The pain is a small concession, though, in exchange for the knowledge that I am really and truly cancer free. Hooray! The lab results came in rather quickly, confirming Dr. Shibuya's initial examination that the cyst was not cancerous, despite its size. I feel as if I have been given a new beginning that's different from the feeling I had after my last chemo. Even after the final round, which was pretty terrible, I knew that in just a few short weeks I'd have to deal with this unknown growth inside my neck. And then came the consult with Dr. Shibuya and the news that yet another form of cancer might be creeping over me, like the tenth plague of Passover.
But the surgery has come and gone, and -- with faith, sacrifice, and hope -- this, too, has passed. Now that we know it's benign, there are no more cysts to check out, no more infusions, and no more pain! Just clear sailing from here on out! Of course, I do have to be vigilant about the lymphoma coming back, but for now, all I want to do is rejoice and feel better. Because I *am* better.
I don't recall much of Monday after the surgery. As my sister's entry mentioned, I had some things to say once under anesthesia. But after the surgery, I was in so much pain, all I remember is seeing Evan. I wanted so badly to open my eyes and see him, but all I could manage is an eyelid flutter. I wanted to hold him, to kiss him. Then I remember seeing my mother. I called out to her (or thought I did), and said in Korean, "I hurt." I remember a tear seeping out of my closed eyelid, and my mother wiping it away. What is it about mothers that reverts you back to a 5 year old? You automatically think that she will know how to make the hurt go away if you tell her where it is.
I remember the nurse asking me if I would like morphine. Despite the pain, I tried to tell him that I didn't want morphine, but I couldn't recall why. I knew that it wouldn't sit well with me. But since I could not talk, and I was obviously in pain, I nodded, and he administered the morphine via IV. Then my body remembered what my mind could not -- the itch! Oh, my goodness, it was merciless, like my body was covered in fire ants crawling all over my skin. I started scratching furiously, even in my reduced state. Thankfully, the nurse was able to counter the morphine with IV-administered Benadryl, which helped significantly, and I was able to sleep through most of the rest of that day.
However, pain medication, like most things in life, only lasts for so long. Soon enough the pain started to return and Joe and my sister started asking me if I wanted to have more medication. I resisted at first, particularly given the reaction I'd had to the morphine earlier that day. But the pain was getting worse, and we all knew it wasn't going to get better. So my sister and Joe flagged the nurse, and after some negotiation over my rejection of the morphine and my inability to swallow pills, he procured me some special ordered liquid hydrocodone. It worked like a charm.
At some point during that day I noticed a bottle partially filled with dark red, viscous liquid. It was just one of several items attached to me via tubes, but it was definitely the only one filled with blood. Joe noticed me looking at it, and I raised my eyebrows to ask him what it was.
"The bottle and tube are there to allow the area they operated on to drain, if needed. Without the drain, it would collect inside your throat and potentially cause a hematoma to block your airway."
He must have noticed my reaction, because he gestured towards a tightly sealed blue package near the bed.
"They keep that sterile set of surgical equipment by the bed just for that reason. The drain helps minimize the pooling, but just in case, we're prepared to do what we need to do in order to protect your airway. I am prepared to open that tray and cut you open to unblock your airway, if needed," he said very seriously.
I touched the outside of the surgical package gingerly.
"See the block stripes?" Joe asked. I nodded. "That means it's sterile. I'm keeping a close eye on your drain, but be careful. When Evan was on the bed I was really worried that he would pull on it -- the drain is attached to your neck by a small stitch, and even though that's enough to hold the drain in place, it definitely wouldn't have been strong enough to withstand Evan's weight."
"I know you want to hold Evan, but we'll be home tomorrow. Just be careful when you're with him -- I'm keeping a close eye on the drain but it will be pretty bad if he does something to it."
I nodded. I was surprised at all his forethought and preparation, and all that he was willing to do to take care of me. I was humbled, and made a mental note to stop questioning his advice so much.
The next day, I was able to speak a little better. Dr. Shibuya came by at about 6:40 in the morning to go over what to expect for the next few days and remove my drain, stitch and all. I was scared, but he was swift. It did hurt, but what surprised me more was the strange feeling of having a long, thin tube pulled out of you. The stitch was painful, but the pull was...icky. And long! It must have been almost down to my chest. Ew. But Dr. Shibuya then gave the orders for discharge, which meant that all we had to do was wait for the day nurse to arrive, provide us our prescriptions, and complete the paperwork.
Joe was elated to be leaving the hospital. His happiness during the pack-up and drive home was palpable. We were -- at least initially -- in the clear. The initial examination indicated no cancer, the operation had been completed successfully, and the recovery was going well, without any complications due to a hematoma. We were going home.
I tried to keep it together on the drive, but it was more exhausting than I expected. I crashed on my usual recovery place -- the couch -- and fell fast asleep within minutes of arriving home. I vaguely recall Catherine and Joe bustling about, taking care of errands, making sure everything was in place, and checking my medications to make sure they'd be able to remind me to take them once they were needed. Catherine was headed back home and back to work the next day, so she really wanted to make sure she did everything she could while she was with me.
And, through it all, I slept. I even slept through my friend Natalie's brief visit, during which she stealthily dropped off flowers while Catherine was cleaning the garage and Joe returned calls from the hospital. Catherine later noted that she didn't even realize she'd come by until she stepped back into the house and smelled their beautiful fragrance filling the house! Natalie is always so thoughtful.
By that evening, though, I was awake, in pain, and slightly nauseous from the pain meds. I guess there's no such thing as a free lunch. My sister forced me to take some more pain medication before we went to bed, but it wasn't enough to last until the next morning. I woke up barely able to speak, much less swallow, but by that point was almost grateful to take the medication Joe brought up for me.
I have to say, despite the nausea that sometimes accompanies the medication, the meds are pretty effective at managing my pain. Temporarily. I hate just sitting around doing nothing, so while I could I made Joe and my sister some breakfast. My sister was a bit surprised at the bacon and eggs I pulled together, but I wanted to make sure she ate a good breakfast before flying home.
My sister texted me from the airport and called me in an attempt to force me to rest for the rest of the day, but I've always had difficulty accepting rest as a restorative cure. I slept for a good portion of the day, and apparently was so dazed and sick-looking my friend Sharon left almost as soon as she came by. When I informed her of my plans to go to Fashion Island later to get some air, she gave me a dubious look and advised me to rest.
Needless to say, despite multiple people advising me to take a break, I ventured to Fashion Island where I proceeded to get so sick I threw up in the parking lot. The nausea continued throughout the drive back and when I finally returned home to rest and throw up some more. Sigh. For someone who is supposedly so smart, I can be rather stupid.
By Thursday, though, things were looking better and Joe was able to go back to work. The pain was tolerable in comparison to the morning before, so I started the day without pain medications. My positive trajectory continued throughout the day, and Joe was extremely happy to see me looking so well when he returned home that evening. So happy, in fact, that he said he'd reveal a not-so-little secret he'd been hiding since before the surgery.
My ears perked up. "What do you mean?"
"Remember when I said there are more risks involved with removing both the left and right halves of your thyroid?"
"Yes," I said cautiously.
"And remember when you asked me what would happen if they cut a nerve on one side, I said you'd be hoarse, and when you asked what would happen if they cut the nerve on both sides, I said you'd just be really hoarse?"
"Yes," I said again.
"Well...I wasn't exactly honest about that. If they accidentally cut the laryngeal nerves on both side, you'd be unable to speak and might end up breathing out of a tube indefinitely." He looked both relieved and slightly sheepish.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "I can't believe you LIED to me!"
He smiled a bit. "Yes, I did, but I didn't want you to get too worried about such an outside risk. It was important to make sure you were safe."
Go figure. It turns out my husband can be as strategic and stubborn as the attorney he married.
Well, this will be my last blog post. I feel that this chapter is coming to a close, and it is time to say goodbye to cancer, round 1. A new blog may ensue should the lymphoma come back, but for now I will bid you all adieu. Thank you all for all your love and support during these hard times. Because of you, when I look back on this moment in my life, I won't just see cancer or pain. The predominant memories will be of friendship, and of love.
With all my love, always,
|I'll do my best to live up to the example set by all of you. Thank you, so much, for being a part of my journey.|