I’m sorry for these long update emails, but I can’t keep track of who knows what anymore, so apologies if you’ve already heard this news, or if you never wanted to get such detail in the first place (if the latter is true, let me know and I won’t send you these long, long emails anymore). This is also so I can remember the details for myself, some of which are already starting to fade. Feel free to skim 🙂
In brief: Since Tuesday, I’ve had a doctor’s appointment of some variety every day, and all of them have gone well or as expected (which is good).
Tuesday was the day of The Plan with the plastic surgeon. We would have surgery to remove the rest of the mole ASAP, and also do a sentinel lymph node biopsy to make sure it hadn’t spread (85% of SNLB show no spread, so that’s good). That same day, I got the call from the scheduler, which is phenomenally fast in the world of medicine. Surgery was scheduled for Monday, May 2.
Wednesday: I had the baseline lymph node mapping so they would know which lymph nodes to biopsy during surgery. I went by myself, since it wasn’t a big procedure, and no results would be shared. We had already discussed possible risks of this, since it does involve injection of a small amount of radioactive dye into the mole area on my face. On Tuesday, the Kaiser nuclear medicine expert had said the amount of radiation that would get to the baby was minimal, and we get more from the rocks in the Rockies or traveling in an airplane. We all agreed the risks of not knowing the spread outweighed the risks to our mostly developed baby. However. Day of procedure, I’m in the waiting room and the person in the white coat (doctor? radiologist?) who calls my name comes over to me and says “Why are you doing this? You’re pregnant, you know this is radioactive, right? What will they do if they find something? They won’t do anything until the baby is born,so why do this now?” Basically, asking me lots of questions I thought my doctor and I had already answered, and in a very confrontational way, making me feel like I was jeopardizing my baby “just because.” He brings me back and offers to call the radiologist (so then… who are you exactly, if not a radiologist???), and the radiologist confirms what we had already known/heard. He even tells me I’m “well-informed” (AKA smart enough to know that “radiation” does not automatically = death).
The rest of the procedure is fine. I breathe through the pain of the 4 injections to my temple thinking of them as good practice for birth, and the most uncomfortable part is laying flat on my back without moving for the imaging (pregnant women are typically told to lay on their side because the weight of the baby/uterus cut off blood supply on the back). But, he found 3 nodes for potential biopsy and marked them on my face with lovely permanent marker. After the awful tech, the worst part was a woman in a wheelchair and on oxygen getting a heart scan looking at me with deep empathy, not knowing why I’m there, but clearly knowing it’s not a good thing that a pregnant woman is in nuclear medicine, and whispering “Take care.” It wasn’t pity, but true emotion and it broke my heart. I went to work in the afternoon and ended up having a really positive/hopeful evening.
Thursday: Pre-op consult with surgeon is cancelled, since they found good nodes and there was not much else to discuss. This is great news, because then Peter and I don’t need to take time off of work (which we are obviously needing to do a lot). I am feeling sadder, for unclear reasons. Maybe because I got the diagnosis a week ago today? Maybe because this is just a roller coaster ride? Who knows. In the afternoon, I have my pro-op physical, to make sure I can handle anesthesia. It’s just a routine pre-op office, with lots of different procedures. The intake nurse asks how far along I am (32 weeks) and says “Are you having a Cesarean?” I sweetly say “no,” and leave it at that. She is obviously a little befuddled and taken aback. I’m a little sad that I can’t just be a normal pregnant woman there for a c-section.
Once in the consultation room, the same nurse asks me what procedure I am having and when I tell her I’m getting a melanoma removed, I don’t think she knows what that means. She then tells me a story about her own daughter’s birth she has clearly told a hundred times, because she gets a little annoyed when I ask a question that cuts off her punchline. And frankly, I don’t care that the doc said she was having a boy and it turned out to be a girl because she prayed for it. Thankfully, the real pre-op nurse is awesome, expresses sympathy at the get-go, has worked in dermatology before and gives me a recommendation for a dermatologist to follow me when this is all over, and gives me several other good suggestions for recovery. I’m good to go for surgery.
Friday: I barely slept at all Thursday night, from worry about things to take care of at work before going out for 2-3 days, from worry about getting maternity pictures arranged for the weekend before my face is sliced open on Monday, from general worry about the sheer number of things to do before Monday, also knowing that I will be working a full day Friday and then will go straight to our first birthing class from 6-9 Friday evening (thanks to some wonderful, amazing friends & coworkers, those worries have now all been dealt with).
I rescheduled my “regular” 32-week OB appointment for Friday, as it was supposed to be Monday that that clearly wasn’t happening. In addition to the new questions about the implications of the melanoma diagnosis, I had already compiled a huge list of birth questions, since I had actually started reading and thinking about this stuff in a more real way. Luckily, my OB just confirmed what I had thought: he is AWESOME. Provided we get the news we want from surgery and everything is clear, we can “pretend like this never happened” from an OB point of view. If other things come into play, like other courses of treatment, there are a variety of options, but I prefer to cross those bridges only if we come to them. Of course, safety of the baby is top priority, but so is my health and safety. In addition to the good news that I won’t be high-risk now or need any other kinds of interventions, my doc was just SO empathetic and caring. It went such a long way in making me feel better about everything. Other good news: the Kaiser practice apparently is about as hippie as OBs come, since everything I asked about that I had read in my hippie birthing books was their standard practice (minimal intervention, lots of mobility, basically anything that I want to do, as long as it’s safe and there are no complications). Peter can even “catch” the baby if all is going well! I really didn’t think we were going to be able to get away with that one in a hospital!
Friday evening: Our first birth class. Overall, I really liked it, as we again got really lucky with our hospital, that has the same viewpoint as my OB for birth: natural is the “normal” way, and then we will cover other kinds of births from there. (I’ve heard that many places consider epidurals “normal” and only briefly mention natural birth). Peter and I had already watched a movie that had video of several natural births, so I didn’t expect to be so moved by the first one we saw. But as soon as the woman had the baby and held it in her arms, I was practically sobbing. I think it was the first time in more than a week that I truly realized that something AMAZING and INCREDIBLE was coming that far outshone all of this negative stuff we are going through right now.
Since then, it has been so much easier to be fully positive about this experience. It’s almost like my priorities for the last week were understandably flipped, and I was more worried about what might happen and living in the fear/sadness of all of this *crap* that is cancer, no matter what kind, but then last night, those priorities flipped again and I could go back to living in the light of positive thinking and anticipation for this wonderful little person who WILL be coming into our lives.
As always, I reserve the right to change my mind 🙂 Hopefully, though, I can stay positive through surgery and know that everything will be JUST FINE.
Thanks, as always, for your love, support, messages and emails. I am trying to do my best to respond to everyone, but with the craziness of scheduling this week, I might not have gotten back to you, and for that, I apologize. Know that even if I don’t write back, your thoughts and love are TRULY what is making this bearable for us.
Shannon & Peter