Shaken, Not Stirred: FrankenBoob

Margaritas

I took the week off. Sitting around reading trash mags and sipping margaritas is hard, and you should all be way jealous.

I’m lying.

Last Monday was L-Day. Lumpectomy Day. The day that Bob the Tumor (that’s my husband’s name for it and don’t ask me why) got evicted from my right boob.

I keep hearing that I’m strong, and while I appreciate the props so much (encouragement is everything right now), honestly this isn’t about strength. I have no other choice. Strength is the fortitude that comes from choosing to do something hard in the face of other choices. The only choices I’ve got right now are to live or die. Yes, my reality is that melodramatic. Fortunately living means receiving the tortures treatments my doctors tell me will absolutely cure this cancer. And since I have no intention of leaving my husband and daughter alone together so they can bloodily battle their way through the remainder of her teen and college years, life is my only choice. I don’t think that makes me strong.

LocutusOfBorg2367

This is especially true when I think back to the two moments over the last month when I wanted to fetal curl and check out of everything. (I’m warning you now that I’m not holding back on some of this, so if you’re squeamish or modest, skip down to the paragraph that says “Safe to Read.”)

I’m a pretty savvy and connected gal. It’s part of my job, but I also just really like most people. So even though I already had a solid list of no fewer than a dozen gals–and one guy–who have lived through breast cancer, not one of these survivors ever talked to me about the pain and discomfort involved with their protocols before I myself was diagnosed, and almost no one raised his or her hand after I joined their club. (Two exceptions really helped prepare me for some of this and I’m grateful to their honesty.)

Why are we silent about this? We women share endlessly about the pain of childbirth and the body aches from working out and getting old. We proudly prattle on about surviving our babies’ attempts to suck the nips right off of our bodies when nursing or about the toddler who, in the throws of a tantrum, gave us a black eye with their elbow. We display the Honor Badges awarded from our cramps, headaches and stubbed toes without hesitation. But not this. We do a poor job of sharing what is done to us during cancer treatments.

I’ve had two biopsies now. The first was a breeze. Seriously. I was more disturbed by the description of what would happen than by the actual procedure. So I admit to feeling more than a little arrogant and blasé when I was told I needed to have a second biopsy a week later.

For the uninitiated, a biopsy is the surgical extraction of what is believed to be part of a tumor. The resulting “stuff” is brought to the lab where those white-coated folks do all sorts of tests to determine if said “stuff” is really a murdering mass of out-of-control cells. Benign means okey-dokey. Malignant means life will never be quite so full of unicorns and rainbows again.

In my first biopsy, the lidocaine (numbing drug) was injected high on my boob, a scalpel cut a small slit into my boob and the small suction or grabbing tool (I did not want to see what it looked like) was threaded down to the tumor where it then grabbed a small amount of “stuff.” It was fast and I sailed through it.

My second biopsy, which came after the breast MRI was done, was more involved. The MRI showed two small off-shoot tumors, like branches from a bush. The bush was Bob the Tumor, and we already knew about it. The doctor needed information on these two off-shoots.

Going through that second biopsy meant the cut needed to be on the edge of my nipple, what we properly call the areole.

Can anyone tell me how many nerves are present in a typical female nipple? I’m not a doctor, but in my official, anecdotal, pain-substantiated medical opinion, I would say a shit-load of nerves are present in the typical female nipple. And when those first two shots of lidocaine did not numb my boob fast enough–which I only knew was the case when the scalpel started its task–let’s just say that all life in the exam room paused until my screaming ended.

Before anyone jumps on my doctor or tech, please know they were wonderful. As soon as I said stop, I’m feeling this, they did. But then I was given more lidocaine, through another injection, in the spot right next to the first, and it hurt. A lot. And I started crying. Softly, because the last thing I wanted to do was to become hysterical while a scalpel was working exactly one-half inch from my nipple.

I did warn you that I would be pretty blunt here, remember?

When I hinted at my angst over the biopsy experience, suddenly a bunch of my buds raised their hands and said, hell yeah, a biopsy can really hurt.

My other breaking point happened when I became a member of the Borg Collective.

Yes, I’m a true Trekkie, worshipping the ground walked by every Starfleet officer over the last 50 years. And I know now that whoever created the Borgs in The Next Generation series absolutely, positively, had some experience as a cancer patient. It’s the only explanation to credit the horrific imagination needed to create the Borg.

During both biopsies, two small markers were inserted into the tumors. These titanium chips (yes, there were all sorts of jokes handed around about chipping my boob, thank you very much) would allow the doctor to find and remove Bob and the Bobettes. But that’s only part of the process. The chips point to the tumors, but it’s the WIRE that outlines the tumors’ perimeters, to direct the doctor where to cut.

And how do we get a wire around the tumor in my boob, you ask?

I started my day having blue dye injected into my boob to help the doctor isolate my lymph nodes. That happened in the nuclear medicine department at the hospital, a more frightening sounding place there is not, except for maybe the morgue? Anyway, that was not a bad experience.

Next stop was the Breast Center where I was once again smooshed in the mammography machine. Remember this is my Poor Boob that has already be stuck and cut so much and now it returned to the scene of the first assault to be stuck and cut again. This time, instead of my boob being smooshed by two solid clear acrylic plates while the mammography is doing its work, the top plate had about a 2″ x 3″ cut out, which was centered to where the wires would be inserted. I was contorted in a not-quite sitting, not-quite standing 45-degree angle and told NOT TO MOVE. AT ALL. FOR TEN MINUTES, AT LEAST. I grasped the base and length of the mammography machine like it was the cliff I was trying not to fall from, and started to talk myself into not moving. At all. For ten minutes, at least.

I try to not look when unpleasant things are being done to my body. I’ve had at least two gallons worth of blood removed from my veins over the years of infertility treatments and never once did I see the needle go into my arm. As long as I can’t see it, it’s not real. Well, the contorted position I was in, with my Poor Boob smooshed between the plates, left me unable to avert my eyes. So when my radiologist stuck two hat-pin type needles into my boob through that 2″ x 3″ window, I saw it all. Again, lidocaine was used, and the position was just enough away from the last biopsy that my nipple didn’t factor into this process. But, I saw it all. And I started crying. And I couldn’t stop because it was so scary and I wanted to move away from the machine and those hands that kept sticking sharps things into my Poor Boob, but I couldn’t because now my boob was pretty much pinned to the machine, looking ironically like that frog I pinned to a wax sheet in seventh grade for dissection. So I kept crying, without moving, waiting for ten minutes, at least.

And then came the wire. About 20″ long and super thin, it was threaded down one hat-pin needle and up through the other, just like the quilts I make. Sort of. And the doctor and tech are happily praising themselves for their perfect placement of the wire, which meant they would not have to try again, and I’m still crying, not bothering to fake bravery anymore, but wondering if all of the congestion I’m creating would affect the anesthesia that I was about to go under.

When they released my boob, I saw two long ends of wire, sticking up from my breast, like ultra-thin rebar. The tech taped the ends down, and between the blue dye, the wires and the cuts, I was now Borg, and resistance was futile.

Safe to Read: I was wheeled into the surgical center where I tried not to reveal my crying to my family, because I didn’t want to worry them. (Why do we say that? Of course they worry. That’s the price of love. But still, protecting them is a priority.) But I possess one of those faces that shows every tear shed, and not in a pretty way. They knew. And Sam started crying and I felt so bad for adding more weight to her young, heavy heart. Then they gave me happy drugs and I swear I remember saying, “Oh that feels nice,” and then I was awake in recovery.

Okay, so we’re a week past and I can update a couple of things. The good news, the great news is that my lymph nodes are clear. Clean. No cancer. Nada. Zip. Zilch. That means that it did not spread yet. The not-so-good news is that my margins, the perimeter of Bob the Tumor, still showed cancer cells. It was starting to move past Bob and now I have to go in again, to get bigger margins. (For my quilt-peeps, margins are seam allowances. We need bigger seam allowances here.) There’s no way for the surgeon to know that the margins are adequate until they test them, so about 20-25 percent of lumpectomies require a revisit. But, I don’t have to become Borg again, so I can do this.

Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1631700a) Young Frankenstein, Peter Boyle, Gene Wilder Film and Television

Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1631700a)
Young Frankenstein, Peter Boyle, Gene Wilder
Film and Television

That I heal rapidly from surgery remains true. By Wednesday I was bouncing off my bedroom walls. I’m back at work this week, but go in Friday for the second round. I still don’t know positively about chemo, but radiation is a definite. None of that happens until FrankenBoob heals from all of these cuts. Yep. That’s her new name, FrankenBoob. You’d understand if I was willing to show you my stitches, but I’m not. You’ll just have to trust me here.

And once again, thank you everyone who has reached out to us, sent us notes and cards, fed us, drove us, called us, texted us, hugged us, and just generally stuck around in some way. It means the world and it’s needed. We will not get through this alone.

25 thoughts on “Shaken, Not Stirred: FrankenBoob

  1. OH my gosh, Jake! With all the years of support I’ve rendered to friends fighting cancer, most were out cold for the entire excavation! You, my friend, are amazing in your descriptions and attention to details. Kudos to you! I have utmost confidence that Bob and the Bobettes, will be extracted and gone! Hang in there kiddo, you’re gonna make it!
    Gentle hugs and love, Marcy

  2. Well put. I had a stereotactic biopsy – uncomfortable position but I was face down on a table & didn’t see a thing. Because my cancer was invasive – not a solid tumor – mastectomy was the only good choice. And I know that I would still be staring at my boob now wondering – when will the next lump form? I’m weird that way. Radiation was not picnic near the end. I turned an interesting eggplant color before the skin peeled. That finished up in Oct, 2015. So far, so good. Best wishes for continuing positive outcome!

  3. Again, I wish I could do more for you, but all that comes is to wish you the best and a speedy recovery. Oh, by the way, you’re well on the way to write a book about your experience and include all the things you wish you’d known as soon as you got the diagnosis.

  4. As I was reading this, tears came because I had no idea what they put you through. Thank you for your candor and I am thinking that the white coats should have provided you with some wine or a few stiff drinks first. Ouch! Love you!

    • Hell yes! My doctor was wonderful in that she gave me a script for Percocet BEFORE the surgery and told me to take 1/2 of a pill with a teaspoon of water (because I was going into surgery), and I did. So I’m thinking that’s why it didn’t hurt as much as it should have, but the look of it all was horrible. I suppose that if they really tell you what they need to do, no one would come to appointments. And it’s not their fault. They’re trying to help you get well. Love you too, Gnarl!!

  5. So informative, just like one of your articles. I learned a lot. I am continuing to pray for everyone. Happy thoughts sent to in between the tears.

  6. I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this …and I’m so grateful for your sharing. Like you, I’ve had both family and friends who’ve gone through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment …and they never really talked much about their experiences. When I had my first breast biopsy, I was so shocked at how incredibly horrific the experience was. I was lucky that the results were negative …but should I ever need to repeat that experience or go further with a treatment, I now feel so much more educated. Thank you. Sending you thoughts full of gratitude and strength.

    • Thank you Laura. I think that MOST of us could handle this kind of pain better if we KNEW it was coming. It’s the shock to our systems that makes it worse. We have to do it. I’d go through worse pain, and might still need to, to get to the other side of this. But knowing is easier, for me at least.

  7. I think of you a lot my friend. I’m so glad that you have the unique ability to be able to express your thoughts in writing. Your words will someday help others, I’m sure.
    I’m the meantime, I pray for your full recovery and for your continued strength.
    Michelle

  8. Hi, It’s Mary from Andrea’s book club. Your writing is beautiful. My mom and one of my sisters have gone through this, others that I know too. Your honesty is breathtaking. Men also fail to speak of the horrors of prostate biopsies. For the love of God, why aren’t you all put under some kind of twilight or general anesthetic instead of being tortured!! I loved your observations about strength yet you are still strong whether you can “see” it or not in this moment. I think you are a Warrior Goddess!!

    • Thank you Mary! I was allowed to take half a Percocet going into the wire thingy and I think that’s why I didn’t really feel pain. But it didn’t help the freakish fear of watching it all.

  9. For over a week I’d been poised on the tip of an emotional knitting needle — joking to replace my anxiety with something more positive — as I awaited my pathology report. Yesterday, finally, I got the news. The tumor we saw on the mammogram had friends; in fact, it was an entire volleyball team — two invasives, one non-invasive and three pre-cancerous lesions. My surgeon and I shared an hysterical laugh as he punctuated his announcement with: “So, you lost a half dozen friends — and three pounds!” Best . day . ever. Hang in there, Jake! 🙂

  10. So sorry you are going through this. There ought to be a way to.premedicate for these procedures. There are so many rules about what they call conscious sedation which is iv meds. And then about what you can have presurgery-like nothing by mouth……but there must be a better way. Like your reader whose doc allowed a small amount of narcotic before hand. If the surgery isn’t for hours…the stomach would have cleared any water/meds by then. Lidocaine just doesn’t cut it and does nothing for the anxiety of it all. I really think the medical community could do better. Note I am not singling out your facility which I am sure has been wonderful. I just mean in general and overall. Prayers as always.

  11. Strength isn’t just choosing to go through all of this, it’s choosing to go through all of this with a great attitude. There are definitely two ways to do this, and you’re making the right, strong, choice, IMHO! From one who’s been there, done that…. Hugs and Prayers!!

  12. The description of your experiences are phenomenal. I admire your courage and your humor in dealing with this stressful time in your life. Your writings are inspirational and probably pulitzer worthy. I am proud to know you and look forward to giving you a careful hug when next I see you. Godspeed!

  13. I read this blog posting while I was waiting for a script at Vons yesterday. I had to buy Kleenex because your words brought tears to my eyes. Not sad tears (I am sad you are going through this), but tears from the beautiful words that you use to describe this process. You are so right! We don’t talk about the pain of cancer. I love, love, love that the writing process is cathartic for you. And truly feel honored and humbled that I can be a part of the experience through your words. You are an incredible writer. Sending big hugs your way, my friend!

  14. Jake I am so sad but also so proud of you. I know this will all work out for the better. I am going to repost this so others can have real information about what the real deal is about. Knowledge gives us freedom to act. I love you. I think you will have a great, educational and funny book about this. It can begin with your mother and me and our manias. Keep the faith.

  15. Yup, the biopsy and J-wire. They really don’t tell you how much they both hurt. I also cried during the stereotactic biopsy and it just wouldn’t end. They kept digging around in there and I thought I was going to pass out. Years from now, they’ll figure out a better way, but for now–we totally get a gold star for enduring that.
    The radiation is fine until the last couple of weeks. It seriously is downhill from here. You’re through the worst of it. xoxoxox

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