February 2, 2018 –
Walking into the Heart and Vascular Center at Riverbend Hospital, I told myself I was going to make a positive impression on everyone I met that day. The staff attendant told me to go to window three to be checked in.
I skipped (literally) to the window and consciously thought, this is going to be fun and easy. When the patient care receptionist asked for my pertinent information, I could tell she was outgoing and fun. I had not eaten or had anything to drink for nine hours in preparation for my surgery. The staff was having a potluck since it was Groundhog Day, and we made jokes about food, how parched I was, and being stuck in an endless Groundhog Day loop. It helped me to know that I could make this entire process a fun experience. She pointed upstairs, told me a receptionist would greet me, and handed me a small ticket.
The ticket made me think of Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, which was one of my favorite movies as a kid. In the movie each child finds a golden ticket in their chocolate bar. (I ate a lot of chocolate bars when I was a kid but never found one.) In the movie the kids redeemed their golden ticket for what they perceived was what they wanted behind a special door.
I handed the receptionist my ticket and said, “I am here to redeem my golden ticket.” My golden ticket, of course, is curing my cancer and getting a clean bill of health in the future. I took a seat in the lobby.
Soon the technician called my name and took me back to a room. She explained that she was going to insert a needle into my breast and while it would be uncomfortable, the real pain would come when she injected the dye below my skin. She told me that it was going to hurt “like a bee sting you can’t swat away.”
I asked to get out my phone, pulled up some hiking pictures on Pinterest, and told her to start the procedure. What the technician didn’t know was that my best friend, Laura, and I (you can spot us in the coral-colored shirts in the photo) had just hiked the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction, Arizona, for three days with a group of women and two REI guides.
Mid-morning on the second day of hiking a bee dive-bombed my neck and stung me right on the jugular vein. It hurt like heck, but it gradually turned into a dull pain. I once had a spiritual leader teach me how to use that type of physical pain to focus your mind at a whole new level and block out the pain by pinpointing it and then searching your mind and soul for what is really happening to your body. I felt pretty spectacular when I learned the process, and it definitely came in handy when the bee stung me.
When we finally stopped for lunch and took off our packs, I asked Laura to look at my neck. She said, “Jeez, the stinger is still in your neck. Why didn’t you say something?” And I just thought, because I just told myself for the last hour and a half that I am tough, I can survive anything, and pain is only what you perceive it to be.
It was only a few minutes and the technician was pulling the needle out of my body. The dye would identify the sentinel node in my armpit so my surgeon would be able to determine if my cancer is isolated in my left breast or if it has passed through the sentential node and into different parts of my body.
The pathology reports are due back in three days and will determine whether I have to do chemo and radiation or just radiation. I am preparing my mind to hear the worst of the options on Wednesday and anticipating that I will have to do both. Two new spots showed up on the most recent MRI of my other breast. If my option is chemo/radiation to save my life, I will opt to do it all.
Life is what you make it. You can either be negative and let the world take you down or you can “bee” strong and focus your mind on whatever is painful and ask yourself what your mind and body are really trying to tell you.
What are you struggling with that you wish you could change? What messages are your body and mind trying to deliver?