Sunday, February 26, 2012

Closer I Am to Fine

I love music. All types of music. Although I tend to land on country, my radio stations are constantly changing. I always have a song in my head. I will hear someone say something, anything, and it automatically triggers a song. Sometimes I accidentally sing it out loud. Lately, I've had the Indigo Girls in my head. "Closer I Am to Fine." 

And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountainsI looked to the children, I drank from the fountainsThere's more than one answer to these questionsPointing me in a crooked lineAnd the less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fineCloser I am to fine
This song has so many memories for me. Mostly my college days. Singing with Fr. Pat at Search retreats, dorm parties, Bumbershoot, my girlfriends. But as I listen to the words again, realize it's more than a song to sing around a campfire. 
This has been a rough week. Maybe that's why I haven't written much and maybe that's why I keep singing this song in my head...keep reminding myself that all will be fine. And although I am only in the pre-game warm ups of this stuff. I am getting a little closer to fine. I have a few more answers, but also many more questions.
So, Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, I spent the day at OHSU. I joked on Facebook that I was revealing the tata's and hoped I would at least get some beads for this. Alas, they did not have any. But when I came home there were beads on my door...from my team. 
Tuesday was a long day. I had a biopsy done on the upper axillary lymph node that is farther away from my lump. This was much like the other I had. They just use a local anesthetic and use a needle to get some of the lymph node out to test. This appointment lasted a few hours and then I had the appt to meet the thoracic surgeon who would be doing the procedure to test the chest lymph nodes. 
This doctor finally took Nick and I to the computer to show us the PET/CT scan reports. The solution they inject via IV when you do these tests makes the areas light up. Well the nodes in my axilla (armpit) and the lump in my breast were very bright (a 9 on a scale of 1-10). But the nodes in the chest were quite dim compared to the others (only a 3 or 4, the dr said). I found this quite hopeful. They had many questions about where I have lived, did I smoke (NO!!!) etc. They were trying to make a suggestion of what these could be showing up, if not cancer that had spread. We went over the procedure and the details for the next day......
I would be sedated completely under general anesthesia and they would use a bronchial scope and endobronchial ultrasound to get to the nodes that were in the chest to take samples for biopsy. A pathologist would be in the room and test them right away. If they were positive, they would stop and procedure would be done. They would know the cancer had spread. If negative, they would try to reach the nodes farther in my chest. However, to reach the nodes that are farther in my chest wall, they will have to make a small incision at the base of my neck in order to get the scope in. So I could wake up with an incision. I actually took this as a good sign because if I woke up with an incision that, in theory, would mean that the nodes were negative and they were just double checking. Hey, I'm a teacher. I want people to double check. I send kids back all the time to check their answers. Anyway, I was prepared. 
Soooo, Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. I was fasting like any good Catholic would do. Ha ha. I had to. I was scheduled for noon, but they called us in early. This is all a hurry up and wait game. We were at the hospital by 9:30. We got back to pre-op pretty quickly. Nick was able to stay with me there, but it was noon when they took me back for my procedure. And that is all I remember until I woke up at 4:00. I do remember them saying they were going to give me something and then that was it. Not even any counting this time. 
I slept for 4 hours. And all I can think is how agonizing this must have been for Nick sitting in the waiting room. He actually didn't get to come back to see me until 6. I was still a little out of it. And the anesthesia made me a little nauseous. I was talking with the nurse when he came back. The nurses were constantly asking all day, "what procedure was I having, blah blah blah." I didn't want to keep repeating it. But that's how they know if you are coherent. So this time, as the nurse was asking about my procedure I felt my neck and said "Looks like they made the incision. That's good. Because it means that it probably didn't spread." It was at that point I saw Nick and he just shook his head. This was the first moment I realized that I was looking at something more serious. 
We went home. I was still out of it. It was so hard for me to have my kids see me this way. I am sure I did not look good. Nick had to help me walk and I had a three inch bandage on my neck. Evan came to hug me. But instead of his huge, tight hugs I normally get, he just barely put his arms around me. That was a little heart breaking for me. For the next few days, he would be hesitant to come near me. All I could think, was I hope that this isn't how it is going to be. This was only the first time. Honestly, I can't even remember what Justin and Ally did. I just went to sleep. Got sick some more. Went to sleep. Got sick. And finally went to sleep. 
The next day,  Nick got the kids ready for school. I went downstairs. They all gave me little hugs...still not the big ones I am accustomed to. Evan kept asking, "Is it ok?" Ally wanted to see the incision. And Justin was very doting. "Do you want some water?" "What can I get you?" He is growing into such a great young man. 
My sister, Pam, came to spend the day with me so Nick could get to work. We had a good day of me dozing and just talking about "things." I finally said it to her that I thought the cancer had spread. We cried. Then started talking about everything else. I liked it like that. 
Later that evening, I had Nick tell me everything from the day that I missed. All the calls the doctors made to him while I was in surgery, the dr coming to meet with him and take him to a consultation room to tell him what they had found. I imagined something right from ER here. Dr. Green talking to Nick. But I felt so bad that I couldn't be there with him.
And yes, the cancer has spread. Then why did they do the incision anyway? I knew the answer, and again as a teacher, I am glad they checked their work. So, I now know that we are looking at Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Of course this is "according to the papers." I am glad I know, so that they can form a treatment plan for me and get me closer to fine.
The last few days I've tried to go on like everything was ok. I think everyone could tell that I was a little off. I went to the PTA board meeting, went to book club on Friday night (I had to hang with my "old sames"), went to softball coaches training on Saturday morning and sold Girl Scout cookies with Ally. I want to continue without having to disrupt things that are going on. But, I didn't quite feel right. I have been reading. And I know this is normal to feel this way. But honestly, I wish that life could be normal. But I guess this is our "new" normal.
Fast forward to Sunday night and my bandage is off. My two inch incision is exposed. Evan isn't so scared and I get the biggest hug from him when I tuck him in. Justin is still careful and hugs gently and Ally asks if she can touch my incision. I love her. 
I think this week will feel a little more like regular normal. We have a packed schedule, basketball practice, softball meeting, Girls Scouts, Justin's technology group, church, and other things. It is all par for the course in our life.....Except for my Thursday appt at OHSU. That is the "new" normal. But it is at that appointment that these doctors can give me a treatment plan that will get me a little closer to fine.


  1. Keep the faith Madonna! And take all the hugs you can get big or little, they mean everything to both parties :) you will be on my prayer list everyday.

  2. Madonna, I am playing for you every day. Please let me know what I can do to help you out. give nick my number too. I want to help in any way I can. I love you, all my prayers and positive thoughts are with you and your family.