Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hello surgery, my old friend...

Here I sit, on the day before my second surgery in eight months. For some reason, I dread this one most of all. Compared to the first, it’s certainly not as massive of a surgery, this “ectomy” combo meal (“I’ll take the No. 2: a hysterectomy with a side of oophorectomy. And let’s see. Oh yes, I would like to wash it down with some dee-lish-ous magnesium citrate. ”)  
For a good time, call 1-900-POO-PARTY
I’ll be in the hospital one night, recovering from the loss of the “girly parts”—very technical terminology my gynecological oncologist has asked to borrow—and coming one step closer to being done with all of my surgeries.

But let me back up a bit. So much time has passed since my last blog—almost four months, to be precise—that I feel a recap is in order. (Or if anyone made a shitty Hollywood movie about my life, you’d insert a montage here.)

 The big milestone for me was finishing chemo on April 15. The actual completion of it was pretty uneventful. I kept thinking that after eight, seemingly endless rounds, this deserved to be aired on Telemundo, where there would be balloons dropping from the ceiling and shit. “Chemotherapy Gigante! Arriba! Arriba!” But no, I got my last infusion and quietly went on my way, left to traverse that vast terrain known as “Oh shit! Chemo’s over so I no longer have a safety net.” 
Yay! No more chemo! Now what?
I grilled my oncologist at follow-up appointments about what we’d be doing to make sure the cancer hadn’t come back. I felt disappointment settle in as he informed me that, for the most part, screening would consist of clinical breast exams by the breast surgeon every six months and testing if I had symptoms. Given my relatively young age, they had to be judicious with any radiation-based screenings, as getting those frequently could result in radiation-related cancers. Oh, the malignant irony! And technology such as MRI is super expensive. But given I had no symptoms when my breast cancer was discovered, I wasn’t keen on waiting for some to appear before I took action. (Mental note to self: Harass oncologist to abide by my made-up surveillance program, which involves having several oncology specialists on stand-by, 24/7, to check out my every ache and pain.)

The really tough thing after finishing chemo was how I managed to look sicker. The last drug in the regimen, Taxotere, had finished off my eye lashes and eyebrows and done a real number on my tear ducts, leaving me simultaneously with dry eye and tears streaming down my face. My eyes were red-rimmed from all the wiping I was doing.  
Chemo is not kind to the ocular area.
Every morning in those early weeks, my eyes were glued shut and every morning my husband, Sal, had to retrieve a warm, moistened washcloth from the bathroom and wipe the ‘ol ojos so I could actually open them. Taxotere also seemed to upend my reflex response time, so much so that I took myself off of driving duty for a bit; you and your rear bumpers can thank me later, drivers of New York. 

Anyway, my zombie eyes and headscarf were a dead giveaway to everyone around me. “Look, I don’t mean to get into your business,” the girl behind the bakery counter at Adams said to me as she scribbled something on the back of a business card. “But here’s my mom’s name. She’s on Facebook; look her up. She’s been our rock, our inspiration.” I couldn’t read her handwriting. Another time, when I was at the customer service desk, signing up for a Price Chopper discount card, the girl behind the counter started asking me questions about my diagnosis. Turns out her mother had had breast cancer and succumbed to it less than a year prior. “Did you get your boobs reconstructed?” she asked. I didn’t even flinch. Ah, cancer. The great modesty-killer.

 A mom at my son’s dojang asked me politely about my headscarf. After I told her, she smiled and tugged on her short, blonde hair. She, too, was a survivor. We were apparently everywhere.


But back to this surgery business. Maybe it’s because of the preventative nature of the procedures that I’m fretting; unlike the mastectomy, there would be no big, bad tumor to target, although my gynecological oncologist had warned me they could find something malignant. Maybe it’s the dreaded sudden menopause at age 37. Or maybe it’s because I’ll no longer be able to do the one thing I was put on this planet to do: reproduce. Likely, it’s a mix of these things. My husband and I were done with kids anyway. (Sorry about that unnecessary vasectomy, Sal!) But this marks the no-going-back point.

A calm day in Menopause World
There are also health issues associated with plunging the body unsuspectingly into menopause at such a young age. 
I’ll be more prone to heart disease and osteoporosis, as my trusty pal estrogen will no longer have my back. I’ll struggle to keep weight off thanks to a metabolism that’s in the shitter and my hair will likely thin. (I’ve also been told by several of my older friends that I’ll need to start carrying tweezers, as the hair will pop up in unwanted places, such as the chinny chin chin.)

But you know me. I like silver linings. So I guess I can be happy that the end of periods has come. To mourn this “loss,” I had my husband go out and buy me a box of tampons. I’ll never use them. Mainly I just wanted one final opportunity to make him buy tampons.

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