Menopause

My Cancer Story: The Surgery


CokeCoke girl here!

Drinks are now permitted up to two hours prior to your scheduled arrival time at the hospital: water, apple juice, Gatorade, sodas, (Coke is one of the examples in the above pamphlet!) and black coffee with no milk or creamer. They’ve  found that hydrated patients usually have less trouble with nausea.

So when I awoke at four AM on surgery day, I took a few sips of  my beloved Coca-cola.

What’s NOT allowed is makeup. I put on a minuscule amount, but let’s keep that our secret.

As Cliff drove me to UNC Hospital an hour later, I had five predominant fears about the day ahead.

1. At the top of the list was the pathology report. The pathology would be done while I was under. I’d know right away.

2. Nausea upon waking. I hate to throw up, and my body does not handle it with grace.

3. The intubating tube being pulled from my throat. The nurse in Precare said they do this AFTER you’re awake, but you’re too groggy to notice. Yikes. Groggy or not, that sounded bad.

4. The catheter. This would be inserted while I was under, but the whole concept creeped me out.

5. A roommate. I’m a people person, but not a room-sharer. I kept telling myself this was nothing compared with Fear Number One (and the others). Buck up. Barbara. Your hospital stay is only one night.

unnamed

When we got to pre-op, I was whisked away to a large cubicle with a Carolina blue curtain. (This was UNC, after all.)

A resident and a medical student were the first to pop in. “Can you explain what you’re having done today?” the resident asked me.

“I’m having my uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and nearby lymph nodes removed because I have uterine cancer. While I’m out, pathology will be done. If the cancer is in the lymph nodes, they’ll take additional nodes to determine how far it has spread.”

“Excellent!” she said.

I felt pleased to pass the test. (Those of us who work with words take our praise in whatever form we can.)

We chatted about my illness, the surgery, and what the recovery should be like.

They left, and I met my pre-op nurse. Jeannie put me at ease and did an IV in my hand so painless I hardly knew it was happening.

An anesthesiologist introduced herself next. I noted to myself how good her hair looked for 6:40 in the morning (smooth and curled in a pageboy).

“I hate to throw up,” I told her.

“No worries. We’ve got great drugs we’ll put in that IV. How are your teeth? Do they chip?”

On no! My teeth love to chip, especially on important occasions.

She promised to be careful.  “And what about reflux?”

“I had a bout of reflux a few years ago,” I said.

“Tilt your head back. Let me look at your airway.”

What if my airway is bad? What happens then, I wondered, but didn’t ask.

“Good airway,” she said.

Phew!

Jeannie sent for Cliff.

He snapped this picture and filled me in on life in the waiting room, which sounded like it had soap opera potential. He’d have time to soak up plenty more during my three hour operation.
Prep Room

Throughout this entire process, I kept my eye on the clock in front of me. I watched it move from 6:15 to 7:25, sort of like waiting for midnight on New Year’s Eve  but without any hope of champagne.*

With a word from Jeannie, Cliff kissed me goodbye and was off.

And so was I, to the operating room.

I’ve been told you don’t remember much about the operating room. I tried to pay attention.

I saw the fancy robotic instruments, and that’s all I had time to take in.

They had me scooch from the chair in the picture above to the operating table.

Someone put a mask over my face. “Breathe, Barbara. This is oxygen. The anesthesia is coming next in your IV line.”

Two weeks before the surgery, I asked my son-in-law Matt how he dealt with his surgery, a spinal fusion, at age twenty. “Were you scared?”

“Not really. I figured there’s no one more qualified to help you than the doctors,” Matt answered.

I love simple advice that is oh-so-smart. And in its simplicity, the best advice sticks with us.

I kept Matt’s words in my head and heart the weeks before surgery and especially that morning.

I couldn’t save my own life.

I needed the expertise of my surgeon and her team.

Take it way, Dr. Gehrig.

And thank you.

Dr. Gehrig

 

Click on the photo above to hear my surgeon, Paola Gehrig, talk about endometrial cancer.

* Actually, as it turned out, there is champagne in the story, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

 

Menopause

My Cancer Story: Getting Ready for Surgery

nightgowns

I’m a project person.

I like to be organized.

And I’m fond of shopping.

So I took on preparing for surgery with a touch of gusto. I was scheduled for a hysterectomy on July 8. A month earlier a biopsy had revealed endometrial cancer.

I bought a new nightgown.

 

Hospital Stuff

I found stretchy shorts. I wouldn’t be able to wear waistbands for a while.

And I picked up some other post-surgery items.

I put sheets on the guestroom beds, since I thought it best not to climb our long stairs for a week or so.

And I made the house as tidy as could be.

As the day approached, a sort of calm came over me.

Yet I had moments when my illness hit me anew. Our pastor sends out a weekly email with announcements of upcoming happenings at Hillsborough Presbyterian Church.

 

Church Announcement

 

Me.

Cancer.

I felt so good. How could I be sick?

The night before the surgery, I took a final walk on our brand new riverwalk. I had no idea when I’d be able to walk this trail again.

Riverwalk

I talked to my girls on the phone, and to my mom (I didn’t tell her a word about my illness until after the surgery).

Got the blog set.

Packed my hospital bag.  Added a folder with my Living Will.

Gave my ID and medical card to Cliff to carry.

Took a shower with antibacterial scrub per hospital instructions. Talk about squeaky clean!

The very last project was taking off my nail polish.  Hospital rules state it has to be removed. One pedicure down the tubes.

toes

Three weeks later, after the surgery, I sank into a bit of a funk. My oncologist said it’s normal. “You sail into cancer surgery with  blinders on,” she explained. “You do what you have to do. Later you stop and really reflect.”

And that was me.

I did what I had to do.

And got as ready as I could.

With the help of my husband and the well wishes of friends and family, I was off to UNC Hospital at five the next morning. Lights out!