Saturday, June 4, 2011


To put you in the mindset: I'm in Las Vegas with my two BFFs for a rhythmic gymnastics meet (the daughter of one of my BFFs competes). I am nervous about my upcoming lumpectomy, so this weekend is a welcome distraction. The first rhythmic event is tonight, and we're all really excited. After breakfast, we spend the day walking around The Strip and end our outing at Serendipity, where we wait 45 long minutes for their famous (and fabulous!) frozen hot chocolate. 

We return to our hotel to shower and change. And since I am the official "makeup artist" today, I also apply eyeshadow and lipstick and sparkles to my friend's daughter's pretty face. In the adjoining room, I hear my cell phone beeping. It's now 5:30 PM on a Friday night and my surgeon, Dr. A., has left a voicemail. This is very odd. I've got 10 minutes before we have to leave for the competition. I rush to call him back.

Good news/bad news. He has presented my case before the hospital's tumor board and has called to tell me the consensus is in: I need an MRI of both breasts before I can have surgery. And that's not all. Due to the location of the cancerous mass, my nipple must go. Which means more than half my breast must also go. Which means I likely will need a mastectomy — not the lumpectomy I am scheduled for in five days.

Dr. A. and I had previously discussed this very possibility at our last appointment, and I told him then that if I wind up requiring a mastectomy, I want a bilateral. Remove 'um both, remove as much future worry as possible. And give me some matching, reconstructed boobs. Now he agrees this is the best plan of attack, but the MRI will tell us precisely what we should do. So I need to get that scheduled. In the meantime, will cancel next week's surgery.

My head is swimming. My BFF knocks on the door to say we have to leave. I plead for five more minutes. (I realize this makes the kid potentially late, but I don't know what else to do.)

Dr. A. also adds that I need to see a plastic surgeon for a consultation. Can he recommend anyone? I ask. He gives me two names. But something doesn't feel right. I pause, then say, "If this was your wife, who would you send her to?"

"Does your health insurance let you go out of network?" Yes. "Then if it was my wife, I would send her to Dr. C. He's an artist. We've worked together before. I'll call and tell him about your case, but you give him a call on Monday." 

In the span of 15 minutes, I've gone from mentally preparing for a lumpectomy to probably needing a double mastectomy and a plastic surgeon. This is way too much to process.

Yet my little entourage awaits. So I swallow my fear, force back the tears and step into the hotel elevator. I smile at our little gymnast, but my BFFs can see there's trouble in my eyes. Somehow, we get through the next hour talking about routines and hula hoops on the way to the meet before leaving her with her coach and teammates. We have exactly one hour before the festivities begin. One hour to cry over my beer and dissect my need for a bilateral mastectomy in a nearby pub.

The next day is spent in a stifling hot, noisy gymnasium watching dozens and dozens of  girls perform complicated floor routines to very repetitive music. We are sitting in a crowd of parents and children — certainly not an environment where I can break down the way I need to. I probably should have stayed at the hotel and ditched the meet, but the thought doesn't occur to me until I'm already inside the crowded gym. Besides, it feels better to be surrounded by my friends than be alone with my thoughts. So I suppress my emotions and put on my  "everything's OK" game face. But everything is so not OK.

But eventually I crack. It happens before the final event. I have a hot flash and feel like I'm about to implode from the heat. I can't find enough air to breath, and can no longer hold "it" in. I leave the gym abruptly, wade through the throng of spectators and slip outside where the air feels cool. And I start walking. I pass a playground with seating, but there are kids playing, and I can't deal with their screams. It is I who wants to scream. 

I wander over to a senior center next door and sit down on a cold bench. I'm finally alone — and so numb and overwhelmed I can't even cry. I just sit there and stare into space. 

I needed this weekend away with my best pals before I head into surgery. And if I had waited until Monday to return the surgeon's call, I might well have had the carefree time I was envisioning. But once that fateful call was answered, all bets were off; I lost emotional control. And the road trip quickly morphed into an exceedingly stressful, solitary nightmare on wheels. I call my husband. I just want to come home.

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