Along The Way:Part 3
I cried myself to sleep that night. The following morning I had hoped to wake up and find it all to be a nightmare. Instead the weight of my mortality began to close in, all I could do was cry. My doctor scheduled me for a tissue biopsy for the following week with an Otolaryngologist or Ear Nose and Throat doctor.
The days leading up to my appointment felt like an eternity. Nothing seemed real, the world as I knew it became a surreal, cold and unfamiliar. Like a machine I was just going through the motions each day, trying to keep my mind preoccupied. As the weekend before my next appointment approached, Chris and I walked around Lagoon Valley trying get my mind off of things. We walked around talking about my next appointment, taking photos and just wasting time.
The morning of my appointment with the ENT my emotions became overwhelming, I felt so nervous that I was sick to my stomach. Sitting in the exam room waiting for the doctor, I felt my heart beating faster and faster. After what seemed like an eternity there was a knock at the door and the doctor entered, introduced himself then sat down. He was very funny, sincere and yet extremely forward. His presence was calming and for the first time in weeks I felt the tension leave my body. He began telling us all about the thyroid and discussing the different types of diseases and cancers. I started to feel some relief because everything he was describing had symptoms which I had not experienced. After our discussion he pulled up my scans on the computer and began explaining the lumps and where they were located. As he examined the scans more closely he noticed an additional lump in the center of my thyroid that the radiologist had not noted. This lump concerned him the most. He quietly studied the images of my thyroid for a few more moments in silence. He turned towards us, took off his glasses and calmly declared, “…the reality is that it’s probably cancer, but we need to do a tissue biopsy to be certain.” He asked if we had any questions then quietly excused himself from the room to give Chris and I few minutes to process all that had been discussed. We sat there together, both of us knew the logical thing to do but neither of us wanted to say it, because then it was real. It was obvious, there wasn’t really much to decide…my only option was to get a biopsy. The Dr. Came back in and I told him I was ready for the biopsy. To my surprise, he was prepared to do it right then. He dug through the drawers and laid out a series of glass slides and needles all the while explaining the process. He told me it would hurt, a lot, but I never expected what followed. He started with the lump in the center of my thyroid, the lump that concerned him the most. He put pressure on my neck and then inserted the needle into the lump and began to move the needle in, out and all around the lump to collect as many cells as possible. I was squeezing Chris’s hand as the tears started rolling down my face. I grew up with two brothers, I think I’m pretty tough and can handle pain, but I have no words to describe what that felt like. I had one more lump to go…the doctor asked if I was ready, and through my tears I managed to laugh and say “NO, but go ahead”. He finished the biopsy, apologized for causing me pain and making me cry. He said the results should be in that Friday or the following Monday. As the days passed I was a nervous wreck. Chris did his best to keep me positive but I couldn’t help it…I was stressed beyond belief.
Friday finally came and Chris stayed home with me to await the news. Every time my phone rang my heart skipped a beat. Finally, around 2pm I got a phone call from the doctors office, she was calling to tell me that the pathologist did not have time to finish my biopsy results and that they would call on Monday. I was so upset, I started crying again…the stress of waiting was making me sick, I had a headache and a nervous pit in my stomach all week from waiting and now I had to wait the whole weekend! Chris’s work was having their annual music festival that evening, so we decided it would be better to hang out with friends and listen to music than to sit at home. It was a great outing, and good to see friends, but I still had a hard time focusing. I painstakingly made it through the weekend and entered Monday with hesitation. Would they call? Will all this turn out to be a nightmare like I had hoped? Around noon, my phone rang. It was my doctor with the results…I mustered all my strength, took a deep breath and answered. He said, “well, the pathologist looked at your slides and said your cells don’t scream cancer, but there is definitely something wrong,”he continued to tell me that he has been doing this for years and is very confident that it is cancer, after all there were thyroid cells in my lymph nodes. I of course was crying, he apologized for upsetting me and asked that Chris and I come in the next day to discuss what to do next.
The following morning the doctor had taken the time to have my slides reviewed by another pathologist who was a little more familiar with thyroid cancers. This pathologists confirmed my doctors’ belief that this was indefinitely cancer. My diagnosis, Papillary Carcinoma that had metastasized to the surrounding lymph nodes. We discussed the type of cancer, it’s aggressive nature and then he walked us through surgery and subsequent treatment options. He encouraged us to get a second opinion if we wanted, but also stressed that we need to take care of it very soon. He gave me a private, direct line to his office assistant so I could call with questions and not have to go through standard hospital procedures. Chris and I returned home and had the difficult task of calling our family members and friends to let them know what was going on. Frankly, it sucked. Every time I called someone I cried. I hated telling everyone, I only kept it quiet this long because I didn’t want people worrying about me. But things were going to happen quickly from this point forward and it needed to be done.
Chris and I discussed my treatment a lot and we decided a second opinion would just waste time and since we trust my current doctor there really is no reason to delay. I called the doctor one last time and made sure I understood everything. He assured me this was the right thing to do and again stressed that we move along. I gave him the go ahead and he had his nurse call the next day to schedule surgery.
My surgery date was set for September 14 at Sutter Vallejo. I had one week to prepare and I was mortified. I have never been sick or hospitalized for anything before and I had no idea what to expect. I met once more with my doctor before the surgery to go over the specifics of my procedure, including the potential complications. During this appointment he showed me where he would make the incision and explained how and where the thyroid is attached. The biggest risk when removing the thyroid is that I might lose the ability to speak due to the proximity of the thyroid gland to my vocal cords. He explained even the slightest nick to one of the vocal chords and I would loose my voice…forever. That of course made me more nervous but I had zero options…this had to be done, the promise of a cancer free life far out weighed the alternatives. As the week went on, I was overwhelmed with phone calls. I know everyone meant well and was very concerned, but it started to get to me. I was lucky enough to have Chris handle most of the calls. The days went by really fast leading up to my surgery date. I spent most of the days finishing up portrait sessions and calling all of my clients to re-schedule for later dates. A few days before my surgery I had to get an EKG, chest x-rays, take a pregnancy test and then meet with my primary care physician who ultimately cleared me for surgery.
The day before my surgery we went to the Sutter Hospital in Vallejo to pre-register for surgery. We met with a nurse in pre-op and answered several questions and filled out a trees worth of paperwork. I had to sign an agreement that I fully understand the complications as well as a form that authorized Chris to make all decisions for me if I was unable. I was a nervous wreck…it was really hard filling out that paperwork. It became so real, this was really happening and my sadness grew not only for my self but for Chris. I signed my life into his hands and if anything went wrong, he was to make the decisions he felt best for me. I choked back my tears and finished up the paperwork. The nurse was very caring and I could tell she had great sadness for both of us. She confirmed my surgery time for the next day, wished us luck, and assured us that we had chosen one if the best surgeons there. The drive home was quiet, I think the reality hit us both pretty hard during that appt. Once home, we did our best to relax. Listening to music, drinking coffee and keeping each other entertained. As we painstakingly made it through the day, it was time to try and get some sleep. I laid in bed awake for hours…my mind was going a mile a minute. I thought about our wedding and how beautiful it was. I thought about my parents and brothers and wondered how hard this was for them to deal with. Millions of thoughts ran through my mind until I finally dozed off.
When I awoke my heart instantly started beating. I took a nice long shower and tried to relax. Before I knew it, it was time to go. When we reached the hospital, my heart felt as though it could pound out of my chest. I got signed in and sat down. To my surprise, Chris’ parents were already at the hospital. We all sat in the lobby and waited together. After a few minutes of chatting I was called back to prepare for surgery. They gave me gowns to put on and once I was changed, they showed me to my hospital bed. Chris came back and sat with me while I waited. I sat there for about a half hour before a nurse come back to tell me they were running behind. They then invited Chris’ parents back to help keep me company. After a few minutes passed a nurse came back to put my IV in. She could see how nervous I was. She hung around and talked with all of us to help pass the time. She told us how much they all liked my surgeon and they thought he was one of the best. Even though it was nice to hear…I was still beyond nervous. The minutes turned into hours…as it turns out, they were behind by an entire surgery. It wasn’t until about 3pm, 3hours after I arrived, a nurse came in and said they were ready.
Before I knew it, they were whisking me away. I was confused, this was happening so fast, I wasn’t ready and I was trying to say bye to Chris, but the tears kept pouring out. I managed to say bye as I passed through a set of double doors, then Chris was gone. I felt so alone but was surrounded by people. It seemed so chaotic. A nurse was giving me tissue, another was asking me questions and the anesthesiologist was putting me under. I laid my head back on my pillow, everything thing seemed to be in slow motion. The voices around me sounded muffled and distant as my eyes grew very heavy. They pushed me through another set of double doors where the surgeon and several more nurses stood waiting. I looked briefly around the room and then everything went dark…