Bird with a wire – Lumpectomy and a stage IV breast cancer patient

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Poetry Foundation

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

T.S. Eliot  The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

Where there’s a will there’s a way to get a tumor removed. After hearing one too many times,  “we don’t operate on metastatic cancer patients,” I got my way. At 9:15 a.m. on a frantic and rainy Monday after the thanksgiving holiday weekend, BMWs and a Mercedes spin like empty plates on 85, the 280, the 101. Crashes and minor accidents light up like Rudolph’s nose on GPS screens all over the Bay Area. Still not too late to change my mind. I had an appointment with a knife.

That day I felt triumphantly happy to wait in a room of nervous caregivers and their cared for loved ones with cancer. Wait to get a lumpectomy, which was  more like a mini mastectomy. Goodbye honey, I love you – see you after recovery.

We thought my surgery would take less time and tissue, however my former tumors left corrupted and genetically damaged breast lobes. So, even with clean margins for the the 4mm tumor the surgeon took away for biopsy, still more must be removed. I imagined a pit inside a peach and the radio oncologist agreed with the spirit of my metaphor.  Except the peach grew in my dark breast, rather than on a tree. Only money grows on trees when you are diagnosed with cancer.

My surgeon used a beacon of sorts for navigation, in the form of a very thin wire inserted into my breast using radio mammography and a good amount of numbing agent. The onco radiologist had inserted the wire while I underwent what should prove to be my last mammogram. I don’t recall the numbing cream or the strength she used, but no matter. Now a wire extended from my right breast like a bombs fuse waiting to be lit. I waited for about another hour after the wire insertion for my surgeon, Dr. Tran.

He’s an affable person and confident doctor, who instilled in me feelings of relief rather than  feelings of fear. (The first surgeon with whom I met months prior to D-day, actually had the audacity to ask why I was there in his office since, “we don’t operate on stage IV cancer patients.” He never made the team. He’s cut immediately in the first round as the odds against the procedure becane tougher to beat.

Patient. Or a person who waits.
A woman without patience makes an awfully poor patient. However, this impatient patient won the battle against the oncological team who abided by the predetermined treatment bible locked in some oncology sacred text library like the one at Aalexandria to guide medical practitioners on what can and cannot be done with all metastatic patients. “Biblical” may seem somewhat overstated, yet I assure you, somewhere in a dark room under a thick museum grade glass cover, sits a jewel encrusted tome with instructions for medical personnel only. We all might consider choosing those willing to simply listen to our strategies and our desired potential outcomes. These brave souls who I recruit for my battalion must fight along side me in battles I can win. But they as I know, these are battles as parts of a losing war. A disI can never truly conquer. They are special ops forces. Doctors who missed that part of the oncological specialty curriculum. Doctors willing to listen to patients as human beings with real blood and real pain. You know, like individuals.

When I  entered metastatic pergatory, I found that treatments come and go in the cancer high fashion set. Metastatic cancer patients become the happy bad voluntary lab rats for the next new wonder drug and various adjuvant  treatments.

I really love your peaches.
As my anesthetic wears off and I drowsily come into consciousness,I laid in recovery, my mouth dry and sticky like my brain. For some unknown reason, I began cracking bad jokes with the nurses. Nurse Sandy gets a no arms no legs at the beach joke and doesn’t find it in any way at all funny, yet the others snickered and let me in on her emotionally serious nature. Feeling like I just kicked the Easter bunny into the next state over, I attempted to balance the scale  and even the score with a self deprecating joke on myself. I quipped, “what do you call a girl with one boob? Ilene.” A pun. Not a great pun, but still.

Funny day. On the way home in the car, the Steve Miller Band song, The Joker, came on the radio. If you’re not familiar there’s a great line followed by a guitar wolf whistle that goes, “I really love your peaches wanna shake your tree.”

Well, for that day anyway,  maybe one peach would be enough to soothe my appetite for a cure.


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