I’ve begun this blog post a million times, only to backspace like a madwoman, or highlight and delete it all.
See… each time I begin to tell this story – it ends up sounding serious, sombre and bordering on the maudlin.
Not only does my storytelling thus far bore me to tears, but it isn’t me. This wasn’t my frame of mind when all this was going on.
I’m hopeful I can still tell the story of my surgery with the same outrageous sense of humor I displayed at the time… so I’m going to try starting there.
The entry title? Oh. That. Yeah.
This surgery was risky from the beginning. I’m on blood thinners already – but would need to go off them for five days both prior to a biopsy on my thyroid (by now affectionately known as ‘glandzilla’) and prior to the surgery to remove it.
I was risking developing a clot… one that would silently develop, travel straight to my heart, brain, lungs, and at the very least possibly vegetate me, maybe even kill me instantly… but if I didn’t stop taking them, I risked bleeding too much.
Opting out of surgery was out of the question. Glandzilla had grown to such epic proportions, my trachea was being crushed.
Those of you my age or older… remember the Friday Night Frights on TV that scared us half to death with old horror movies? Remember one movie called “The Blob”?
I can remember a scene from that movie – people running screaming out of a movie theater, with the blob hot on their heels, absorbing everything and everyone in its path, growing ever bigger as it slimed its way down the main street of town.
That’s what glandzilla reminded me of.
It was choking me, absorbing me – slowly killing me.
But was I running down the street screaming in fear?
I remember one particular visit to my surgeon’s office, after she’d explained to me the seriousness and gravity of the situation. She’d told me she wanted me to take all my films (I had a library of ultrasounds, MRI’s, CT scans, you name it by now) and see a cardiovascular surgeon.
She feared the thyroid was wrapped around vital vessels… but couldn’t tell. She needed a cardiovascular surgeon to see me, look at the films, and promise to be there on standby the morning of my surgery – in case she needed him to take over.
Not an ultrasound, not an MRI, not a CT scan… nothing would tell her how deep into my chest glandzilla had grown. All she could see was that a gland that, when healthy, is about the size of a walnut, had extended beneath my clavicles. Nobody knew exactly how far. Nobody knew exactly how much involvement there was with my aorta, etc.
It was getting riskier by the second.
On my way out the door, her clerk handed me an envelope with some paperwork I’d asked for, and I just looked at her deadpan (pardon the continuing puns) and said: “What’s this? My death certificate? Boy, you people really ARE proactive!”
That was my attitude throughout my experience with cancer.
Why be any other way but how I normally am?
We didn’t even know yet that cancer was involved, but I knew it was a possibility. If present, it would change the way I had to live my life, at least temporarily.
I’d be damned if it would change my personality as well.
Fast-forward to the morning of surgery.
Cardiovascular surgeon appointment complete, he didn’t think he’d be needed, but agreed to be on standby, just in case.
Biposy performed on the left side of my neck – the side on which glandzilla seemed to be growing more rapidly. Made sense. If there was cancer, it was most likely there.
No cancer cells found.
All the questions asked, all the answers given, the entire procedure explained to me in detail, step by step, each scenario accounted for.
I just shook my head.
“Sounds like an awful lot of trouble and fuss to me, doc.” I said. “Can’t we just get rid of it right here and now? I got a pocket knife…”
She had my number by now.
“I’ve got some booze at the house…” she replied.
Oh yeah. If I was going to lie on a table and allow someone I barely know to slit my throat open – it was going to be her!
Speaking of getting my throat slit…
That was the exact thing I said the morning of surgery when the poor, unsuspecting desk clerk at the hospital asked if she could help me:
“Yes, I’m here to get my throat slit.”
Her reaction was epic. My only regret is that I didn’t go through with ordering that t-shirt with the picture of a Pez dispenser on the front…
My youngest son, who by now had descended upon me to take care of his mommy, could only (rather unsuccessfully) stifle the giggles and shake his head at me.
I gave him a look that said “Wha?”
More head shaking.
The last thing I remember before going under was one of the OR techs asking Dr. Cohen if she thought I’d appreciate a joke. I don’t remember her exact words, but she definitely confirmed that jokes would be just fine with me…
He looks at me as they’re lifting me from the gurney to the table and tells THEE lamest, stalest OR joke ever:
“Know why OR’s are so cold? It’s where we keep our beer!”
Oh please. Bring an A game if you want to deal with me. My retort?
“It better be Leinie’s. If I die because of drunken ineptitude on your part it better not be for skunk beer!”
Next thing I remember, I’m waking up to the sensation of a tube being pulled from my throat, immediately followed by an oxygen mask clamped over my face.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened next, but I know that the end result was me with a completely blown out left hand from my IV ripping out, and one oxygen mask, though still around my neck, only hanging loosely open below my chin for the rest of my hospital stay.
I don’t like anything over my face – at all.
I’m sure there was one hell of a fight. I’m also pretty certain I won, judging by the lack of insistence by anyone crossing my path in Condell Medical Center for the next three days to make me wear that mask over my face.
I think this must have been what Dr. Cohen meant when she came out and told my son “She’s going to be just fine! She’s back to her old self already!”
She told me how it all went. Despite her fears, especially after she opened me up to see that the gland extended much farther down than she’d guessed, glandzilla wasn’t attached to anything vital, and was the same lift-and-out delivery she was accustomed to with much smaller thyroids. Mine was 14 centimeters – on just one side. No cardiovascular surgeon. No parathyroid glands lost. No vocal cord damage.
I’d survived the biopsy and the surgery. Three days in ICU and then it was home to recuperate, and it was all over.
Or so I thought.
Follow up visit with the surgeon a few days later.
“The reason it took me so long to get you out of surgery, is because we found cancer cells on the other side of your thyroid – the side we didn’t biopsy. I went over you with a fine tooth comb, and I didn’t see any more. Now am I telling you that you have a shortened life expectancy? Not at all. The type you have is, as a rule, slow to spread, easy to cure, and more people have it than they realize. 60-65% of cadavers I examined in medical school had it, and didn’t ever know it. But… we have to take some precautionary measures.”
I sat and listened attentively, canning the wisecracking and respecting her professionalism for once… just minutes after I’d told her I was recommending her work to anyone who would listen: “Yeah doc – your name and number is on the wall of every public bathroom in Lake County Illinois with the message ‘For a good time in the OR – call Angelique!’”
Did the news take the wind out of my sails?
Of course not. It must have been a hard thing to tell me though – I would imagine you never really know how a patient is going to react to something like that – so I behaved myself for once…
But not for long
The fun – both in the literal and sarcastic sense, was just beginning.
Next time, I’ll have to tell you about my radiation treatment.