Friday, July 08, 2005
my "pink-ribbon" experience
i'm sorry this is a super long post, but i started unloading my thoughts and memories and just couldn't stop. oops.
i was only 20, and i ignored the lumps at first. i only got scared when they started growing and my doctor decided to send me for a mammogram.
2 lumps were detected, both in the same breast. according to the doctor, they were both quite huge.
maybe it was the look on the doctor's face when he looked at the xrays. the concern in his eyes, the soft "cluck cluck" sounds he made with his tongue. the way he hemmed and hawed while shuffling through his papers.
perhaps it was the freezing cold aircon in the room that sent the shivers down my spine and caused my skin to prickle and the goosebumps to appear.
whatever it was, when he eventually turned to me and spoke, it suddenly hit me that i had breast lumps. two of them. and they might, just might, be cancerous.
i guess this was the point where i really got panicky. when i realised that "hey. this is serious shite."
i remember the feeling well - the sinking in my stomach, the quickening thumping in my chest, the coldness in my fingers, the slight trembling of my body, the hot tears slowly starting to form, the whirlwind of thoughts in my head which would occasionally lapse into complete blankness and shock..
i was told that i had the option of removing them straightaway and then testing them, or testing them first while they were still in me and then removing later.
of course, i chose to remove them first. no way in hell was i gonna allow those lumps to remain inside me any longer than they already had. i was not going to give them a chance to fester.
i had to go to the hospital for a checkup first, where the doctor there confirmed the lumps were, in fact, present. an appointment was made for day surgery.
on the day of the surgery, my dad sent me to the hospital, checked me in, signed all the paperwork, and then left. he had to go back to work, so i was on my own.
waiting for my name to be called was nerve wrecking. waiting for my turn in the operating theater was almost enough to reduce me to a quivering mass of whimpering flesh.
(on a side note, lest anyone think i am a wuss - which i fully admit i may be, in certain instances - i battled this surge of emotions on the inside. on the outside, i was cool, calm, collected, and cheerful. eh, you know how cold you feel wearing just that silly "gown" or not?! and hospitals are freaking cold, oh-kay. why they insist on freezing their patients to death, i will never understand. hospitals. bah.)
time came for the deed to be done. i lay down on the table/bed/horizontal-electric-chair-of-doom and flashed my boobies to all and sundry.
the lights came on, the "partitions" came up (if they had let me observe them cutting into me, i probable would have mega freaked out.) and i was almost blinded. the surgeon and the nurses chatted with me, trying to make me comfortable. reassuring me that it was all gonna be alright (damn. i guess my fear and apprehension showed through. even though i was trying my darndest to "act brave".)
it was local anesthesia, and i was scared shitless. i was going to be awake, albeit slightly woozy. bloody hell.
of course, i could have opted for general anesthesia, but it was way more expensive, and i didn't wanna be knocked out for the entire day while warded in a hospital bed.
they started injecting me with anesthetic. after each injection, they would poke me with a knife to see if i was numb. one dosage was supposed to be enough to kill feelings in most human beings.
me, i required elephant-sized dosage of anesthetic - 3 jabs. 3 freaking tries of a needle poking me in my boobies (i hate needles.) 3 bloody dosages.
wah lau. boys and girls, this is why, when they say DO NOT SMOKE BEFORE SURGERY, you should BLOODY HELL LISTEN TO THEM. why? because the goddamned anesthesia don't freakin work no good when you have bloody nicotine and shite in your blood stream.
nabeh. yeah, i know, my own bloody fault. but hey, i was a scared little girl! not even 21 years old and already faced with the possibilty of having breast cancer! trust me, the prospect of losing a boobie is not freakin pretty. i was terrified outta my pretty little head. OF COURSE I BLOODY NEEDED TO SMOKE TO CALM MYSELF DOWN! bah.
i was freaking out and practically screaming "i can still feel it!" while praying to myself that they wouldn't cut me yet, not while i could still feel the damned knife.
this is the point where i started to cry. not hysterically, just silently - from fear, from helplessness, from pain (which in my morbidness i imagined to be grossly magnifed.)
soon, thankfully, the anesthesia kicked in and i was more or less numb.
note that i say "more or less". i could still feel sensations, but it didn't hurt so much. more like just uncomfortableness.
they cut me up, and then they used some suction thingy to suck the lumps out. bloody hell, i can still remember the feeling of the suction thingy. yes, i felt it. i think the anesthesia was starting to wear off (or maybe i was just imagining it, again. whatever.)
trust me. it doesn't feel good to be lying on an operating table, in a semi-conscious woozy fuzzy world where everything around you seems surreal as though through a foggy mist of haze, knowing that somewhere on your body there is a gaping knife inflicted hole that you can't see, and that there's a tube sucking out stuff inside you, praying frantically that it would all be over before the anesthesia wore off and you start feeling it.
till today, i still have a terrible fear of operations and knives, and of anesthesia. i'm terrified that the anesthesia will wear off halfway through and i'll be able to feel everything, and i'll go berserk.
the worst part was, when they cut me open, they found that instead of 2 lumps, i had 3.
the surgeon showed me the lumps when they were finished, while i was still lying on the table. they were in jars and swimming in fluid.
what happened was, there was a third lump attached to one of the lumps, hiding behind it. thats why the xrays couldn't detect it, it was hidden. sort of like twin lumps.
they looked gross. like white lumps of fleshy fat with wispy tendrils flowing, speckled with red. disgusting. and they were bigger than i had expected. not so much pingpong ball sized, but somewhere around 50% of that size. and there were 3 of them.
i was sent back to the ward, where i promptly knocked out for a few hours. sometime in the afternoon (the surgery was in the morning.) i awoke, got dressed, and discharged myself. i was still not fully functional, and alternating between full consciousness and bursts of wooziness. but at least i wasn't knocking into things and blacking out.
i managed to walk all the way from the hospital block to the main road, to clear my head. i smoked a few cigarettes (horrible habit. dammit.) and instead of going home, i travelled all the way down to my workplace (which, at that point was a little pub in serangoon gardens.) where i shocked my colleagues and friends who thought i was insane to be traipsing around straight after surgery and not resting in bed at home.
it was starting to hurt, and i couldn't lift my arm for fear of bursting the stitches. 2 weeks medical leave (cannot lift arm, how to carry jugs of beer and alcohol??) but i went back to work sooner. bored outta my skull and being occupied kept my mind of thinking and worrying about the results of the biopsy on the lumps.
it was torturous waiting for the results. all the uncertainty, the fear, the helplessness.. imagination running wild, thinking the worst, frequent bouts of panic, occasional streams of tears..
finally, the results came back. i couldn't sit still in the doctor's office. cold sweat and all the cliched feelings one goes through in such instances.
i was overjoyed when i heard "non-cancerous". the lumps were just fibroids or something like that.
still, the doctor warned me to be extra careful and vigilant. and i was. for a period of time. over the years, i've pushed it all to the back of my mind. occasionally, it pops up and starts nagging at me, but for the most part, i've been lax. i get panicky once in awhile, but i shouldn't forget that for a brief period in my life, breast cancer was very real.
until i read barffie's post and the experiences of syntaxfree and linda.
i was fortunate that in my experience, it was just a scare. but what if it had been the real thing? and maybe, the next time, it will be.
i've been slacking off being vigilant, become lazy about checking myself, forgotten that once upon a time i was there..
its time to start taking this seriously again. because, god knows, it is a very real issue. and not something to laugh about.
i was only 20 then. i'm one of the lucky ones. there are those who are not so lucky. which is why i have pink ribbons.
to linda and syntaxfree, i hope everything turns out ok. from someone who has been there before, i know how scary it can be.
to everyone else, please do take this seriously, if you don't already. and yes, men can get it too.
removing the stitches was a bitch and a half. this was still the time of those metal stitches. unlike the stitches nowadays which self dissolve or disintegrate or i-don't-know-what-they-do.
the nurse cut the knot off at one end, and then she just PULLED THE DAMN THING OUT. like unravelling the stitches from your clothes. except that this was MY BLOODY SKIN WE'RE TALKING ABOUT! goddamn, it hurt. and the metal stitches even made a "zinggggg" sound when pulled out. ouchouchouchouchouch.