Finally, we are on our way to Moffitt for surgery. It seems I have waited an eternity for this day, yet now that it’s here I’m feeling panicky. John senses it and, as he’s driving, reaches over to hold my hand. He whispers, “I love you. You’re gonna be fine.” Jesus holds the other hand and whispers just as clearly, “I am here. Be not afraid.”
I go over the decision in my head for the thousandth time. Am I doing the right thing?
We chose double mastectomy. Even though the spot on the left is not malignant, it could become so anytime and I’d have to go through all of this again. I’ll do almost anything to avoid that.
I am blessed to have no complicating conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Because of that I’ve been given the option to have a surgery where they remove the breast tissue but preserve the skin, then use my own belly tissue to reconstruct the breasts. It’s an eight-hour surgery and requires five days in the hospital. It also has a longer, slower recovery at home, but the results will be permanent, as opposed to implants, which last only about 10 years.
Dr. Khakpour will do the mastectomy. Dr. Wells, the plastic surgeon, will make two incisions from hip to hip. I can barely allow myself to think about it. And yet, I know I’ve made the right choice.
At Moffitt, we go first to the blood draw area. The tech, Veronica, is sweet and reassuring. On the second floor I change into a hospital gown. They write “yes” in black marker on both breasts. I’m tempted to grab the pen and add a big exclamation point.
John stays by my side as I’m situated on a gurney. The anesthesiologist comes in to explain what she will do. It seems we are waiting forever but it’s really only about 10 minutes till a nurse injects something into my I.V. to calm me. The drug starts to work so fast I am barely aware when they begin moving the gurney into the hallway and toward the O.R.
The next thing I hear is a nurse saying, “Joyce, wake up Joyce. Surgery’s all done…Joyce?” I hear my name but I don’t want to wake up. For some reason my toe hurts. I try to ignore it, but then someone squeezes it hard. I wince and croak out, “Ouch!”
My eyes flutter open and close again almost immediately. I want to keep them open but can’t. Except for that toe, which is absolutely throbbing, I am not aware of pain anywhere. What I am aware of is John, standing beside me holding my hand. He gently kisses my forehead and I open my eyes to smile at him.
The next two days are a blur, sleeping off the anesthesia, waking only to sip water and press the button on my morphine pump. Gradually, I’m awake enough to be told that I have to remain flat on my back with my knees up to avoid strain on my incision. I’m also aware that there are pressure boots on my lower legs. They noisily inflate about every 30 seconds, day and night, to preclude the formation of blood clots.
There is a second bed in my room just for John. Day and night he is never more than a few steps away. Each time I wake, he squeezes my hand or strokes my hair and says, “You’re doing fine.”
Love is the best medicine of all.