Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chapter 26 ~ No News

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

There was a moment in recovery when a large, distorted face leaned over me, shouting, as if from a distance. Can you hear me? Wake up! “Was something wrong?” I wondered fearfully. “Were they unable to revive me?”

Then two people were rolling me into an elevator, one at the head of my bed and one at the foot. We took up the whole car. They brought me to a big room with bright windows and a little sitting area with a table and chairs, a long couch. It was the nicest patient room in the hospital. I knew my former boss, Mandy, must have arranged it for me.

My sisters and children came to the bed and kissed me, and smiled, and then set themselves up in the sitting room. Claire unpacked the family’s favorite board game, Settlers. Eddy, Rose, Henry, Jane and Francine pulled up chairs around the little table, unpacking the little colored pieces, stacking up the different cards, and giving the room a relaxed, homey feel. Lawrence sat near me, by the head of the bed. My entire chest was wrapped tightly in bandages. I wanted to lift the gauze to peer under it, but I couldn’t. I could see the left side was flat, the right slightly swelling. So at least they had taken the correct breast.

Then Dr. Andreas was sitting beside the bed, reporting. “The surgery went well,” she said. “We got all the breast tissue, with a good, clean margin around the DCIS. But we did find some cancer in the lymph nodes.” She was brusque.

“You did?” I looked at her in alarm. She’d told us before the surgery that if she didn’t find any cancer in the lymph nodes, my chance of recovery was 90-something percent. She hadn’t given a prognosis for the other circumstance.

“The good news is it wasn’t much,” she went on brightly. “We did the sentinal node biopsy during the surgery, as I told you we would, and found cancer there.” She lapsed momentarily into a scientific reverie. “You almost didn’t even have to do the biopsy. You could feel it--the node was hard.” Then she looked at me expectantly, as if this detail would impress me, as if the relative hardness of lymph nodes was something I could appreciate. But all I understood was that the unusual condition of my sentinal node was interesting data to her, a fine addition to her knowledge base. I felt like a lab rat.

“ So then we took out about 18 more, and though the lab results aren’t back yet—so it’s not official—it looks like there was cancer in only two of the 19.”

I looked at Lawrence, confused, and noticed for the first time that the rims around his eyelids were red. He held the bed’s remote control in one hand and slid the other up and down the cord. I knew the news wasn’t what we had hoped for, but Dr. Andreas sounded so positive.

“What does that mean?” I asked her.

“What it means is that your treatment isn’t over. I’ll refer you to a medical oncologist, who will manage your care from now on. There will be chemotherapy and radiation, probably. But the surgery definitely was a success. We got all the cancer that we could see, with a good margin. Now you’ll be going after any rogue cells that might have escaped through the lymphatic system and be lurking somewhere else in your body.”

“But I thought DCIS didn’t travel.”

“It doesn’t, normally, if you catch it soon enough. But if you don’t it changes into invasive cancer.”

“So that’s what was in my lymph nodes—invasive cancer?”

“Yes,” she told me.

“Okay,” I mumbled, trying not to react. “When do I start chemotherapy?”

“That will be up to your oncologist. You’re going to have to recover from surgery first, which will probably take a couple of weeks. But I’ll get the referral in the meantime, so you can meet with your new doctor and plan out the next steps.”

Then Dr. Andreas left. Lawrence climbed up onto the bed beside me and began crying softly into my neck. My sisters and children played Settlers in the sitting room, pretending not to notice. I held onto Lawrence and looked down at my bandaged chest, trying to envision what was underneath. I could see almost nothing--just a flat plane on the left, a slight swell on the right, and a glimpse of black marker escaping the bandage, the tips of the letters that spell the word “No.”

Come back next Sunday to read the next chapter, or buy a paperback copy of the whole novel HERE.

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