of local anesthetic shots. I felt the prick and the doctor said I shouldn't feel anything more. I was awake throughout the rest but really didn't care what was going on - I guess that is what Valium is for. The doctor would periodically press down on my chest over and over and all I remember is thinking - that will be an ugly bruise. But I really didn't care.
It was over before too long and I was told I could relax and put my arms down as Maria took the heart monitors and blood pressure cuff off of me and then helped me into a fresh gown and I slid back to my original portable bed and wheeled back out to the reception to see my mom. I drifted in and out of sleep while she waited some more.
Shortly before one I was taken back to the recovery room of Ambulatory Surgery and a nurse took my vital signs again, moved my bed into an upright position and gave me juice, cookies and graham crackers. I was tired and a little loopy but felt no pain. After I finished my snack, the nurse helped me out of bed to see if I could walk. It was more difficult than I anticipated but I passed the test and was told I could go change by about 1:15 pm.
I was still a little chilly and was grateful for the heat when we stepped out of the hospital in the bright sun. I was also grateful the walk home was downhill. Yes, I walked home from my bone biopsy. I also walked home from my breast biopsy and a kidney stone at that same hospital a couple of years ago.
We were greeted at my apartment by my brother and 8 month old niece, Tori, who took the bus up from DC for a visit. Tori has been all light and sunshine and a beautiful distraction for both me and my mom - the happy grandma. I spent most of yesterday drifting in and out of sleep and took some Tylenol PM around 930 and went to bed. I had a little bit of soreness yesterday that was easily resolved with Tylenol but despite a little bit of visible swelling on my sternum and some mild discomfort when I sneeze, I have felt fine today.
We had some transportation adventures trying to get to Shake Shack for lunch and a nice walk through the park this afternoon and I was worn out. I realize fatigue is something I will face a lot in the coming months but it is frustrating, especially when I otherwise feel fine.
The radiologist told my mom the pathology would be finished Wednesday at the earliest. My next appointment with my oncologist is Friday so mentally I am not expecting anything before then. I have flashes of fear but am keeping up for the most part. I had a moment during lunch when we were sitting on a bench and I was holding Tori and I had a bubble of emotion rise up as I held her close smiling at me as I worried about her not knowing me. I shoved it out of my head with other fears because right now, before anything is concrete, all I am facing is Stage II breast cancer. I'll continue to prepare for the worst but be optimistic about the best. And the best would be for this damn spot to just disappear. I am optimistic.