Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tea & Sympathy

Just because the girl was no longer nursing, it didn't mean that she was happy about it. I had hoped that things would be settled down by June 30. It was probably more like a week after that. The first two weeks sucked, especially at bedtime. I felt like I was totally letting her down, this little person who depended on me. And she had no idea why. I tried to comfort her as best as I could under the circumstances, but I'm sure she was wondering the whole time why I just wouldn't let her nurse already.

The next two weeks weren't quite so bad. She still fussed, but she wasn't completely melting down. A couple of times she even fell asleep without fussing (I still can't even say that happens every time now). By the second week of July she no longer seemed to have the expectation to nurse. And that was a huge relief.

Frankly, my breasts also had some adjustments to make. Cutting out a few of the nursings earlier on helped, but there were times when I still found myself engorged by the end of the day. A friend had given me a manual pump, the one that didn't make it to the hospital. I had used it a few times to help relieve engorgement. Another friend, who is a lactation consultant, also recommended eating a lot of sage. It helps to decrease milk supply.

Probably the best thing I found was a tea. When I was reading this blog I came across her recommendation for an all natural healing salve. She had used it her for her thyroid surgery scar and raved about it, so I decided to order some as well. So far so good! I've liked the results, although I think it might be too soon to know for sure. But my scar seems to be healing nicely and it's lighter than it was a month ago.

I went back to see what else the company had to offer, and wouldn't you know it. They have this tea.

I started drinking it about a week after we stopped nursing. It's primary ingredients are mint, parsley, and sage- all recommended to decrease lactation- and it tastes good too. Like a strong herbal tea. I drank the recommended 'up to 3 cups' and it seemed to work rather well. Almost immediately there was no more leaking or engorgement. By the beginning of July I was starting to feel pretty good about everything again.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

Being back in town meant that it was time to start weaning my daughter from breastfeeding. This was something that I had been dreading since my diagnosis.

I'm a former La Leche League leader, so I had a decent idea of how to start the whole process. The first feeding I was planning to cut out was the overnight feeding. Not only is this the easiest to start with, but cutting that one first would hopefully start to decrease my milk supply overall. Overnight feedings will impact your daytime supply. If your baby nurses a lot overnight, it should help to increase your daytime supply. If you cut out your overnight feedings, your daytime supply should go down.

I figured that I would work on that for 4-5 days. The next feedings to go would be the daytime feedings not associated with sleeping. The snacks and the feedings that helped with fussiness or boredom. There weren't too many of these left. My daughter was a pretty good eater and she wasn't nursing too much during the day anymore. After working on that for 4-5 days I decided that we would get rid of the nursing before her nap, and then finally, the nursing before bed. I already knew that those would be the most difficult.

I had bought the girl a special Hello Kitty water bottle for her to use overnight. So when she woke up she could have that instead of nursing. She wasn't too impressed, but after the first few nights things settled down. The daytime 'snacks' went about the same. A little rough at first, but she adjusted within a few days.

For naps and nighttime I had originally decided that I would gradually decrease the amount of time spent nursing until we were down to like, a minute the last day. But when it came time to start decreasing the sessions I couldn't do it. The idea that our last nursing together would only be a minute long- and probably a stressful minute since she would protest the shortened time- it was just too much. I told a friend that I was just going to nurse at those times like usual, and then just be done. I wanted the memory of our last nursing time together to be a pleasant one. My friend didn't think that was such a great idea. But my mind was made up.

Turns out, what I thought would be our last nursing wasn't. The girl woke up the next day with a cold and a slight fever. She was miserable all day. I told my husband that it didn't seem fair. She was sick and the one thing she probably wanted more than anything was to nurse. 'Do you think it would be ok if I just nurse her before bed tonight? One last time?' The husband thought it would be ok, so that's exactly what I did. It was the best thing I could have done. The last nursing was one that made her feel better physically, and made me feel better emotionally. It's good to go out on a high note.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How to Tell the Kids

Memorial Day weekend was great. Lots of food, drink, and sunshine. We got to drive around in our friends' boat too, which is always fun. The kids go tubing and the guys water-ski.

Once when we were all getting ready to go out in the boat, the boys noticed that I was putting sunscreen on my scar and then putting a long scarf (summery! not a big woolen one) around my neck. I mentioned that I had to do that since I had a scar from surgery. 'Yeah, my mom had surgery a couple of weeks ago,' the boy told his friend. 'I know. Cause your mom has cancer.'

Shit. We actually hadn't told the boy this yet. I was pretty sure that we had let our friends in on that particular piece of information, but it didn't matter now. Originally, we weren't sure how he would react, so we had decided to wait until school was out for the summer to tell him. Too late now.

Luckily the boy seemed completely fine with everything.

We were driving back Monday evening when he asked about it. He wanted to know if it was true. We told him that it was and I apologized like crazy for not telling him sooner. I said that of course we had been planning to tell him, we had just wanted to wait a couple of more weeks. And we were sure to let him know that while I had cancer, I was expected to be just fine. That there was nothing to worry about. Not that he seemed terribly worried anyway. He just wanted to know what was going on.

Never underestimate the children. They're a pretty resilient group.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Month That Sucked

Honestly. The month of May was not the greatest this year. It started with a cancer diagnosis on April 30, which led to surgery and an emotional roller coaster. I was not anticipating my summer to go much better. Weaning my daughter in June and going through treatment in August. I was almost counting on July to be a reprieve- an oasis in the middle of all the other crap.

July and also Memorial Day weekend. We were going away- two nights at a friend's lake house and then one night with my in-laws, who live about half an hour away from said lake house. It would be a weekend of eating and drinking and not thinking about cancer. We were also blowing off the annual Memorial Day block party. I didn't feel like explaining my scar to the neighbors. We'd only told like two of our neighbors about my cancer and had asked them not to tell anyone for two reasons. First, having a bunch of people know made it feel like a much bigger deal than I actually think it is. And second, there are a few neighbors who I truthfully don't care for. But that's a topic for another time. The important thing was, we were getting out of town.

The afternoon before we were headed out, I got a call from the scheduler at nuclear medicine. Dr. E's nurse had told me that I would, so I was expecting her call. Just like S said, the woman told me to write everything down that she was about to tell me. The first thing she said was, 'So you've stopped breastfeeding?' I told her that no, I hadn't. That Dr. E had given me until the end of June to wean my daughter. She hit the roof. I was told that it simply wasn't enough time and that I couldn't be lactating at all when I got the treatment. That it was too dangerous. 'Really, ' she said. 'You should stop, like, today.'

I was a little taken aback. I thought everything had been settled. She said she would call Dr. E's nurse right away to straighten this out. 'Do you want to talk about this other stuff after I talk with her?' I told her I thought that would be best.

So, the next day while I was packing, and so excited to be leaving town, I got a call from S. She told me that she had heard about the previous day's conversation. 'It's really looking like you'll have to stop sooner. They don't want you going past June 12.' I started to cry. I was finding all of this rather upsetting. Weaning can be pretty difficult when it's not your decision. Just when I thought I had made some sort of peace with it, I was having to wean two to three weeks sooner than I had expected. It threw me for a loop all over again.

Obviously, S knew I was upset. 'Why don't we say that you're done on the 15th. That lets you finish out the week.' She was trying really hard. She had even asked Dr. E if we could push my treatment back, but I was already getting the radioactive iodine later than he wanted me too. He wouldn't budge on the dates. I said the 15th would be fine. I was still crying though. 'Will you be ok? Do you want the number of a lactation consultant?' It was very nice of her. I assured her I would be ok. I have a good friend who is in an LC. She said she would check back in a few weeks to make sure that the weaning had gone well. We hung up.

I reminded myself that I was getting the hell out of town. And that I wouldn't think at all about weaning or cancer or anything like that until June. I was going to end May on a high note.

Free Parking

The next day I was back at the hospital, this time to have a follow up with my surgeon. The valet recognized me from the day before. I had given him a decent tip, although I didn't think it was over the top. Maybe people don't tip hospital valets? He asked how long I would be. About an hour. He didn't give me a claim ticket. He just told me to look for him when I came back from my appointment.

When I got inside the room, I was disappointed to see the surgeon's assistant. Not that she wasn't pleasant and smart, but I really liked Dr. S. She went over my pathologies, just like Dr. E had the day before. 'How many lymph nodes were taken out?' I asked. My mother had asked me and I realized that I didn't know. '21. Ten from the center of your neck. Of those, seven were positive for cancer. They also took eleven from the left side of your neck. Of those four were cancerous.' So ten weren't cancerous. Yea for small victories!

I also asked her about the BRAF mutation. I couldn't stop worrying about it. She told me that it was a more recent discovery in papillary thyroid cancers, so she wasn't sure what the long term implications were. 'You can ask Dr. S. She might have more information for you on that.' So I was going to get to see Dr. S after all. Her assistant was probably wondering why I was bombarding her with questions when my doctor would be in soon. She finished up by taking the bandage off of my neck. Shortly after she left, Dr. S came in.

She checked my incision- it was healing very nicely. She said to make sure that I wore sunscreen over the incision. She also recommended lightly massaging the area a few times a day to help with healing. She asked how I felt otherwise. Did my throat hurt? How was my voice? My throat didn't hurt, but my voice was still a little rough. I don't usually notice it until the end of the day. She assured me that my voice would continue to get better, although it might take months to completely heal.

I asked her about the BRAF mutation. 'Yes, it does make the cancer more aggressive, but I am confident that we got everything out. And, if not, you'll have your treatment in August. That should take care of the rest. Also, it is a recent discovery, which means that for years almost half the people who had papillary thyroid cancer had the BRAF mutation and didn't even know it. And their chances of it not recurring were still excellent.' Then she looked at me seriously. 'You know, with papillary thyroid cancer the aim of your surgery and treatment is to help you maintain your quality of life. With other cancers, it's to keep you alive.' And that, my friends, was the kick in the pants I needed. That is why I like my surgeon so much. It helps to have someone around making sure you keep a healthy perspective on things.

We finished up by going over my calcium supplements. My numbers looked good, so she was dropping me down from six ultra-strength tablets a day to two. It was a big drop, but it didn't look like there was any damage to my parathyroid glands from the surgery. (The parathyroid glands control your calcium levels, and those glands sit right next to your thyroid.) I'm following up with her again in September.

When I got back out to the valet, he had my car parked right next to his station. Basically, he had parked my car for free, which was so awesome of him. Well, free, except for the tip that I gave him, of course. Totally worth it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Information Overload

S, the nurse, was very nice. I was there to talk with her about my upcoming treatment and how to prepare for it.

The very first thing I would have to do would be to stop breastfeeding my daughter. This is because the radioactive iodine they use to treat thyroid cancer can be absorbed into the breast milk, which could cause more problems for me down the road. I had known from the beginning that would have to happen, but I hadn't put much thought into it. My surgeon had said not to worry about it until I met with the endocrinologist. So, here I was. Officially worrying about it.

Dr. E had estimated that if I stopped breastfeeding by the end of June then we should be able to schedule my treatment for the middle of August. S wrote everything down on a calendar. I would get a breast scan at the end of July to make sure that I was no longer lactating. The next time I would come in would be to get a low dose of iodine on August 13, and then another low dose on August 14. These low doses of iodine would enable them to give me a body scan on the morning of the 15th. The body scan would show them where any remaining cancer was in my body. After the scan I would receive a large dose of radioactive iodine, and then I would go home for a week of isolation while the iodine went to work.

That was the basic plan. There were other details to note. About 2 weeks before treatment would start, I would have to go off my thyroid medication. Being in a hypothyroid state enables the remaining cancer cells to 'mop up' the iodine, and then the iodine kills the cancer cells. I would also have to be on a low iodine diet during this time. S went over the list of foods that I couldn't have. In addition to salt I couldn't eat seafood, beans, egg yolks, nuts, or dairy (I was surprised to learn that dairy farmers use an iodine solution to clean cow udders). I laughed when S told me the list. The only meat I eat is seafood, so I basically won't be able to have any of my usual protein sources. It's only a couple of weeks, so it really shouldn't be a big deal. But I think I'll probably end up eating chicken anyway.

When you have the iodine treatment people can't spend too much time in close proximity to you. It's especially bad for small children. The radiation you put off can harm their thyroids. The husband was going to have to go away with the kids. We had already talked about this and the plan was for them to go to my in-laws. Dr. E had said I only needed to be in isolation for five days. S suggested seven. 'Listen,' she said, 'any doctor in this office will tell you five days and I'm sure that if you did five days it would be perfectly safe. But I'm the one who takes the calls from mothers of small children, and they're always worried it's not enough time. I'm telling you for your peace of mind, make it seven if you can.' Duly noted.

I was also told that when I got the treatment, that the people giving it to me would be covered head to toe in large orange Haz-Mat suits. 'You shouldn't worry about it,' S said. 'It's not because your dose is so dangerous. It's because they give these to people every day.' For some reason I found the idea of two people in large orange suits coming at me with my iodine unnerving. I got a little choked up, but I tried to hide it from S. I had already cried over the talk about stopping breastfeeding and the thought of my family having to leave me for a week.

S gave me pamphlets and papers to take home. My treatment dates were on the calendar. S told me that someone from nuclear medicine would be calling me soon to give me more information about the process. 'She'll tell you to take notes, but you'll end up getting the same materials mailed to you in a packet anyway. Just so you know.' And that was it. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed by everything that I had just been told. I'd been at the hospital for close to three hours. I was ready to go home and not think about cancer for the rest of the day.

Monday, July 23, 2012

BRAF and the Endocrinologist

Nine days after my surgery I went back to Oakland to meet with my endocrinologist for the first time.

My visit started with me waiting in line behind a couple who had driven in from Butler County. Probably about a one to two hour long trip. The front office person couldn't find them on the schedule, and then it turned out that was because the guy didn't have his appointment until the following day. I felt myself growing more anxious as the conversation continued. They had both taken off of work for the day. Couldn't the doctor squeeze the man in? No, no he could not. I felt bad for the employee who had to deliver such crappy news. But she seemed ok with it, very calm. I reminded myself that it wasn't my problem. Frankly, the employee seemed to be handling it better than I was. I checked in and sat down.

I was taken back fairly quickly and didn't have to wait long to see Dr. E. While I got a quick check up- he looked at my neck, checked my breathing, etc, we talked about our kids. Our daughters were just a few months apart and they both had older brothers. So! Things in common and all that. Then he asked if I had gone over my pathologies yet. 'No,' I said, 'I meet with the surgeon tomorrow'. He could actually go over the pathologies with me now. So we moved over to his desk.

First, he wanted to let me know that this was cancer and he was taking it all seriously. Which was great- I'm sure some people with papillary thyroid cancer don't feel like their doctors take it seriously enough. But as I had already discussed with Dr. H, I feel a lot better when my cancer is made light of. I kept my mouth shut though. I know that Dr. E. felt like he was doing the right thing.

We went through some stuff that I was aware of, the diagnosis was correct, the thyroid was removed, as were some lymph nodes. Some of the lymph nodes tested positive for cancer and some did not. And then he mentioned that my cancer cells also had the BRAF mutation. Apparently lots of different cancers have the BRAF mutation. I don't know what it means for all the different types, but in papillary thyroid cancer it makes the cancer cells more aggressive and it spreads more quickly than non-BRAF cancers. (I'm going to guess this is why it was in my lymph nodes as well as my thyroid.) About 40%-45% of all papillary thyroid cancers have the BRAF mutation, so it's pretty common. In addition to making the cancer cells more aggressive, it also means that you stand a higher chance of the cancer coming back. So instead of a 5% chance that your thyroid cancer will come back you stand a 20% chance. Which sucks. Although I'm going to guess that those are still better odds than a lot of other cancer patients receive. And I can always choose the optimistic route of saying, 80% likelihood that it won't come back.

For some reason though, that day, I wasn't feeling very optimistic. And the BRAF revelation really shook me up. I had been feeling so great about the surgery, and feeling as though the cancer was truly gone- which was ridiculous, since I hadn't undergone the treatment yet-but I'd been so positive about everything just the same. And now I was feeling like I'd been knocked to the floor and I couldn't get back up.

He finished up the talk by going over my current meds. The calcium, he said, was the surgeon's call. I could discuss that with her tomorrow. But he really felt that 88 mcg of synthroid (replacement thyroid hormone) was way too low. He bumped it up to 100.

With talk of pathologies and meds being over, I was next sent down the hall to meet with Dr. E's nurse.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


We used to have a cat named Ferdinand. Unfortunately, we had to place him in another home two months before the girl was born. There were several reasons for that, really. But probably the biggest reason was him not using the litterbox. He would, occasionally, take a shit somewhere else in the house.

This was a problem that worsened as he got older. He never did it as a kitten. We moved when he was five, and I think he only ever did it once in our old house. But over the span of four years in the newer house, he began to do this with increasing- and alarming- frequency.

It turned out that there were two reasons for this. The first, which we had always suspected, was that he was trying to show dominance over the other two cats in the house. We thought it would get better when our female cat died, but then he was just in competition with the other male. So it got worse.

It also increased because he had a physical condition that was getting worse. We didn't suspect anything physical until we realized that he was actually in pain. Of course, at first I just thought he was crazy. His howling would wake me up in the middle of the night. 'Oh my God,' I would say to my husband. 'Did you hear that? He is truly psychotic. Why is he making those noises??' And then the husband, who wasn't really awake anyway, would grunt and roll over, leaving me awake to wonder what insanity was going on in our cat's head.

Until one night, when I went downstairs to see what the hell was going on. I don't know why it took me so long to do this. The noises were honestly a little frightening, but really? What did I expect? A knife wielding cat, ready to attack as soon as I entered my living room? What I found instead was Ferdinand, hunched over in obvious pain, trying to go to the bathroom. On our rug.

A trip to the vet confirmed that Ferdinand had Impacted Bowel Syndrome. This meant that he was constipated much of the time and part of his intestines were too stretched out to work properly. We tried to treat it with some lifestyle adjustments at first. We fed him only wet food. We switched to a running water bowl to encourage him to drink more. We tried stool softeners. Nothing worked. He ended up undergoing surgery- the last resort. They would basically shorten his intestine.

It worked like a charm. It was obvious that he felt fantastic. Rather than making him a more agreeable cat though, which is what we had hoped for, he became even more aggressive with our other cat. And that is when he was placed in another home where there were no other cats and no children and he is now happy as can be. And I sort of feel sorry for the cat who got to stay with us because, really? He is just not getting the quiet attentive household that Ferdinand now has.

All that is to say, the Saturday after my surgery I felt terrible. I had a new empathy for what Ferdinand had gone through- the cramping and being doubled over in pain. I knew that he had been in pain, but I had a better understanding of what he must have felt like. It was bloody awful and it made me feel sick all over. My mother had been thinking of leaving that morning, and I had asked her to stay just one more day. I was so glad that I did. I was miserable.

At the time I thought that it was my body getting rid of the last of the drugs and medicine that I had been given during surgery and post-op. I was later told that it was more likely my body's reaction to the large doses of calcium that I had been prescribed following the surgery. Either way, it made for a pretty lousy Saturday.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Little Help from Our Friends

I know these things go differently for everyone, but I honestly felt great over the next few days. I mean, comparatively. My neck muscles were sore but my throat felt fine. (I later found out that your neck muscles get stiff from lying so still during the surgery.) I realized by Thursday night- two days after the surgery- that I was just eating whatever I wanted. I was officially off any specific 'diet'. I had expected to be exhausted, but I wasn't. Although it did feel good to take it easy. Not knowing what it would be like, we had lined up things for the boy to do every afternoon that week. He had places to go after school and often was invited to stay for dinner. Someone brought him to and from soccer that week. My mother helped with the girl and took the boy to and from school. I didn't feel like seeing anyone yet. I figured I would deal with that the following week.

I was feeling much better than I had expected and I was feeling a little guilty about asking for so much help. Which is silly, I know. I had just undergone surgery for thyroid cancer. But I really felt like I could have been doing more that week than I was. People were bringing us food too, which we really didn't need, although it was delicious and, of course appreciated. My in-laws brought homemade minestrone soup, and another friend brought over a vegetarian shepherd's pie. This was on top of the roast and lasagnas my mother had brought with her. We had other offers to cook, but we asked people to please not worry about bringing us anything.

At the very least, I knew that when my mother left things would be ok. I was perfectly capable of managing without help. Which was a great realization.

The Morning After

I was up again at 7am. This time I was starving. I was so hungry that my head hurt. I buzzed for the nurse.

The morning nurse came in and asked how I was feeling. I told her that I was hungry and that I really, really needed coffee. I was told that I was being upgraded to a 'soft food' diet- I honestly wasn't sure what that meant. Are there hard foods for breakfast? She said she would just let the cafeteria know and they would send up a tray. She was sympathetic about the coffee and had some sent right away. Which was awesome.

When she left a physician's assistant came in. She was the PA for my surgeon. She was there to make sure I was in good shape. Which I was. She took me off my IV and covered up my incision with a large bandage. If it fell off it was ok, but otherwise I had to keep it on until my visit with the surgeon the following week. She also took my drain out which, seriously, may have been the worst part. It's incredibly uncomfortable and sort of painful too. But, hey, much better than taking it home. Then the PA left the room.

While I waited for breakfast I put the tv on. Weekday morning tv is so fucking dismal. I settled on reruns of Supernanny, a show I had never watched when it was on in prime time. I was sympathetic to a couple of the stories- even if I didn't completely agree with some of the decisions. But the one that killed me was this family where the parents were deaf but all three of their daughters could hear. I think they ranged in age from like four to seven years old. The mother had an eighteen year old daughter from a previous relationship. The young daughters wouldn't listen to their parents, only to the older girl. The older girl felt like she was missing out on being a teenager and fought with her step-dad all the time. The young daughters were so terrible and disrespectful. It was awful to watch. I was actually glad for them that Supernanny was there to save the day.

Breakfast showed up and it was oatmeal, eggs, and toast. I ate just about everything. I totally surprised myself. After eating I got up and got dressed. I couldn't wait for the husband to get there and take me home.

When he showed up he was amazed to see that I was up, had eaten, and was dressed and waiting. He told me to call my mother because she was convinced I was going to be in such awful shape. I gave her a quick call- she was happy to know that I felt so well- and then I hung up and we waited. And waited.

The same thing happened when I had my kids. Hospitals seem reluctant to let you go. It always takes forever to get released. Like waiting for the check at certain restaurants. You wonder why they want to keep you around when you'd think they would want to turn the table over to someone else. Finally after much waiting around I was released. And then I went home one thyroid and several lymph nodes lighter than when I had walked in.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Broth & Jello

I woke up at 1:30am, and for the first time since the surgery I wanted something to eat. I felt pretty good. I buzzed for the nurse and Alecia went into the hall to make sure she was coming to the room.

She came down, checked me out, and gave me my first meal. I was on a liquid diet. Broth and Jello was what I got. Alecia and I talked while I ate. I told her I felt pretty engorged. I hadn't nursed my daughter for almost 24 hours. 'Can you bring me the breast pump?' I asked. 'It should be over there in a Target bag.' My husband had told me he brought it in. Alecia looked and looked, but it wasn't anywhere. Probably still in the trunk of our car.

Instead, she brought me the iPad and I looked up hand expression. I'd never done it before, but I'd read enough about it. I figured at the very least I could get myself to a point where I was comfortable.

So, there I sat at 2am, eating broth, hand expressing into a cup, hooked up to an IV, with a large bandage on my neck. It was quite glamorous, as I'm sure you can imagine. I was very grateful that Alecia was there to help me with everything. I just felt badly that she was awake with me in the middle of the night. She had to drive back for a meeting four hours away. She was leaving around 5am.

'Don't worry about it,' she said. 'I knew what I was getting into. I wouldn't have offered if I thought it would be a problem.'

By 2:30 I had finished eating and I was comfortable again. We turned out the lights and went to sleep. The nurse came in for morning rounds just before 5am. When the nurse was done and had left the room, Alecia got up to go. It just took her a few minutes to get ready. When she left I went back to sleep for a couple of more hours.

Hospital Stay

All the rooms at St. Margaret's are private. Someone told me that the week before my surgery. It hadn't occurred to me that they wouldn't be. Both of my kids were born at Magee, where all of the rooms (at least postpartum) are private. It's great having a private room. I had to share a room when I got my tonsils out in college. Of course, I was on the side without the tv. I had to lay there listening to whatever the older lady on the other side of the curtain was watching. I also got yelled at for throwing up in the bathroom instead of in the bedpan. They hadn't wanted me to walk to the bathroom by myself in case I fell. Good times.

Having a private room was great since Alecia would be staying the night with me. She was already in the room when they wheeled me in. The husband was there too. I was exhausted and nauseous. And burning up. I felt so uncomfortably hot.

'You,' I pointed To Alecia 'need a reclining chair. Can we get a reclining chair for her? She's spending the night.' 'Don't worry about me...' she started to say. But I wanted a fan too. 'Can I get a fan? I don't feel well and this room is too hot.' So much for the bed-jacket my mother insisted that I pack. I was kicking the sheets off of me. I felt as though I needed cool air or I would be sick.

The nurses were great and got the chair and fan delivered pretty quickly. The husband and Alecia made sure that I was settled and comfortable. Then I fell asleep. I was so exhausted.

I pretty much slept all afternoon and evening. I would wake up for about 5 minutes at a time, maybe eat some ice chips, feel sick, and fall back asleep. Once I woke up and the husband told me he was going home to help my mom with the kids. He'd be back in the morning to pick me up. Other times I woke up and the nurse would be checking in on me for one thing or another. But mostly I slept. The first time I woke up and didn't feel ill was 10:30pm. Alecia was asleep, so I went back to sleep too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The husband and I got up bright and early so we could get to the hospital by 7:30. St. Margaret's is nice- much tamer than Presby in Oakland. Presby is very busy, lots of activity. St. Margaret's is busy too, but it's in the suburbs, so the campus is more spread out. The effect is calming, which is good when you're headed there for surgery.

We checked in and it wasn't long before I was taken back to be weighed. Then I was sent to the prep area. I was given lucky room #13 (stall? really not a room...). They handed me a bag for my clothes. I got into my gown and laid down on the gurney. People came in to go over my medical history, take blood for the research project and basically make sure that I was ready for the surgery. Finally my husband got to come back.

Neither one of us was nervous, so that was good. I just couldn't wait to get it over with. Get the cancer out of my neck already. The anesthesiologist came in and explained the different drugs that he was going to use, how they would work, how they would make me feel. He left and his assistant came in shortly afterward. She was very nice and asked if I was ready to get the initial dose. Absolutely. 'OK, this may make you feel like you've had about two glasses of wine.' To which I, apparently, very charmingly replied, 'Oh, it takes me about four glasses to feel like this.' I think we continued the conversation on the way to the where I was going to have the surgery. But I couldn't tell you what we talked about. Based on our wine conversation my guess would be...liquor? And I couldn't tell you at what point I passed out. But I totally did.

When I came to I was in post op. They promptly brought me ice chips. I sucked on those for a while and looked around the room. It was packed. I think every bed was full. One patient was really agitated and giving the nurses a terrible time of it. I wonder what procedure he had done. I'm guessing he must have been in a lot of pain. I can't figure out why else he would be so angry. The nurses seemed to be nice and very attentive.

My surgeon came back to let me know that the surgery went very well. They had successfully removed my thyroid and several lymph nodes from the center and left sides of my neck. Also on the left, the growth on my thyroid had started to attach itself to muscle. Fantastic! Anyway, it had just started, and they were able to cut away any part of the muscle that had seemed effected. She was confident that they got everything out that needed to come out. Everything went very well.

When she left they sent my husband back. He came in to tell me that my friend, Alecia, had arrived and was getting some lunch. She would meet us up in the room. I was exhausted, my throat was sore, and I was nauseous. I couldn't wait to get to the room. I just wanted to sleep.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Bed-jacket & Plastic Plates

That Monday my mom arrived sometime in the late afternoon. She brought all kinds of stuff with her- as she usually does. Often it's clothes for the kiddos, and this time was no exception. But she also brought stuff for me, including; a tray, plasticware, and a fluffy pink bed-jacket. I know. I didn't get it either.

So, the tray was in case I was bedridden and she needed to bring me meals in bed. Fair enough. The plasticware was in case I was so out of it on pain medication that I would continually knock things over or drop them (?!). So I guess that way dishes wouldn't constantly be breaking on the floor of my bedroom. And the bed-jacket was in case I was freezing in the hospital.

I think my mother spends too much time with old people.

Not that my mother is old. She's not. But my grandmother is alive and kicking at 92 and my mother visits her a lot at her retirement community. She visits so often that she has become friends with other people in the building. They all know and love my mom. My mom takes good care of my grandmother.

So I can't help but think that she picked up these things based upon what someone 40 years older than myself would need after they came home from surgery. What my grandmother might need, or one of her neighbors. Whatever. I packed the bed-jacket in my backpack. Who knows? Maybe I would be freezing in the hospital.

I didn't pack much else though. My backpack only had the bed-jacket, clean underwear and socks, my phone, a book, the iPad, and my toothbrush and toothpaste. They really discourage you from bringing too many things to the hospital. I also had a manual breast pump in a bag, in case I got engorged while I was there overnight.

I was as ready as I'd ever be.

A Moveable Feast

The weekend before my surgery rocked. Seriously. We had dinner dates for all three nights.

Friday night we ate with friends in Squirrel Hill. The boy was playing with their sons. I had stayed that afternoon for a glass of wine. It turned into dinner and my husband joined us after work. We ordered food from Yinzburgh. One reason we chose Yinzburgh was because they have tofu on the menu. I know- if you're ordering barbecue you should just get meat already. But I only eat seafood so tofu was my best option. It was ok. Don't get me wrong- it's very nice that they even offer it. It's just...it would be great if they just didn't send you a brick of tofu covered in sauce. Cut in quarters and pressed would make it more appetizing. And it would maximize sauce coverage, which is what barbecue is all about anyway.

The sauces were great. Everyone else loved their ribs & chicken. We also got collard greens and macaroni, which were awesome. I really really love me some collards.

Saturday night was spent with friends in Morningside. Take out again- we ordered pizza & subs. I am also a big fan of pizza and I can really put away the slices. After dinner we sat around their fire pit. It was a really lovely Pittsburgh evening, cool and pleasant. While we were enjoying the fire my friend brought out a get well card. It was signed by a dozen of our friends and filled with Wheel Deliver 'cash'. Very touching and I was totally blown away. There are times when it just kind of it hits me how lucky we are and what amazing, caring friends we have. Seriously. We have some of the very best people ever in our corner.

Sunday was Mothers' Day. It's always low-key around here. The husband took the kids on a bike ride. Later in the day the guys went shopping and came back with flowers for me. Then we headed to our friends' house in Lawrenceville. Our friend is a fantastic cook, and she made this delicious salmon recipe for dinner. You should try it. It is so so good. We had chocolates and ice cream for dessert. We stayed a little too late for a school night. But when you're enjoying good company, good food, and good wine, it's rather hard to tear yourself away.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Slumber Party

My mother had been surfing the web, looking for information on thyroid cancer. She came across this blog. Heather, the woman who writes A Mama's Blog, went through thyroid cancer several years ago. Her blog is full of useful information, including how helpful it is to have someone stay overnight with you in the hospital. Brilliant! It never occurred to me, but what a good idea. My mother thought so too.

'So,' she said, 'your husband can stay overnight with you then, and I'll stay home with the kids.' 'No. That won't work. The girl has never spent the night without us there and she's nursing. It will be hard enough without me there- it will be worse without both of us. He'll need to be home with the kids.' My mother seemed reluctant, but agreed to stay at the hospital with me. Not sure what the reluctance was about, and I didn't bother asking. I'm pretty sure that she was worried I was going to be in terrible shape, that she would need to do more work than she was actually prepared to do.

Alecia called me the next day. She said that she had been wanting to help me in some way, but was unsure how. 'But I think I know now. I want to stay with you at the hospital overnight.' Crazy, I told her, because I had *just* had this conversation with my mom the day before. Yes, of course, I would love for her to stay with me. My mom was pretty thrilled too.