6:00 am rolls around faster than a back to school commercial. My mama isn't here but I can hear her clearly in the background threatening me to get my ass up. Except this isn’t the first day of school or Sunday mass...this is the day my life changes forever.
I get up and head to the bathroom and shut the door behind me. I stand there in front of the mirror, staring at my breasts and back at myself again. ”Today is the day Jennifer. You can do this,” I tell myself. I'm trying to be strong but I feel as fragile as my feather bang on picture day in the 5th grade.
I am exhausted. I tossed and turned all night. Even with the cold meds and several prayers, my mind raced all night.
I shower and before getting dressed, I make sure to lather the infected boob with numbing cream and carefully Saran Wrap it. Before the operation, my surgeon will come and inject some sort of dye into my breast to better help them locate the infected area. Oh, and they plan to do this while I’m awake. Why Lawd? Just so that I don’t feel ANY of that shit, let me add more numbing cream for good measure.
I leave MJ to himself and head downstairs to find Kam sitting on the couch waiting for me. There’s a card laying out for me. Inside are words that make me burst into tears. Ugh. All the sweet, encouraging, sappy, goodness that makes you feel enveloped in love.
Shortly afterward, we all head to the car. Kam follows behind MJ as she will head home after I make it out of surgery alive.
I feel better now. I’ve got the tears out and I’m ready to just get it done. There’s no turning back now — unless I tuck and roll on the freeway. Naaaah.
Here we are. Bright and early at the hospital. I check in and go back to sit with Kam and MJ. One of my best friends, Megan and my mother in law are on their way as well. It's only 7:30 and the waiting area is already filled with people. It's quiet. The morning news is playing in the background. There is a sort of somber mood that fills the room.
A short while later my name is called. I verify my information with the ladies at the front, and my husband is given a buzzer that he will hold on to while I’m in surgery. It will buzz when I am out of surgery. What in the T.G.I.Fridays kind of notification is this? Soon afterward, my name is called again and I'm directed to follow the nurse to the back.
We all stand in unison like a troop ready for war.
“No, no. Just you for now,” the nurse instructs me.
Nooooo! Who's going to hold my hand while they stick the I.V in?! Or the boob shot?! I've gotta do this alone?! Oh God. OH God!
“We just need to get you settled in and then your family can come back to join you, ” the nurse says surely seeing the beads of sweat starting to form on my forehead.
I follow the nurse to the back who first takes me to a scale to weigh me. Ugh. Do I really need one more reason to be sad today?
She then takes me to my little waiting area, instructs me to put my things down and then hands me a small clear plastic cup with a lid.
“Girl, I am NOT pregnant!”, I yell a matter of factly in my head. This IUD keeps allowing me to freely brunch, happy hour and take naps on the weekends. It hasn't let me down yet! Amen. But I decide to be an obedient patient and do what I’m told.
I pee in that little cup with more confidence than a germaphobe in a porta-potty. No monkeys and definitely no babies stoppin’ this show. I head back to my little room, that is literally covered by curtains all around.
The nurse is back, being all cool like she’s one of my homegirls. I like it. She’s rocking one of those white girl haircuts that’s universal for, “I date black guys.”
She hands me a hospital gown and a large plastic bag to put my things in. I change quickly and lay down in the bed. She returns quickly and offers me a warm blanket. The thought of a warm blanket sounds like just what I need right now because it's cold AF in here. But it also makes me think, “EW.” All I can think of is all the naked people whose bodies this has been against. Are these blankets clean, clean? Ok, you don't have time to think about all of that. We know this is the last time your nipples will ever stand at attention but I’m sure they’d rather be warm right now, so I accept the warm blanket and lay back in the bed.
I lay there in this hospital bed with Kathie Lee and Hoda in the background doing what they do best, sipping wine. What time is it anyway? Jesus. I’m scrolling through Instagram and giving Michael minute by minute updates on what is happening. (He probably can't wait for my ass to be sedated) In walks my nurse again. I don’t know what it is about her that is so comforting. I think it's her easy-going demeanor. I’m about to have some major shit go down and home-girl is acting like I’m just here to get a hangnail removed. But that’s fine. Let’s pretend it’s just a hangnail.
She comes in and starts taking my vitals; temperature first, then blood pressure. She then calls in a woman who will insert my I.V. This makes me nervous because she looks like she is straight out of an episode of 16 & Pregnant. But I’m just going to chill TF out and let her do her thing. She grabs my arms and looks over the area trying to decide which vein will be best. She’s tapping and flicking my arm like a heroin addict trying to get a fix. Boom, there's the vein. I let out a quiet sigh of relief. She sanitizes the area where she plans to insert the needle and I look away. I feel the prick. Ok, that needle is definitely in my skin. Whew. I can feel her moving the needle. She is wiggling it around under my skin. I have not wanted to physically harm someone the way I want to right now in a LONG time. I dart my eyes at her and she immediately explains, “Oh the vein just moved! Sorry. One second. Let me give it onnnne more try. Tricky little sucker.”
Am I being Punk’d right now?! Where the cameras at?!
This B is now PRESSING the needle into my arm with her hands trying to push it into the vein. I jerk my body forward, yelling, “What are you doing?!” Did this bish learn how to insert an IV online?! What kinda bootleg trade school did you flunk out of?! Shit! If I could backhand her and not be kicked out I certainly would. My nurse runs over and asks the girl to step aside. She takes the needle out and quickly inserts the needle again. Boom. Done. Lord, I was about to put HER in the hospital.
Next up is meeting with my surgeons. There are a total of three who will be cutting me open. One surgeon to take out all the shit that is trying to kill me, the second surgeon will be there to insert the temporary boobs aka “expanders”. Basically, since they are taking the nipple and all of the contents on the insides of my breasts they need to put a small almost deflated balloon shaped object inside that they will fill little by little over time (post surgery) with air/saline (hell if I know) until my breasts reach my desired size. The FINAL surgeon will come in later to insert my port AKA a chemotherapy port, which is a device that will be inserted in my shoulder blade area. It will be used so that I can be given my chemotherapy in a month.
First up is my plastic surgeon who’s going to give me my temporary boobs, and the other surgeon who is going to give me my port. I’m excited to see the breast surgeon cuz — new boobs. Plus I like him a lot. He is the coolest. Plastic surgeon introduces me to the Port doc. For some reason, I feel the need to tell Port doc to make sure that the incision he makes is minimal and in an area that can go unnoticed if I’m in a tank top or tube top if I so happen to be in the mood for 90’s wear. Yes, I am ridiculous. He looks back at me with a smile that’s a cross between “Sure, no problem!” And “Girl, PLEASE stfu.” He quickly exits and my plastic surgeon tells me to stand in front of him. He sits at the end of the bed and asks me to pull my gown down around my waist. He takes his sharpie and begins to draw lines across my nipple and down the middle of my breasts are where he will make his incisions. I stand there awkwardly making small talk like this is an episode of Botched.
”How do you want this next set of breasts to look?”, he asks.
”Round and as high as possible, ” I say half jokingly and pointing to my neck. I should have just brought in Kameron and put her on display. ”THIS high, but a BIG C, ” is how I describe it in my head.
This is only my 3rd of 4th time interacting with him but he’s my homie in my head. He’s not going to let me down. Several minutes later, he’s done. He tells me that I have nothing to worry about and that everything will turn out great.
I pull my gown back over me and lay back in the bed. A short while later my breast surgeon comes in. Her demeanor is so comforting. She’s not one of those doctors that’s just there to cut you open and sew you back together like some rag doll. It really feels like she cares. She has a very nurturing, motherly nature to her. Each time I interact with her makes me feel reassured that I chose the right hospital and the right surgeon. She asks how I’m doing and takes a peek at the boob that’s been Saran-wrapped. She wipes off the numbing cream, sterilizes the area and preps the needle for the shot. I look away immediately and she gives me the shot. She tells me she will see me shortly and that I am in good hands.
Finally, I can have my family come back and wait with me. My nurse heads to the waiting room to get my fam. Yay!!!
Kam and MJ come back and sit down. We all joke and I give a recap of everything that has gone down in the last hour. Megan has arrived too! I’ve got Kam, Meg, and MJ right there with me. Guess what time it is?!?!?! Selfie time!!! I lay there snapping photos trying to lighten the mood but no one is nearly as enthused as I am. Me being extra, dramatic Jen, because it’s funny and also irritating the crap out of my husband. No one wants to joke in a time like this but it's either this or me hitchhiking outta here with my ass out in a hospital gown. So we are just going to laugh to keep me from crying, damnit.
Why so serious guys? Laugh a little.
My nurse pokes her head in and asks me if a breast cancer survivor can stop in and say a few words. A few words?! Is she here to pour the liquor over my titties!? What is she going to say?! ”I’m sorry for your loss?” I am reluctant but decide to not be a meanie. I’ll allow it. In walks a woman in her 60’s, with a steel gray bob and a subdued smile. She hands me a canvas bag, shares her story and tells me that she is a 5-year survivor and that I will beat this.
Fucking right I will!
I smile and thank her for stopping by. I appreciate this conversation much more afterward than I do in the moment. Five minutes later she says goodbye, good luck and exits.
My nurse comes in, she brings with her the anesthesiologist who asks me a series of questions. Name, age, date of birth.
Shit. This is really happening. There’s a lot of movement. Preparation all around me and I’m not even in the operating room. They’ve put that breathing tube up my nose like they do in the movies. I immediately feel even more shaken and more emotional. The nurse tells me to tell my family goodbye and before I know it there’s a slow stream of tears that I can’t shut off. Kameron leans over to give me a hug, then Meg, then MJ stands over me next, leaning in to give me a hug and kiss. He quickly wipes his wet face, not wanting me to notice. That turns my slow stream of tears into a steady flow.
My anesthesiologist sees me crying. “Oh no. Don’t cry. It’s going to be ok. We are going to give you the anesthesia right now ok?”
They roll me out of the room and on the way to the operating room I say, “I’m still awake, I don’t feel it yet.”
Some things will never change.