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Chapter 7, To Cut or Not to Cut (and how deep?)

(Sorry, this was out of order chronologically and is now re-numbered as #7 instead of #8)

Early October 2008…my decision regarding surgery!

I visited a Vietnamese doctor who specializes in internal medicine, specifically stomach problems. He had helped me with my viral gastritis at the end of 2006 and when my husband asked his advice in April 2008 about a lymphoma on his back, he offered to do the surgery, which went very well. We’ve known him for some time, so I asked his advice about the breast cancer.

Typical of most doctors, he had a horror story to tell of his own uncle who’d rejected medical advice and insisted on dealing with his cancer in a natural way (what way that was, I wasn’t told). The doctor said several years later his uncle called him from the hospital begging him to help him, but it was too late. The cancer had spread and nothing could be done. He died shortly after that. The doctor proceeded to emphasize his point, so I thanked him for his advice and time and left.

However, the effect this had on me was much more than I’d expected. From his office, I went directly to a park where we often brisk walked for exercise. I walked and prayed asking for peace of mind and clarity in my thoughts. I desperately wanted to know what the Lord wanted me to do. It was nearly a month since my diagnosis and I hadn’t really gotten down to business in prayer asking the Lord what I should do about the lump. I had finally gotten a second doctor’s opinion and surprise, surprise; his view was very much in line with the French doctor’s.

One thing came to me strongly while I was walking and praying. It was a little word-picture of how a rotten tooth can make the whole body sick and must be pulled in order for good health to be restored. I immediately felt this was the answer to my question about what to do. I needed to have the lump removed.

In hindsight, I think I jumped a bit too quickly to the conclusion that I needed to have surgery right away, but at the time, it brought a flood of relief as my indecision had increased my stress, the longer I put off deciding.

So, I researched more about lumpectomy versus mastectomy and finally settled on the latter. The doctor had said a mastectomy would eliminate the need for radiation (and a side benefit was that it would also free me from pressure from the doctors on that point). I believed a mastectomy would also remove any cancer cells which had been leaked from the tumor when the biopsy was done—a major concern I had. My French doctor positively affirmed that it wasn’t possible for the cancer cells to be spread into the surrounding tissue when the needle was extracted, but I tended to believe the resources I’d read on the Internet that said it was entirely possible and now, since I’d decided to have surgery, I could just as well have them clean up the whole area. That was much of my rationale. Another less important point for me was my age. At 60, my breasts are not an emotional issue with me. I read many women’s comments in various forums for breast cancer survivors and I was surprised how many were really traumatized at the loss of a breast, like a good friend had died. I checked my heart about it and felt quite confident that there was no emotional issue for me and couldn’t see any major advantage to having a lumpectomy.

Again, in hindsight, there’s always more to learn. I wish I’d found more material on the Internet explaining the difference between the two in regards to long-term effects on the body and recovery time. But it’s too late now! I also didn’t pray specifically about this point, as I should have, so will probably always wonder if it was indeed the right decision.

So, on October 10, 2008, I made my decision and contacted the doctor to make the arrangements. Two days later, I received email from a close family friend saying that my 92-year old father had been admitted to hospital with a serious case of pneumonia which added to my desperation in prayer. Both of us would be in hospital at the same time.

On the 14th I wrote the following short email to let people know:

Dear family, friends and loved ones,

I just wanted to let you know I’ll have surgery tomorrow, October 15 and will appreciate your prayers. It’s scheduled for 3 p.m. our time so that’s 1 a.m. on the West Coast. (Please keep my dad in your prayers, too, as he’s in the hospital with pneumonia!)

That’s all for now!

Lots of love,

Me

Cut!

Posted by mygiftofcancer in breast cancer.
Tags: biopsybreast cancerfaithGodhealthJesusmastectomyprayersurgerytumor
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Many of my friends and family replied with relief and support to my announcement that I would be admitted for surgery and to my request for prayer, so, of course I was very encouraged and entered the hospital without fear and full of faith. I had that peace of mind that comes only when we’re trusting Jesus completely. I knew I was in His hands and nothing would happen without His allowing it for my good somehow, because He loves me. Long ago I chose Him as my Master, my Anchor and my Friend, and I trust Him completely—as my Husband—even until death. (Death is not the end anyway–the best is yet to come! it’s only a door to the beginning of a truly Heavenly life! So what is there to fear?)

On the 15th of October, 2008, I had a malignant tumor removed along with my entire right breast and 7 lymph nodes under my arm. Everything went very well. Thank You, Jesus for keeping me here a little longer, to do whatever You want me to do!

I was very groggy following the surgery, naturally, and was weighed down with an IV in my left arm and bandages on and tubes in my left side. I felt rather stiff, but little pain. What pain I did experience came from the semi-flexible tubing that was coiled around under my skin and from the places where the tubes were inserted. They were there to drain off the liquid my body continued to produce. I imagine that liquid was normally used to feeding and taking care of the cells which had now been removed, I’m not sure about that.

On the second day, the doctor instructed me in some exercises to do to help regain range of motion for my shoulder area, which I guardedly started right away. It took a while for me to be able to have nearly the same range I’d had before, but even now, 6 months later, I can’t reach quite as high with my right arm as my left and stretching my arms over my head gives a different feeling on my right side from my left. I suppose enough flesh and skin were removed that it’ll take more time still, to finally normalize, if ever. (Update June 2009: I think I have increased my range of motion a bit more and can now, 8 months later, stretch overhead just as high with my right arm as with my left. Praise God!)

Once the IV had been removed the first day, I had a bit more mobility and made my trips to the bathroom just carrying the bottles which the tubes were draining into. That was indeed a hassle, but In spite of the difficulties I had in getting enough sleep (I was in the maternity ward and shared a room with a laboring mother the second night and again with her and her baby the 3rdnight) I recovered quickly and was home again on the 4th day (still sporting one tube and a bottle to catch the liquid dripping out of my chest).

So, on October 18, 2008, I wrote:

Dear family, friends and loved ones,

Thanks for your prayers and positive thoughts for me! Surgery went well and I’m home now. I will return Monday to have a drainage tube removed and to check on healing progress, etc., but won’t have results of the tissue analysis for a week or so.

It sounds like Dad is doing better, too, for which we’re all very thankful.

I’ll try to reply asap to those of you who’ve written. Thanks so very much for all your concern and prayers. I’ve really felt the support and it’s just an awesome feeling knowing that so many people are intervening on my behalf. I’m very humbled by it. I’d also like to ask you to continue your petitions for my complete healing both from the surgery and the cancer.

Thanks so much! I love and appreciate you!

Lots of love,

Me

Comments»

1. Up to Chapter 8 now! « My Gift of Cancer - June 13, 2009

[…] my friend L. and I (Chapter 7, More Letters to and from L) and my decision regarding surgery (Chapter 8, To Cut or Not to Cut–And How Deep?). Read all the chapters of my cancer journey in my book-style compilation of earlier blogs by […]


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