The Surgeon


It’s April first.  The day after Easter, where we spent a nice weekend out of town visiting with Erikka’s extended family, like we do every year.  Like I hope to continue to do for many years to come.  Today is April Fool’s Day.  I was SO hoping that when I woke up, all of this cancer business would have been a dream or some bad April Fool’s joke.  But no.  Today brought me no joking or pranks.  Today brought me an 11 AM appointment at the surgeon’s office; the one whom I already knew from previous procedures with loved ones.

Easter 2013

We loaded up and went to Dr. Carolyn Garner’s office right on time this morning, where I was filled with anxiety, ready to see what was coming up for me next.  After the obligatory blood pressure reading, weight report, and listing of meds that I take, we waited a few more minutes for the doc to come get us.  Soon she was there at the door, with greetings and catching up, going on about how big the baby has gotten since she had last seen her (Harrison was 4 weeks old when this doctor performed surgery on Erikka).  She then ushered us into her office-slash-examining room.  This is where she does minimal exams, but mostly consults with patients; we had been in there twice before.

Her first questions were mainly wanting to know how and when I discovered the mass – was it found on a routine mammogram or did I find it myself?  So I told her the details of how I found it, and what transpired from there.  She said, at that point, that “today, unfortunately, we don’t have anything good to talk about.”  Yeah.  I know.  I handed over the large envelope that had pathology reports from my biopsies, reports from mammograms past and present, and two CDs with mammogram images from 2008 and 2013, for comparison.  I told her that I have had the genetics testing done, and that they had put a surgical rush on it, so hopefully the results would be back by the end of the week.  I then told her that regardless of the results, I wanted her to take both breasts off.  She nodded and said, “Okay.  I agree.”  I was a little surprised that she was so agreeable so fast!  I proceeded to tell her that I understand, being a Medicaid patient, that there are stipulations based on the genetics testing to what will be paid; but I don’t care.  I don’t ever want to go through this again.  She said that given my family history, it will probably be paid for, but in the case that it isn’t, they will have me sign a form that basically states that IF it isn’t paid by Medicaid, then I will be responsible for the difference.  Fine.  I will sign it.  My next question:  When can we do this?  She said, “Well, I can’t do it today.”  Ha!  Funny lady.  “I do breast surgeries on Wednesdays, so I can do it this Wednesday, if you want.  Or I can do it next Wednesday.”  So after a moment of thinking, I said, “Next Wednesday it is.”  Within a few minutes, my surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, April 10th at Denton Regional Hospital:  a Radical Modified Mastectomy on the left side, and a Simple Mastectomy on the right side.

I then went on to tell her that I do not want reconstruction.  I am not interested in having fake breasts, as I am not a girly-girl who really cares about my curves; to which she responded, “I understand.”  From there we discussed the details about the surgery:  how she will remove the breasts (how the cuts will be done), the fact that she will be removing ALL of the lymph nodes on the right side under my arm, and what the scars should look like, given the fact that I am not doing reconstruction.  I will basically have scars across each side of my chest, and no nipples.

My scars should look similar to this
My scars should look similar to this

I can either have them tattooed on, or I can have other cool looking tattoos done if I don’t want to leave it plain.  We discussed the time frames:  length of stay in hospital, recovery time, visit to oncologist, and approximate time for chemo to begin.  Radiation will probably not be necessary, unless the cancer has invaded the chest wall.  She said I should be in the hospital for one night – what??!!  One night??  Her response to my surprise?  “Welcome to drive-thru surgery.”  I’m not sure if it is a Medicaid thing or just an insurance thing.  When my mom had her mastectomy and reconstruction, they tried to send her home after one night; to which I bitched and told them that I REFUSED to take her home that early….so they kept her a second night.  So the plan is one night, however, I typically get a fever every time I have surgery, and end up having to stay an extra night.  She said that recovery time is about two weeks, but I find that highly optimistic.  I’m betting it’s more along the lines of 2-4 weeks.  That’s 2-4 weeks of trying to recover a range-of-motion in my arms.  That’s 2-4 weeks unable to drive, raise my arms above chest level, pick up my sweet baby girl, work out.  She said that after that time, I can go back to cardio activities, but no weights for a while.  I will have to find an oncologist and plan to go a week or two after my surgery; and will likely begin chemo 4-6 weeks after surgery, depending on how the healing is going.

After that, she took a few minutes to examine the “affected breast.”  She barely touched me and responded, “Oh wow.  That really IS big.”  Um, yes, I know.  After her exam, she told me again that she thought that mastectomy of both sides was definitely the way to go, and she would tell her own sister the very same thing.  Soon we were on our way out with paperwork to take when I go to register.  By the time we reached the Jeep and got loaded up, we were both in a much more somber place.  As I tried to discuss some of the details of surgery day (who can keep kids, etc.), my beautiful and strong wife became a little overcome by emotion.  This was the first time that I had seen her show anything but positive words or strength through all of this.  But yeah.  It hit us both.  This was overwhelming for her – for us.  And as the day went on, it became way too “real” for me.  This is really happening.  I REALLY have cancer.

And I’m not going to wake up and it just be a dream.


8 thoughts on “The Surgeon

  1. You will survive as you are a fighter and you have all the prayers and thoughts of your wide circle of family and friends who WILL take care of you and your family. I am here for anything you need and I can be on a flight tomorrow if you need me. I know you will let me know and you know I will be there. Just give me the word. Love you girlfriend and this too shall make us all stronger as we hold you in the light.

  2. I am so sorry that you all have to go through this. I have no doubt that the surgery will be a total success and you’ll be back to the 5ks in no time. You got this! I have fibrocystics disease so I am no stranger to lumps. But they usually go away within days. When they don’t, well, I panic just a bit. So far, I have been very lucky. In 2010, I had 5 of them aspirated. Although I hate to see you going through this, you have inspired me to be more diligent in having mammograms. I haven’t had one since August 2010. I will be having one ASAP. Fight the good fight and know that you have a lot of family and friends praying for you daily! Love ya girl! Hang in there!

  3. I have seen some magnificent tattoos and that is just what I would do. There is nothing to make this easy or pretty, but I know for a fact that you have some powerful love surrounding you. Hang in there. Even those of us you do not know are praying and rooting for you. Hugs!

  4. You’re one of the strongest women I know! Cancer is a word, not a sentence…and you out of all people will come to find comfort in this. You are ready to fight, you are loved and you will beat this. Do not be afraid of tomorrow; for God is already there. 🙂

  5. Tanya and Erika,
    I don’t have any words to heal you or any way to make this go away. I wish I did. I have a small understanding of hearing the words that you or your partner have cancer (Steph had a malignant tumor in her hip and my thyroid was suspicious but benign). Interestingly enough, my emotions and fear were far more intense during Steph’s first biopsy than my own dreaded testing. I think when it’s happening to someone we love so much, it seems less controllable; even though we know its out of our control regardless. I don’t know the two you intimately but I know enough to know neither of you deserve this! I also know that you are two strong, smart and caring women not to mention GREAT mama’s and friends! I am thinking of you both as you work towards the end goal…. beating cancers ass! I say “work” because fighting is work..take care and please let us know if we can do anything. Jeanne

  6. Oh hon! 😦 I can imagine how scary this all is, for both of you! And I know you will hear lots of ‘you are strong’, yet you will feel so weak, so scared, and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel all of this is so damn unfair, because it is! You won’t give up, you will go through the surgery and whatever else you have to do to get better, because you are who you are. Strong, weak, scared, happy, whatever. Just keep breathing. Even when it feels like there is an enormous elephant sitting on your chest. One day, one minute at a time, my friend.

  7. Your blog is fantastic! You are fantastic! You guys are the best, and I know you are going to get through this!

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