As promised, here is the long story of my very busy December. If you’re worried, stop worrying. I want to start the new year with less worrying.
By busy, I mean no free weekends to enjoy our new house or do anything outdoorsey. I’ll pick up where I left off here, when I had to leave town abruptly before a planned road trip to Oregon to get my dog. That unplanned flight to Los Angeles had to do with the melanoma that turned up on my shoulder back in November. Okay, so it had been there for a while. November was just when I got the results of biopsy from a recent dermatologist visit.
Doc did eventually make it home to us. As a side note: on our trip to pick him up I left my phone on top of my car, it fell off, and was run over multiple times. Fortunately someone found it and it still worked! With a new screen is was almost good as new!
The funny/ironic/sad thing about me having a melanoma is that my dad has always been known as somewhat of a skin cancer Nazi among family and friends. Even though we wore much, much more sunscreen than the average kids growing up in the 90’s, my brother and I used to feel like we’d committed some kind of crime when we got sunburned. We are fair skinned, blue-eyed, and doomed to live in fear of the sun for the rest of our lives.
My melanoma (doesn’t that have an endearing ring to it?) was large enough to warrant a pretty extensive surgery to remove the area around it as well as the nearby lymph nodes where cancer cells might have migrated. I was working on getting an appointment for that procedure at UCSF but wasn’t having much luck so my dad pulled some strings at the university cancer center where he works. With less than a days notice, I was flying to SoCal.
I spent an entire day in exam rooms, alongside ultrasound machines, and under the care of several wonderful doctors. I went home with a biopsied lymph node in my armpit, three stitched-up biopsy spots where a dermatologist decided to test some of my other moles, and an appointment to return for the surgery on January 18th. All those biopsies came back negative but January 18th wasn’t soon enough for the surgery as far as my dad was concerned.
Three days before Christmas Eve, when my dad called me at work to tell me there was a opening and the doctor could do the surgery on December 22, I was not happy. I did not want to fly South to be cut open. I didn’t want to be recovering over Christmas and miss out on those last precious days before the holiday itself arrived. Reluctantly, though, I gave in and my dad made the arrangements. I know he was worried about me and it would have ruined his Christmas to have to keep worrying.
This guy kept me sane through it all.
My second visit to LA involved a pre-surgery procedure and an early morning in the operating room. The day I arrived, they injected radioactive stuff under the skin at the melanoma site (ouch!). That stuff – okay it was an isotope, lets get technical – flowed to the nearest lymph nodes, which happened to be in my armpit, and helped the surgeon find them the next morning.
I had a deeeeelicious dinner at an Italian restaurant with my dad that night and Pinkberry (a special treat) for dessert. We stayed in a hotel because my dad’s apartment is so tiny.
On surgery morning, I got to the hospital at 5 am and began the two-hour process of changing into a gown, funny hat, and socks and having 7 different people ask me the same questions. What is your name? What are you here for today? What shoulder is it on? Do you have any allergies? When was the last time you had something to eat?
I’d never had any kind of surgery requiring general anesthesia before. The whole pre-op room was super interesting, which was nice cause without all those diverting conversations to overhear and people to watch I would never have been able to stay awake to answer all the questions. At 7:30am I finally went into the operating room. That is, the anesthesiologist gave me an injection of “stuff to make me calm and happy”, which also made me forget everything after they wheeled me out of the pre-op room. I know the surgeon was there in his suspenders. That made me happy. Suspenders are cool.
When I woke up I was in the recovery room and a nurse was trying to talk to me. Waking up from Anesthesia was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. I was so frustrated because I just couldn’t stay awake no matter how hard I tried. It took me all afternoon to wake up and a couple of tries to get out of the room. The first time I got up, went to the bathroom, and realized that my body wasn’t ready to be vertical yet. I went back to bed and back to sleep. On my second attempt, the nurse helped me get dressed and someone wheeled me out to meet my dad in his car. He got me a chocolate banana smoothie from Starbucks, per my request for a smoothie. It tasted wonderful and staid down.
My shoulder hurt. They had taken out five lymph nodes but found all of them normal. I had dressings on the top/front of my left shoulder and under my left arm. I was still so tired. Pain medication and lots of pillows helped me get through the night but by the morning it was clear that super-duper pain meds make me sick. I stopped taking them.
Some yummy eats from the past month. I’ve been making lots of pizza!
I did a lot of cooking+eating but not much exercising thanks to my wounds.
I negotiated the rest of the holiday season with my left arm in a sling and a limited range of motion in my shoulder. The sling mostly kept my arm from resting on my swollen armpit and discouraged movements that might have ripped wounds open. I kept the waterproof dressings on for as long as possible so I didn’t see my actual incisions for a while. When I finally took all the bandages off (two weeks post-surgery) it was worse than I thought! I almost passed out when the surgeon unveiled my shoulder incision, complete with 7 staples! Those came out last week (3 weeks post-surgery) so now I look a little less like Frankenstein.