Wife Under the Knife

A Husband’s Journey Through  Breast Cancer

(and other random thoughts)

Many have asked me how I feel.  I am a little nervous and scared but feel great.  This summer my wife was scheduled to have her left knee replaced.  Two days before surgery she wanted the house spotless.  She was waxing the floor and fell, breaking her right leg.  This forced an 8 week postponement of the left knee replacement.   I did not break my leg  this summer of have my left knee cut off and replaced with a metal one or had my breast sliced open and then a cancerous tumor removed only to be told that was not enough and a radical breast reduction would be in order, and not anything anyone volunteers for.

 It is now 6:00 AM. and M. is taking a shower and washing her hair.  She asked me to set the alarm to wake her for this.  I said I am sure an alarm will not be necessary.  We have been frantically doing things that really do not matter before her surgery.  Like planting grass seed on the bare spot where I removed a tree.  Changing the sheets in the bedrooms in case visitors come.  Vacuuming the carpets, cleaning the bathrooms, mowing the lawn, returning books to the library and taking items to Goodwill.  I cooked a meals to eat while at the hospital and packed a bag for me.  

 M. composed a long list of people for me to contact during this event and purchased snacks for me to eat and cooked a refrigerator full of food.    Now the day has come we have a long list of supporters that are wishing, praying and thinking good thoughts about us and it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.  

 The wait has been a challenge.  Patience has never been easy for M.  She was sitting by the phone like a bird dog watching a quail for the announcement of when her surgery was.  I went to the clinic and begged for a date so she could at least relax enough to go to the shower or mail box.  The not knowing when this process would begin was the hardest part.    We went to the hospital at 7:30 A. M. and were in short stay before the appointment at 8:00.  She got dressed in the paper gown and was ready to go.  By 9:30 we had completed the radiology dye injection and we were back in the, “Short Stay.”   Then things began to slow down 10:00 I began taking pictures of the clock.   10:28 AM I took another clock picture this continued until 4:30 PM, at which point I began to  fear for my life.  I made sure no sharp objects were near M. that she might use on me.  

Despite the wait  M. on the other hand was in remarkable spirits.  She is very grateful that it is, her that has to suffer, instead of one of our children or grand children.  I suppose that if any of you need a kidney these next two weeks M. is not available as a donor.  ( I am not sure if donor is spelt like loaner but with a “d.”  Perhaps it comes from the Donner party and should be donner.)

 Whew!!!!!!!!!!!! what a relief a very tired Dr. T just reported that M.’s double mastectomy went well.  The sentinel lymph node was clear which is a great indicator that all the cancer is removed.  I don’t know what problem he had this morning spending all day on one patient but that he marshalled on until he finished M. at 7:00 P.M. today and has another patient in surgery to take care of now is remarkable.

 I am not sure what the protocol would be but I would like to leave him a tip but am not sure how much.  What is the going rate for saving the love of your life?   Your suggestions would be appreciated.  

 We are going to celebrate with a trip to McDonalds when she is sober. I am not talking about a McWrap either I mean a huge giant greasy hamburger with bacon and lettuce and a supersize of fries.  With an extra large Diet Coke.

 This morning M. went for walk with her IV, checked her email and brushed her hair.  Dr. T came by and said she can go home today!!!!

 Fourteen hours after surgery we are home and M. is sleeping on the couch.  

 It creeps me out to be in the hospital.  I am sure all the bacteria think different.  I can only imagine if we spoke bacteria and had a really big amplifier we could hear them talk as they stood in line like at Disneyland.  I imagine bacteria all pushing and dividing in a long line.  Signs that say no bacteria under two microns allowed on this ride.  We could overhear  Staphylococcus saying to Meningococcal Meningitis, “what is your favorite ride.”  Meningococcal Meningitis says, “ I love the gurney wheels they go around and around at a much higher speed than the wheelchair.”  Staphylococcus says,  “my first choice is the mop bucket wheels they swivel and we get to go to through the blood, feces and mucus several times a day and always in a hurry.  It is the best water park ride.”   “Sometimes when we are reproducing in a pool of slime a patient passes with those soft little booties and we get to get in bed with them then the orgy can really start,” reminicisses Spirochaetes.

 Second day and M. continues to improve. She has had one small dose of pain medication before bed and I am grateful as it let me sleep most of the night.  I have helped her shower, change her dressings and empty the fluid from her drains several times today.   We had 3 visitors which I appreciated as it keeps M. at home.  I take the van so she won’t drive.  If waiting was hard staying in the house is harder.  I have avoided letting her go out to keep her safe.  We don’t need a pothole in the road causing a popped stitch.  Nor do we need her getting germs from some person that sneezed on the Coke machine.  

M.’s PEO asked if they could bring something so I suggested fruit and squash.  Irene brought a basket and I cooked a delicious squash with maple syrup and butter.

 The drains they left in M. are one of the hardest things for her.  Twice a day I drain them and measure the fluid that has drained.  Let me describe them their are two hoses coming out of her skin.  They are stitched to her under her arms.  The hose is the size of a skewer made of soft vinyl or silicone.  The containers are made of soft pliable silicone and have a check valve.  I squeeze the air out of the palm sized bottles.  The difficult part is the fluid is mostly blood on the right side and lymph on the left.  When changing them the squirting sound and splashing blood is put into a cup with cl markings to record the amount date and time.  When I squirt them out M. recoils with disgust at the squirting and accompanying sucking sounds as I pull a suction on the container and plug it off.  There is also some pain involved as I have to strip the blood and blood clots from the tubes.  This works best by putting alcohol on my gloves to make them slippery.  I then pinch the hose near her skin so as to not pull the tube out.  While pinching the tube I pull and squeeze the tube.  This creates a back pressure as I strip the blood clots into the bottle.   The blood clots do not always want to come out.  They need to be removed or the drain will plug.  I don’t like to do it but have to pretend it does not disgust me.  I keep thinking my job is the easy one.  I did not have my chest cut open from side to side and both breasts removed.  

 M. was anxious to have the drains removed.  When we went to the doctors office he said she needed to wait three more days until the drainage reduced to 30 cl per day.  

 We came back and the nurse pulled out the drains.  It was not without pain as the drains are about a foot long and full of holes like a sewer pipe in a drain field.  They have kind of healed into the wound and removing them disrupts that tender area.

 Yesterday I was at work and clipping a thread with my sharp scissors.  I snipped the thread and my thumb.  I was thinking ouch then I thought about M. at home with cuts ten thousand times larger and I am thinking ouch.  She is at home without pain medication and not whining.    

 It has been 3 weeks and the swelling is getting bad.  It looks like M. has grown breasts especially on the right side.  The physician assistant saw her and immediately said she needed to have them drained at the hospital.  We waited more than an hour for the hospital to give the receptionist an appointment time.  The soonest they could see us was a day later at 9:00 A.M.   He prescribed antibiotics which upset her stomach.

 We went to the hospital today.  M. had difficulty sleeping her knee, stomach, breast and sciatic were all acting up.  Combine that with the anxiety of having drains inserted back into her chest made it hard to get a good rest.  

 She wanted to make sure she was up early to have her hair washed in case she couldn't shower for a few days.  We were half an hour early for the appointment.  We got there checked in and the waiting began again.   This has really been a test of patience with the often get there and wait.   It began to wear on her today as she was laying on the table for her sonogram placement of the drains.  I could see her eyes began to tear up.  She held it together and never cried or complained.  They made me leave the operation room as the radiologist put in the drains.  Prior to inserting the drains he removed 8 syringes of fluid.  It was about 16 ounces mostly old blood that was near black instead of red.  When she sat up the drain on her right side began to stream into the collection bottle.  The RN had to drain the collectors twice while we were in the hospital.   

 We went to Kozy Kitchen to celebrate with lunch.  I went to work and when I came home M. was hurting more than she had since surgery.  The drain tubes, the bandage the tape and the general pain all hit her today.   I emptied her drains, 40CL on the right side, and rebandaged her.   She then rested uncomfortably on the recliner.   Tomorrow we see the oncologist Dr. Cherry.

 We visited both Dr’s. C. and T. the consensus is she is doing  good and on the way for recovery.  The oncologist recommended Tamoxifen for the next 5 -10 years.   She had a nightmare about the new drains being removed without  disconnecting  the string that curls the anchor hook inside her.  When the nurse and PA came to remove them neither of them knew how they worked the PA said perhaps we pull this string until it breaks.  I spoke up and told him that is not how they were built.  I had asked about them when they were installed and I explained the string was inside the  drain and  you had to release the string to release the hook.  So  M.'s nightmare could have happened had I not been curious with the nurse that helped install them in the  hospital;.      

 It has been almost 6 months and M. is doing very well she is sewing and quilting for other people and we had a great wedding party for my son.  She is doing everything she did before last year and  lost over 50 pounds with Weight Watchers.  At this time she is not planning on reconstructive breast surgery but has had difficulty finding clothes that fit.   She seems to be more patient and less concerned about little things that may have bothered her before.   If the floor isn’t waxed that is not a big deal.  M. does not let her illness define her she is one very strong woman and I am very lucky to have her.

Joe Neill