No Hill For a Climber, Mastectomy Day

First and foremost, I want to thank God above for Dr. Butler and her surgical team who carried out Loraine’s mastectomy yesterday without any complications. I want to thank God also for giving my dear wife such a brave spirit while facing such a difficult diagnosis as breast cancer. Loraine is quite the trooper, but what else would you expect from a career military spouse. We all know that is the toughest job in the armed forces.

Next, I want to express our sincere gratitude to all the love and support both of us have received. There was plenty of family and friends who came to the hospital for her procedure yesterday, and too many prayers and well wishes by phone calls and social media to adequately address. We love you all!

It would be a humongous understatement if I were to say the last few days have been quite taxing on the nerves. Hell, the last couple months since Loraine’s breast cancer diagnosis have been full of soul eating stress, worrying about the known and unknown factors that come with cancer of any type.  This is her third time and third type of cancer that we have faced down. The stresses that come with a cancer diagnosis when you do not yet have a game plan of exactly how it will be treated is like being on a runaway roller coaster, where the fears can make it difficult to remain focused on what is coming around the next bend, or over the next hill that might very well plunge you head on into the ground below.

Thursday of last week, as a result of a miscommunication or some other factor, we had the fear Loraine’s life saving surgery might have to be postponed for an undetermined period of time. Loraine’s initial breast reconstruction procedure was going to begin as a part of her mastectomy. The plastic surgeon was going to place tissue expander’s under her skin after the removal of her breasts as this normally would be the time to do so, while she was already opened up.

During Loraine’s consultation, neither of us can recall much of a concern being expressed by the doctor about the effect  the tissue expander placements would have on her COPD. Maybe we just missed it, I do not know. Any how, when one has COPD there is a concern that the pressure of tissue expander’s can complicate your breathing, especially once they begin inflating them with saline solution.

The plastic surgeon had sent paperwork to our family doctor to be filled out to clear her for the procedure. Again, as a result of a miscommunication, we were lead to believe her personal physician just needed to sign off on the procedure. Thursday, Loraine found out there was a complication with getting this done. She was told by a staff member that they could not fax the paperwork back to the plastic surgeon’s office. I drove down to find out what the problem was to be informed that Dr. Christiano would need to see her in order to sign off on the procedure. I was told, that all that was needed was a simple blood draw for lab work and an EKG.

Simple enough, right?

I called Loraine and told her to come straight down to Dr. Christiano’s office. The receptionist had her paperwork and said all she had to do was to come in as a walk in and they could do her blood draw and a EKG, the results would be in on time for Loraine’s surgery on Monday morning. We were led to believe that they just needed to do these basic procedures, and she would be on her merry way.

Wrong answer!

Loraine and I arrived at the doctors office and I filled her in on what needed to be done. I sat with her until just before she was called back. I had to go  on the road that night, so I went home to get some much needed sleep. No worries, she would get these last minute requirements done and all would be good. But, that is not what happened at all.

A nurse called Loraine back and from the very beginning of the visit became quite rude with her. With a nastiness to her tone of voice, she informed Loraine that what was ordered on the form was that she needed to see a cardiologist and a pulmonologist to satisfy the plastic surgeons concerns over her COPD. Loraine said that she had no idea and was only doing what the receptionist had told her was required.

How would Loraine know if she had never seen the form and the doctor had not told her? This nurse called in another nurse who was also not the least bit compassionate with her. Loraine told her that she was only doing what the receptionist had told her needed done, and the nurse replied “listening to her was your first mistake”.

At this point Loraine was distraught as there would be no way of seeing these specialists before Monday and it seemed maybe the mastectomy would have to be postponed. She looked at the second nurse feeling dejected and said “I guess my surgery has to be canceled then”. This bitch of a nurse had the audacity to thrust her forms into her face and told her “I guess you will just have to then” and then she sent her on her way home with no blood draws, no EKG nor examination by a doctor. She was sent out the door feeling as if her life had no meaning to these two miserable human beings who disguise themselves as nurse’s. There is more to this story, but I will leave it at these two were mentally abusive to my sweet wife and I am filing a formal complaint to the Kansas Board of Nurses about their abusive behavior.

Friday morning Loraine and both made calls to her nurse navigator Melissa in regards to what had occurred the day before in Dr. Christiano’s office. Loraine and I had talked it over and decided that we wanted the surgery to proceed on Monday as scheduled and she would forego the reconstruction process until a later date. Melissa did her part as liaison between Dr Butler’s office and Dr. Martin. By the afternoon, the dust had settled and surgery was still on for Monday morning at 7:00 A.M. as scheduled.

After a night of restless sleep, we got out of bed at 4:00 A.M. and prepared to head out to the hospital by 5:00 A.M. in order to be on time to check in at 6:00 A.M. We drove to the hospital mostly in silence, but did engage in a little chit chat about life in general. Once we got there, we got her checked in through the admissions desk, and at a little before 7:00 A.M. she was taken back for surgery prep. Shortly thereafter my Dad, our daughter Jennifer and son in-law Terry with our 3 grand daughters arrived as did her brother Howard and her best friend Nicole. I was taken back into the prep room  where we had a private moment together before she was wheeled into surgery. Just before she went back, Jennifer got to come back for a brief visit before surgery.

At 7:30 A.M. Loraine was wheeled into surgery, Jennifer and I returned to the waiting area where our family had occupied one corner to ourselves. We did the usual thing everyone does while waiting on a loved on who is in surgery for something potentially bad. We made small talk, laughed some and essentially avoided the elephant in the room which was the worry each and everyone of us were feeling for our sweet Loraine. Then, at 11:30 A.M. Dr. Butler called my phone from the operating room to inform me the surgery was complete, Loraine had come through it well, but it turns out that postponing the beginning of reconstruction was a good thing after all. There were no surprises in the removal of the right breast which only had a couple of benign lumps. But the cancerous breast was a different story. As Dr. Butler was removing the breast tissue, it was actually falling apart, her breast tissue was disintegrating in the surgeons hands as she was removing it. And then upon examination of the lymph nodes, one was hardened which can only mean the cancer has spread into her lymph system. Hearing this was more than my mind could absorb in the moment. It took my breath away.

How do you comprehend your loving wife’s breast was falling apart during removal?

Hearing the cancer is in her lymph nodes was also one of the things we feared the most.

As Dr. Butler was telling me all of what she had found, I had to get up and leave where the family was sitting. I had to be alone for a moment, I had to regroup, refocus, get my shit together before going back to  tell the family. Once I had told them, the flood gates of my emotions opened and I had a good cry for a moment. I had to get that out of my system before I went back to see Loraine in the recovery room. Thankfully, I did have it out of my system as when I did go back to see her, she kept apologizing  for what she was doing to me. All I could do was reassure her that I still loved her. That because she is the only girl for me, that makes her perfect in my eyes. When you have spent over half your life with a loved one, it takes more than the loss of breasts to make you not still love them. My wife is a strong woman, a resilient woman, she is a trooper at heart As she was climbing further out of the effects of anesthesia, she was starting to cut up and joke as is her nature. Because her recovery stay was going to be in the hospital maternity ward, and children under 13 are not allowed there, the nurses bent the rules a little and we had our 7 year old grand daughter Brianna brought back to the recovery room so Loraine could see her.  This was the only time Brianna was able to see her during her hospital stay.

I had prepared myself for Loraine being in a mental funk after her mastectomy. It is a huge thing for a woman to lose her breasts, a part of of her identity as a woman. But as I have said, she is a very tough woman. They say, the job of being a military spouse is the toughest job in the armed forces. I believe I was fortunate, graced by God above to to be blessed with this strong woman who weathered my military career. This same strength of character was on full display for all to see yesterday as she was recovering overnight in the hospital. She interacted with her visitors all afternoon, while also taking numerous phone calls and answering text messages of well wishes from loved one, family and friends. Her high spirits made it hard to believe she had just underwent this major surgical procedure. Even with the discomfort of having her breasts removed, she still had an appetite and had been craving spaghetti all day. I ordered spaghetti with marinara with olives and mushrooms along with a side order of fried mozzarella cheese sticks from Minski’s Pizza. Minski’s is one of the best pizzeria’s in the Kansas City area. She loved this dinner and ate almost the entire meal with the exception of a few of the cheese sticks.

Last night was a rather sleepless night for both of us, but for different reasons. I slept on a uncomfortable couch in the room beside a window where you cold feel the winter cold emanating in from without. I just had a difficult time with comfort. Loraine on the other hand kept having to get up to urinate. She had been on a IV saline drip all day and was told that if she drank enough water and urinated enough, they could remove the IV. I’m pretty sure she did not need to double down on this challenge. The night nurse removed her IV and after that, it seemed she was getting up about every 30 to 45 minutes. And then, at about 2:30 A.M., she was on a video call with our youngest daughter Molly in Munich Germany. I just rolled back over and attempted to get back to sleep.

Loraine was discharged from the hospital today at about 1:00 P.M. Dr. Butler came in to visit us this morning, and to see how Loraine was doing. While there, she examined the incisions and drain tubes she had inserted and then proceeded to tell us both what she had found. There was nothing said, that she had not told me already, but she did have the time to answer our questions. The first was to affirm that now radiation and or chemotherapy treatments are on the table. We will know the course of action for sure once the pathology reports are complete next week. My other big question was in regards to the breast tissue falling apart. We will not know for sure if this is a result of the cancer, or simply because of her age and the fact she had been a smoker for several years up until 5 years ago. Never the less, we now have a better idea of what we are facing. There is something tangible that we can now begin planning our lives around now.  While none of this is good, it is now easier and less stressful than the last month or so has been where everything was still an unknown entity in the severity of the cancer. Now at least we have a better idea.

The nurse navigator came in a little afterwards and not only went over her discharge instructions, but she taught us both how to drain her four drainage tubes and went over what to do if they get clogged due to clotting blood. It is a pretty simple procedure, you have a squeeze tube where the blood and fluid collects which has to be periodically emptied and the contents must be measured and annotated on a log sheet with the date and time of the draining. It might be a good thing I am not squeamish.

Neither Loraine or myself had ever heard of having a nurse navigator for anything. Nurse Melissa is assigned to Loraine for the duration of her journey with breast cancer. Maybe this is something only provided by the St. Luke’s medical community, I do not know. It would be a beautiful thing if every woman who has had this diagnosis had a navigator to walk her through the long process to wellness. Melissa is an angel, she has been so helpful already, and today she not only  arrived with discharge instructions, she came with a small pillow and pretty bags for Loraine to carry her drainage reservoirs in along with a pretty hand knitted lap afghan her mother had made. Melissa told us that her mother is a breast cancer survivor and that she knits these little lap afghans for every patient that Melissa has under her care. This personal touch leaves us almost speechless. It is more than obvious Melissa is a nurse for all the right reasons. The compassion from this woman is far above and beyond her job requirements and we are most fortunate to have her in this difficult journey. She has answered all of our calls in a timely manner, and has kept to everything she has told us. This kind woman is a true godsend.

We have had a great deal of stress since Loraine’s diagnosis. We have had questions that cannot be answered yet, and we are keenly aware that there are going to be more trying times that we may have little to no control over. My good friend Robert had a talk with me the other night which helped me to regain my focus on what is important and that also made me refer back to a prayer that has carried me through most of my adult life. That prayer is the Serenity Prayer, you may have seen me refer to it on other articles I have authored. This prayer is as follows:

Lord, grant me the Serenity to accept that which I cannot change.

Give me the Courage to change that which I can.

Bless me with the Wisdom to know the difference.

6 thoughts on “No Hill For a Climber, Mastectomy Day

  1. Sending positive thoughts and lots of prayers to you and Loraine. I don’t know either of you but from what I’ve read, you are both so blessed to have each other. Kick cancer’s ass…you can do this!

  2. Continuing to pray for Lorraine and you too. I hate it that she had to go through so much leading up to her surgery. I’m glad you are addressing the issues of the nurses so that no one else is faced with their uncaring attitudes. But not all are bad, as you are finding out with Melissa! She sounds like a gift and the perfect person to help guide Lorraine and you through this rough time in your lives. Lorraine is lucky to have you, too! Your love and strength will help her power through! 🙏🏻🙏🏻 ❤️ For continued healing.

  3. Hi David! Thank you for your open accounts of your family’s journey. I am a 20 month thriver of breast cancer and similar to your wife have experienced more than I ever thought I would or could. One question I have is what caused your wife’s breast to fall apart? I have never heard of that.

    1. Hi Debra, thank you for reading and commenting. I pray you are doing well with your breast cancer.

      To answer your question why Loraine’s breast tissue fell apart, I do not remember getting a definitive answer. That tissue was not cancerous. I’m not sure the surgeon had ever seen only one breast affected like that. She said that when she has seen it before, it was in both breasts and a result of age and smoking that caused a breakdown in collagen.

      I hope you enjoy more of her story, and please share it with others.

      David

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