Friday, April 11, 2008

On Cancer

It's been about a month now since I first learned that my wife Emma has breast cancer. It seems like everything is happening so fast. When we first went to our regular doctor, we showed her the lump, thinking it was probably a cyst that would need to be removed. When she referred us to a specialist for a biopsy and lumpectomy, it hadn't really entered our mind that she had cancer.

The day that we returned to Dr. Panuncialman's office for the results, we were certain that it would be to get an all clear. The news that the biopsy had tested positive for cancer, and that there were more than one lump in different areas of her breast came as a total surprise. His recommendation was for a mastectomy, but first he wanted us to see an oncologist/radiologist for another opinion. The following week we went to see Dr. Nathu.

We were hopeful when Dr. Nathu said that the pathology report contradicted itself and he was going to contact them for clarification. In the meantime, he sent Emma for an MRI.

The following week, when we returned for the results of the MRI, the news we had hoped for was not good. The tumors in her left breast had already progressed in just two weeks time, and spots had appeared on her right breast that weren't there in previous tests. He referred us back to Dr. Panuncialman.

Our next visit with Dr. Panuncialman was when the decision was made to remove her breast. At the same time he scheduled an appointment for a biopsy on her right breast. That was done on Tuesday and we are still waiting for those results.
As far as the mastectomy, a decision will be made when the biopsy comes back on her right breast, as to whether they will remove one or both breasts during surgery on Wednesday, April 16. During this time they will also do a sentinel lymph node dissection to determine if the cancer has spread past her breasts. If the sentinel lymph node is positive, then a total lymph node removal will have to be done, which can lead to other health problems (lymphodema).

So, that is the history of the events that have led up to where we stand today. Even now, I don't think either one of us have allowed this to truly soak in. Emma puts on a brave face to everyone. I think she is still denying that it is really true. This is just the beginning. The hard part will only start to begin once the surgery is complete.

And speaking of surgery, did you know a mastectomy is only considered outpatient surgery now. You are only admitted to the hospital if complications arise. Women are subjected to having half of their chest cut off and then sent home with a tube sticking out of a hole, and they are expected to be able to take care of themselves. This is, I am told, a result of insurance companies refusing to pay for a hospital stay. Personally, I think this is an outrage and Americans everywhere, as well as the President and Congress should pass measures to end this stupidy. But, I think, with the majority of those members being courted by health insurance lobbyists, this will never happen.

I had planned on writing this with the ideal of documenting what is going on in my mind during this family health crisis. I wanted the reader to know what I was feeling, what I was thinking, and what I was doing during this time. I can tell you this. This whole thing scares me to death. Whenever you have a moment to think a million different scenarios run through your head, the obvious one for a spouse being--am I going to be a widow in the near future? But there are other things, such as how will I react to my wife with her breast removed. Even though I know I love her no matter what, will I be repulsed by the sight of her with no clothes? How will I cope with seeing her in pain? In all of the time we have been married, the only time I ever saw her really in pain, was when our son was being born. At that time I felt totally inadequate and hopeless. This is just the beginning. As everything continues to progress I will write more.

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