Ultrasounds, Herceptin, and Surgery… Oh my!

Since my surgery is scheduled for next Tuesday, it´s been a busy week full of medical to-do´s. Although I feel like I am at peace with what´s about to happen, I know that I will get more and more nervous as my time “under the knife” draws near. Luckily one of my oldest friends, Jen, is coming in to town tonight and we have a fun weekend planned. I know this will be very good for keeping my mind off of the surgery.
Yesterday I had an ultrasound done on my ovaries… it was one of those awkward moments where I wished someone had informed me what that procedure was going to be like beforehand. I clued in pretty quickly though, once I saw the stirrups attached to the chair in the room, and hurried back into the bathroom to remove more clothing under my hospital gown… Why do all medical exams have to be so humiliating?? Anyway, the doctor who performed the ultrasound didn´t seem too worried about what was appearing on the screen, so I guess the ovaries are okay. In fact while he was doing the exam we had a jolly old chat about skiing in Spanish, which is funny since I´ve only ever gone skiing twice. I am assuming Dr. Buhler would let me know prior to Tuesday if I need to have surgery to remove the cysts as well. But this is Chile, so if I receive an email Monday night around 7:00 PM, I would not be surprised.
After that procedure I headed down to meet with Dr. Schwember, my plastic surgeon. I had been told he was very nice and very good and that he spoke English. About one minute into the meeting, I decided that Spanish was probably the way to go if I hoped to glean any important information about the procedure on Tuesday. I was kind of worried that I would have to make a rush decision about what kind of reconstruction to do, but it turns out that I won´t be able to do the actual reconstruction until after radiation, so I don´t really have to decide until then. For now they are going to put in an expander and pump it full of saline solution every few weeks or so to allow the skin to stretch and make room for the new breast. Apparently there are two different kinds of reconstruction. Something called a flap procedure where they take fat from your stomach or butt and put it into your breast. Sounds good to me! Or you can go with the traditional silicon or saline implants. Not sure yet what I am going to go with, but I´ll leave that decision for another time. Regardless, I breathed a sigh of relief that my Spanish was good enough to have an intelligent conversation about this subject with my doctor. However, writing down my own doctor´s note: “ I, Elizabeth Timms, give permission to Dr. Gerardo Schwember to perform a skin expanding surgery on my left mammary next Tuesday, April the 16th”, dictated by the doctor, to me, in Spanish, was another matter. I know that we routinely ask 3rd and 4th graders to perform dictation in English class, but asking someone to spell something not in their native language after listening to it spoken extremely quickly with a Chilean accent is a special kind of torture.
Today I am back at Clinica Alemana to receive my antibodies (Herceptin and Perjeta). Of course, like always, scheduling the treatment required many last-minute emails of panic between me and the doctor´s office. There never seems to be much foresight involved regarding my oncological treatments. Sigh… so imagine my surprise when early this week the doctor´s secretary said I have to be admitted to the hospital on Thursday and spend the night. I know from vast internet research that the antibody treatment is (maximum) three hours long and is ALWAYS an out-patient treatment in the United States, so of course I was not too pleased. Jon is currently out of town for a basketball tournament in Uruguay and Jen´s flight gets in at 3:00 AM. I told the doctor I really need to be allowed to leave Thursday night because there will be no one to pick my friend up at the airport or give her the keys to my house. Yesterday afternoon I received a response and luckily Majlis agreed that I would be able to leave immediately following my treatment. We´ll see… so far it´s 2:30 in the afternoon and no one has even been in my hospital room to check me in, let alone start hooking me up to my IV. Just kidding, a nurse just came in and was surprised that I was here because no one had informed them. Gotta love the efficiency! Oh well, as long as I´m out by 2:30 AM I´ll be happy. I gave Chingy and Kublai lots of food and giant bones to chew on before I left the house so I think they´ll be okay on their own.
Also, a side note: tomorrow my friends and I are celebrating Bye-Bye Boobie Night here in Santiago, so wherever you are in the world, I invite you to make a toast Friday night to all the women who´ve lost a breast or two to this terrible disease. Since my last post I´ve joined several online breast cancer support groups and have realized that there are WAY too many women out there who´ve had mastectomies. Which gets me thinking, why haven´t we come up with a better way to treat breast cancer then chopping off body parts and then subjecting the patient to six weeks of radiation??? I mean, these things can´t be good for you… I´ve read about people, like Suzanne Somers, in her book “Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who are Curing Cancer ”, who have rejected traditional cancer treatment methods and preferred to treat their disease with good diet and natural supplements, etc, and since she´s had cancer twice and still alive, I guess there definitely may be something to that. But it seems pretty risky to ignore the advice of what doctors have been telling patients for at least the last 100 years. Still, I´m pretty sure that someday in some history book, people are going to look back at the way humans treated cancer in this day and age and laugh. Just like when my students laugh as I tell them about blood letting and bubos piercing as a cure for the plague. I mean, how ridiculous, right??!! But alas, no other good options have been offered up at this point so I guess we better keep up those donations for Race for the Cure. Hopefully someday 30 year-old women with breast cancer won´t have to live the rest of their lives without their breasts.
Okay, another treatment update… so the nurse who orders the drugs just came in and said the doctor has left instructions for me to take the taxotere today along with the Herceptin. WTF??!!!! Majlis clearly said I was done with chemo…. Buhler thought I was done with chemo…. I thought I was done with chemo…This is so frustrating I want to cry. With firm but wavering voice, I told the nurses that they need to go check on that because that is not what I had discussed with the doctor last time. I am not taking taxotere today, especially since I have my surgery next week!!! I wish I wasn´t here by myself, I wish my Spanish didn´t deteriorate when I get upset, and I wish every treatment didn´t have to be so stressful. Seriously, every time I have had a treatment there is confusion, things always happen at the last minute, and I always have to advocate for myself. I never feel certain about anything. I wonder if this happens in every hospital, or is it because I´m a dumb gringo who doesn´t understand the Chilean system? I am definitely getting tired of it though. Oh good- Majlis just said I didn´t have to take the taxotere. Maybe if there were charts on the patients´ beds or if he remembered conversations that he has had with his patients, then life would be a little easier. Seriously, this day did not have to be this ridiculously stressful…. It always turns out okay in the end, but I hope surgery day is less stressful and goes as planned. I know that since Buhler will be there it will probably be fine. Fingers crossed.

4 comments

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  1. Julie Kaifesh

    Way to stick up for yourself and make sure they aren’t screwing up!! Unbelievable.
    Make Jen take really good care of you this week and wait on you hand and foot. 🙂 Or maybe you have some cleaning that needs to be done?? She is really good at that! ( ;
    And try to have some fun this week. Love you!

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  2. Robs

    Thinking of you today! Send an update when you can. PS one of my sisters good friends specializes in reconstruction in Houston. Could be a really good person for you to talk to or see when you go back to Houston. xoxo

    Like

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