September 2005


It is customary for breast cancer patients to go see an oncologist after having the surgery that Mel has recently had so today off we went to see Dr. Ritwick Pannicker. I have to get his name off his business card every time because my mind just automatically calls him “Flitwick” after the professor Flitwick character in the Harry Potter novels. I did not tell him this – he being a busy physician from India, he would probably not get the humor.

At any rate, Dr. Flitwick ( Ah! There I go again!), that is, Pannicker pronounces Mel free of cancer at the moment and prescribes no further treatment. Whee!

You may now go turn a few handsprings on Mel's behalf. She is supposed to be taking it easy so she will not be turning any handsprings. Go ahead, I'll wait….

Ok, let's continue. She is supposed to return to the womens health center to try and construct a detailed family medical history in order to do some genetic counseling. This is as much for our daughter as it is for Mel's well being. There may yet be a genetic test but as this is several thousands of dollars, it remains to be seen if our illustrious insurance company will pay for it.

Then it's a few more days until the little plastic aquarium hose is removed from her chest and then it's a wait until reconstructive surgery. Hopefully, this will be all we see of this disease for a long while. But in the worst case, if genetic testing turns up a positive hit for two known genes, then they may consider 'prophylactic surgery', i.e., removing body parts on speculation that they'll likely eventually turn cancerous. Not a very cheery option so I'm hopeful that this is all over for good.

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We're lucky to have so many people that care about Melissa's recovery that they want to feed us. I suppose it's the least I could do to keep a running tally of the goodies that come our way. We enjoy every one of them. Apparently they feel (correctly) that I am incapable of stepping in for Mel in the feed-and-water category so we're being fed from these external sources.

Thursday – the day of the surgery: some mexican casserole thing and a wonderful pie. I've described this before.
Friday – Stouffer's lasagna. blah. I can say that because we bought it.
Saturday – A real home-made lasagna. Excellent. It also came with bagged salad and garlic bread.
Sunday – Baked Chicken, rice, gravy, fresh corn.
Monday – Leftovers – Mel put the word out that we were saturated for the time being.
Tuesday – Chicken finger dinners from Applebee's complete with fries and honey mustard.
Wednesday – Mazzio's hot italian sub sandwiches delivered right to the door by the guy with the magnetic sign on his car. These came complete with chips, pickle, and some random sauce that we all tried. I'm not complaining mind you – these were very good.
Thursday – Casserole
Friday – Mazzio's Pizza! Garlic bread too.
Saturday – Casserole (and pasta salad.
Sunday – Casserole. Chicken and brocolli if memory serves. Plus salad, cornbread and a fruit salad.
Monday (today) – Applebee's gift certificate!

The folks at our church have been offering to bring food over too but as hard as it is to do diplomatically, we've had to tell them that we're really doing fine. Maybe later. From what we've been told, the reconstructive surgery is much worse than the cancer surgery and takes much longer to recover from.

The surgeon called Mel this afternoon with good news; the first we've had in awhile. The lab reports that they only found cancer cells in the expected areas and no more. That means that Melissa is done with any further surgeries or treatments.

Pardon me while I go over here and breath a huge sigh of relief. Perhaps now I can stop taking these generic Zantac antacid things and the extreme headache remedies. I think I'll stick to the prayer/meditation thing though – that's been good for me.

Now she heals for awhile and then we can think of some reconstructive surgery.

Maybe we can get back to normal for awhile.

She's got a birthday coming up; I'm thinking we shouldn't spare any expense on the restaurant.

Life is looking better with a big of rest. Many friends and family have banded together and have been bringing in prepared meals for us. That's a bit much I guess; we aren't that disabled but it's been very nice nevertheless. So nice that none of would ever dream of saying anything negative about the number of platters of lasagna that we've been given. We'll eat it eventually although perhaps never again.

I've taken several naps and I think I'm getting caught up. Hay fever has hit me quite hard which doesn't help. Beginning tomorrow, we wait for the pathology lab to render its verdict as to whether all the cancer was excised or we need to start in with radiation treatments.

Keep that positive healing mojo coming!

Last night when I posted that last entry I was too exhausted to do much more than report simple facts. Add to that the fact that I had a teenaged son sniffing around the computer wanting to IM his friends. But now I can express myself fully, clearly, and disjointedly. But even today, I'm still exhausted.

I guess it's amazing that someone can be under total anesthetic and have entire body parts removed and then be up and about within the hour. I should be pleased with that but I'm getting pessimistic and so I can only dwell on the fact that no matter how upbeat the surgeon was, we still have to wait for the pathology report to find out where Mel is with this cancer thing. Hopefully the biopsy report will confirm what the surgeon suspects and we'll be done but not until an oncologist reviews everything will that be decided. So I feel that we're still hanging.

Speaking of hanging, Mel has this little container hanging at her side that is attached to a plastic hose coming out of her incision. If that doesn't bring a healthy dose of reality to your life, then I don't know what will. There is no way to use psychological denial as a tool with that thing hanging there. Fortunately it will only be there for a day or two. It could also form the basis for a great diet plan because one session that little device will put me off my appetite for a good long while.

I used to think that I wanted to be a physician because I thought the money and prestige would be cool. But after seeing what this guy has to do, the hours he works, and how he has to run from one building to another and from one family crisis to another, he can have it. He deserves all the fancy cars he can buy because he works under unbelievable pressure and holds life in his hands every day; I don't want that lifestyle. I have a job I find interesting and which doesn't demand a lot of extra hours of me and I'm thinking that is a pretty good balance. I've had others tell me so on several occasions and now I'm starting to believe it.

The outpouring of support has been gratifying. One of Mel's good friends brought over a platter of flautas and a pie that was worth writing home about. Melissa, her mom, and I only got home a little after 7:00 pm and the house was already full of my kids, the in-laws, and my sister so I think we were lucky that they left us any of the food. The pie alone was worth fighting over. I think she called it Kentucky Derby pie but to me it was like those warm chocolate chip cookies that are fresh out of the oven. I very nearly missed it since I had to go to the pharmacy and pick up the latest painkillers.

There has also been a touching display of support over here wherein a nice person whom I've never met put out a call for some serious supportive mojo on our behalf. You just can't thank folks like that enough.

All the friends and family have the effect of keeping my mind occupied. This is good since I'm right on the ragged edge of self composure. I'm The Dad of course. Mel's mom is pushing 80 years old and this is her child that is dealing with cancer so she's got about all she can handle. That leaves me as the one who must maintain his self composure at all times in case any decisions have to be made or whatever. It's only the constant distractions that keep me from going off by myself and crying like a little kid just to relieve the pressure. I want to let out all that fear, frustration, and helplessness. I don't want a lot of sympathy; I only want to escape. But I'm a man of faith and so I have the tools to help me get through; I call it prayer, some may call it meditation, call it whatever you will but it calms me down so that I can sleep and through sleep, I can escape.

Along that line of thought, one of the pastors from our church came by to offer support and say a quick prayer and then a pastor from my sister-in-law's church came by too. It was good to see them both. I overheard some guy in the waiting room talking with his family and if I heard him correctly, he meant to convey that whatever was going on was God's will. If that's what he really meant then he deserves to be slapped into the middle of next week for being a waste of good protoplasm. I may let my kids experience a bit of adversity now and again so that they may learn but I would certainly never saddle them with anything deadly just to make a point and the loving God I believe in wouldn't do that to any of us either. Sometimes these things just happen. Our character shows up in our reaction to them. I hope I heard him incorrectly – I hate to think of anyone being that big of an idiot.

Oh, another escape: playing the guitar. It only makes me feel good if I can actually play a tune – just trying to muddle through something doesn't feel so good so there's yet another reason to learn some more tunes. If only people would realize just how annoying it is for them to walk in the room and start talking to me when I'm playing.

A word about us guys: many of us when faced with this sort of thing will turn away from it. We can be found frantically mowing the yard, cleaning the garage, digging holes in the back yard, and various other tasks that are meaningless in the context of family illness. It's all about control – being out of control is one of the worst feelings a guy can have and by golly when the grass is being mowed, we're in control of that. “HAH! Check out THIS surgery baby – thousands of blades of grass are now shorter by the power of my mighty hand! (and the power of my 3.5 hp Briggs and Stratton)” Yeah, whatever but that's how my mind works. I have not done any of these things; I have stayed inside and tried to be useful. I have helped changes bandages (once – not much is it?), I have filled and emptied the dishwasher numerous times, I have carted kids around, etc. I have tried to go to work and be useful as well so that we can pay for all this. But it's pretty hard. Being an adult is losing it's attraction for me.

In conclusion, I love irony. On my first day back at work after my wife's breast cancer surgery, I look out the window of my office and in the parking lot they are preparing for the Susan Komen Race for the Cure which is the local fund raiser for breast cancer awareness and research. The race starts and ends right where I am. In more ways than one perhaps.

Well we're home after another marathon session at Saint Francis hospital. The surgery itself only occupies about an hour and a half; the rest of the time was spent waiting on one thing or another.

But the end result is that Melissa came through well and is walking around now although with a rather altered figure. The surgeon is optimistic and we will hear back from the lab regarding the biopsy of the removed tissue. He doesn't anticipate any bad news there; he feels that based on the earlier biopsy that all the cancer was non invasive and this will be the end of it but we have to meet with an oncologist anyway.

I figured that I need a bit of humor in amongst all the breast cancer stuff.

For several days, we've heard a mooing sound around dinnertime. When we
hear the moo, the kids will freeze then start laughing. I just filed it
away in my mind as something that sounds cow-like but isn't. Still, it
made me wonder.

Well wonder no more. While out walking the dog I
encountered an icecream truck that mooed loudly as it rolled along. On
the side it said: “HOLY COW THE ICE CREAM MAN!”

Now I know.

It sure beats the annoying tinkling music.

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