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OUR 911 EXPERIENCE

07/10/05

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   On Wednesday, February 19th, 2003, I will have my final chemotherapy treatment.  To recap the last eight    months, it's important to understand the events that led up to my decision to subject myself to chemo in the first place and why I chose the attitude I did for the journey.

     It was a 21 hour non stop chain of events that totally brought Husband and I to our knees.

     God puts just the right people in just the right place when a major change is going to occur in your life.  In this case, it was a dear friend, Dr. Glenn Meyers.  He did a complete CT body scan for me 1 year before all this, (result was a clean bill of health) and he and his wife Heidi, Husband and I have been fast friends ever since.  Glenn knew I confront battles head on and wanted to know everything I could as soon as possible.  It was he that referred me to the breast surgeon that did the lumpectomy, Dr. Santiago Triana in Plantation FL.  (Another extraordinary man.)  I called Glenn the day before my follow up appointment where I was to get the pathology report and asked him to call Dr. Triana and see if the pathology was in.  I couldn't wait until the next day.  It was driving me insane.

     His return call to me that Monday afternoon set off a chain of events that Husband and I refer to as our own 9/11 event.  It was just moments before 5:00 and I was alone at the office.  Glenn called and said, "are you sitting down?"  (As if that would matter!)  Beating around the bush just doesn't make it for me.  I love him for being so kind and compassionate but telling me straight, "it's cancer but we don't know what kind.  The rest of the frozen sections will be done tomorrow, so Dr. Triana will go over them with you at your appointment."  That was the moment when the first 'plane' of our 9/11 event hit.  I took a deep breath.  Okay, I thought.  I'm okay.  I'm okay.  The lump hadn't gotten any bigger in a year... the surgeon said it was floating on top of my implant and surrounded in fat tissue, not breast tissue.  I'm okay.  It's going to be okay.

     The phone rang again.  Instinctively I picked up the receiver.  "It's a GREAT day at Baseline, how may I help you?"  Business as usual.  I was okay.  Now to drive home and tell sweet Husband.  I was more upset for him.

                                         

                                             My last professional haircut before starting chemotherapy May 2002  

     I really don't remember the drive home.  Even Brutus, our 7 pound MinPin behaved as if nothing was different.  I felt like everything was so surreal.  How do you tell your life's partner that it's cancer?  There is no correct way.  The facts are just the facts.  Crying is a release.  It's a bit like taking a bath.  Husband and I cried and held each other.  Unbelievable.  I wanted to be the one that wrote the checks to the "Pink Ribbon Club," not be a member of it!  So it was that evening that we decided we were going to power through this.  What was different that moment than the day before?  We're alive.  I didn't physically feel any different.  The cancer is gone.  It's cut out.  It wasn't in any breast tissue, it was surrounded by fat!  I'm healthy and I'm okay we repeated to each other.  We didn't want to stay home that night.  Going out for dinner would be the perfect distraction. 

     Mario's Tuscan Grill is our favorite place.  Everyone there is like extended family to us.    Power Serge was tending bar.  He used to be on the pudgy side and now runs triathlons, hence Sergio became Power Serge!  "Would you like a cocktail?" that sounded like a trick question to me!  Part of me wanted a martini in a 50 gallon drum! 

     As our drinks were poured, (no, I didn't order a 50 gallon martini) Husband and I decided that we weren't going to tell anyone about this until after the appointment with Dr. Triana the next day.  Why say anything when even we don't know all the facts.  As we talked, the drinks were served.  Husband took one sip and I saw that he seemed to be hyperventilating.  He turned to me and said, "Honey, do I look pale to you?"  Good God!  He was white as a ghost and the pupils of his eyes were dilated so large you couldn't see the iris of his eyes!  He stood up (bad move when you're dizzy) to go out for fresh air.  The floor is pretty far away when you're 6 feet 8 inches tall.  He started to come to almost immediately, but still was the color of cement.  Power Serge called 911.  I grabbed the phone from him and he helped Husband outside to wait for the paramedics.  Remember that proverbial 9/11 event?  Here was our 2nd airplane, 2nd building hit.

     Enter guardian angel #2  Mike O'Neil.  A Lieutenant on the Fire Department as well as one of the most knowledgeable paramedics in the country, Mike has been a close friend and coworker of Husband for 25 years.  Mike seems to have been around at every medical emergency we've had since we met!  Here he was again.  Unbelievable.  I knew in my heart what caused this stress and upset.  So much for not telling anyone until after the appointment.  The medics put him on a stretcher and into the ambulance.  I told Mike the story.  We cried.

     The 12 lead EKG that was attached to Husband was showing irregular heartbeats and dangerous arrhythmias.  He wanted to go home.  The medics and Mike knew he had to be treated at the hospital.  His blood pressure plummeted to 98 over 88.  It was so low that they couldn't start an I.V.  Three tries later they were successful.  At that point, they had a patient willing to go to the hospital.  They also had the patients wife fully aware that breast cancer is nothing.  I could have lost my precious Husband in the blink of an eye. 

     At the hospital, Mike handled everything.  Thanks to him, I didn't have to answer any questions from anyone.  Mike stayed in the room with us while we waited and watched Husband's vital signs return to normal. 

             

Our daughter Chelsea showed up relieved that her Dad, (above with the amazing blue eyes ;) was going to be okay.  Ever the optimist, she chattered endlessly about how she just knew the lump I had removed was going to be nothing and the doctors were going to tell us that her dad was fine too.  "Things run in threes," I was always told.  Chelsea never bought into that and scolded me for being superstitious.  The dog was scheduled for a routine teeth cleaning the next day.  After all this, gambling with his life was something I wasn't willing to do.  "The dogs breath stinks," she said!  "Besides, it's not healthy for him."  I felt that bad breath was better than no breath.  We'd nearly lost him the last time we had his teeth cleaned due to his sensitivity to the anesthesia.  I even switched veterinarians because of it.  "No, you're being ridiculous," she continued.  Well, maybe I am.  Maybe I should just do it, so I know the old saying about three's isn't true.. 

                                                                                                             

      Five hours later after extensive testing, the ER doctor released him.   Diagnosis:  Vasovagal event caused from extreme and sudden stress.  We're okay.  Home to our bed and our baby dog.  We held him and each other closer now, than ever.

     The next morning was better.  Peering out from under the comforter, the sun was shining and the three of us were snug and safe.  Looking over at Husband, I didn't think it was possible to love him more than I already did.  It seemed that Brutus snuggled even closer, as if to convince me to cancel his appointment and just stay home today.  The office was busy.  Not a good day to stay home.  Besides, we had just hired my goddaughter's brother Christopher and it was his first day on the job!  Shown below, our favorite picture of the "President/CEO"...

                                                     

    Brutus was picked up at 9:00 am by the vet's husband.  I voiced my concern about the anesthesia one more time.  "He's only 7 pounds and 7 years old... I'm really scared," I told him.  When Chelsea was grown and gone, I admit it, he became my 'son.'  Spoiled is an understatement!  It's like being attached at the hip, riding my Harley with me, sleeping with us, going to work with me everyday!  That was what we called him for crying out loud, "My son!"  My heart sank as they drove away.

     The appointment with Dr. Triana was scheduled for 3:00, so we'd pick up Brutus on the way home.  That would work out perfect!  God knows how badly I'd need to snuggle "the son" after that!  The vet said she'd call me as soon as the "routine" teeth cleaning was over and Brutus was in recovery, so my mind would be at ease.  She's a very kind woman.  Even her assistant is named Pixie, the name of my first dog!  It was all meant to be, or so I thought.

     At noon, the phone rang. Will, my VP of Finance & Administration answered it.  He thought it was my doctor about the lump I'd had removed.  What happened next is when the first 'building' fell to the ground.  It was the vet.  She was crying so hard I could barely understand her.  She screamed, "Oh my God I'm so sorry!  He's dead!  Oh my God your baby dog!  I killed your baby dog!  It happened so fast!  I gave him the correct dose for his weight and he just slipped away!"

     By comparison, breast cancer is a walk in the park.  Our son was dead.

     Husband sums it up nicely, "The grim reaper came for you I thought, and he then came for me you thought, but he took the dog."  Well put.  Losing Brutus was more painful than the thought of enduring treatment for breast cancer.  The thought of losing Husband was infinitely more painful than breast cancer period. 

     The little guy died a hero, according to Husband.  He believes that instead of the victim being me, (which I despised and was so afraid I would be perceived as);  Brutus got to be "it".  So, telling friends and family 'what happened,' sounded like this:  "Hi _______ we've had some tough things happen in a very short period of time.  Well, Brutus went to the vet for a "routine" teeth cleaning on Tuesday and the vet gave him more anesthesia than he could tolerate and killed him.  Oh, it was a terrible accident and the vet feels horrible about it.  I found myself comforting her!  It happened at a lousy time.  We found out the day before, that the tiny lump I had removed from my breast was cancer and when I told Husband he had a near cardiac event from the shock.  It was so frightening!  9/11, the whole bit! They ran every test possible and thank God he's fine.  Oh, me?  I'm fine.  Losing Brutus is so much more traumatic.  At least Bill and I are alive.  Breast cancer is beatable.  We can't bring the dog back.  We loved him so much."

     In the 20 years that we've been together, our lives have been happy for the most part.  Trauma and upset seemed to happen to other people.  Helping others through their grief was the closest we had ever been to actually experiencing that kind of loss, at least as adults. The last time I grieved like this was when my Grandma Johnson died - I was 6years old!  Any illnesses up to now were minor.  Both of our parents are alive and healthy.  In 21 hours, life as we knew it would never be the same.

     The second and final 'building' so to speak, tumbled to the ground at 3:00 that Tuesday in Dr. Triana's office.  I called ahead to inform his nurse about what happened, so Dr. Triana was aware that whatever he needed to tell us needed to be said VERY CAREFULLY.  The last 20 hours had been exceptionally tough so far.  From the receptionist to every nurse in his office, they all were extraordinary.  You can tell the heart of a doctor by the staff he hires.  Any business, for that matter.  We attract kindred spirits. 

      When we arrived, we were ushered into a private waiting area so we wouldn't have our grief upsetting the other patients, yet could grieve still in private.  We were both convinced that since it was such a small tumor and surrounded by fat that it was cured.  It's gone and done with.  Besides, didn't God already take the dog?  Enough.  Enough!

     Dr. Triana is an older man, a seasoned and experienced surgeon.  Beyond that, his face shows the kindness and empathy we needed so desperately.  His manner was gentle, but there isn't a way to sugar coat cancer.  He began by telling us, "It's cancer, but it's not the end of the world."  We learned that the type of breast cancer I HAD (key word)  was the most common type, therefore has had the greatest amount of research done on it and had the highest rate of cure.  BIG SIGH OF RELIEF.  I grabbed my purse, ready to leave when he said, "Wait.  You need to have an excisional biopsy, radical mastectomy and radiation."  Numbness took over my entire body.  I sank into the chair.  I sarcastically responded, "Oh, that's all?"  To which he replied, "Of course, there's chemotherapy."

     The protocol he described is what is recommended for a premenopausal woman with the type of cancer I HAD.  There was a new procedure where a dye is injected (ouch) at the tumor site and they follow the dye into the lymph nodes under the arm.  This allows the doctor to identify the sentinel node and other lymph nodes for dissection to see if the cancer had spread.  We agreed he would reopen the incision, remove my existing breast implant, look for any other tissue that looked suspicious and take more samples for testing.  He would also excise more tissue from the site where the lump had been.  The mastectomy was his recommendation, based upon protocol at that time.  (Only a few months later a report was issued that the mortality rate was the same with lumpectomy or mastectomy.)

      Okay, mastectomy or radiation after he does this other procedure.  We needed to let this sink in.  "Okay, I said, "I can do this"... another deep breath.  Dr. Triana looked at us and with all the compassion he had, said, "And then you'll have to have chemotherapy."  That was the defining moment.  Prepare for battle, focus on the outcome and make sure you see that outcome clearly!  The procedure was scheduled for the following Monday.  No grass growing under our feet!  Let the games begin.

     Driving home all I could think about was that Brutus wouldn't be there.  No love sponge spinning in circles at our feet, jumping up like a prairie dog excited to go for his late afternoon walk.  That reality was so much more overwhelming and painful than mastectomy, radiation or chemotherapy.  We had to get another dog.  Another dog will never be Brutus, but certainly something to love in his place.

     The tide turned immediately.  The next day, the office was busier than ever.  I was able to bury myself in my work.  I had removed all of Brutus' toys, his dog bed and had only his portrait left on my desk.  At first I cried every time I  had an idle moment.  Then it became every other time and so on.  Early afternoon, when Husband buzzed me on the Nextel, he sounded pretty cheerful.  I asked him what he was up to and he said he'd gone for a motorcycle ride west to Coral Springs.  "Way out there?" I asked.  "You found a dog," I accused him.  He replied, "Want to go for lunch?"  How could I refuse.

     The pet store was a 45 minute ride from my office, this time by truck.  What if I didn't connect with the dog?  What if it was too soon?  Prime example of a 'faith based moment.'  We'd just have to see.  The little 2 pound MinPin was 12 weeks old and fit in the palm of my hand.  The store owner put him up on the counter and the pup was so tiny he could barely stand.  He had sleepy, new-born puppy eyes and a wrinkly little face.  When I held him to me, he snuggled in and I knew he needed us as badly as we needed him.  Total love connection, different from Brutus but love just the same.  Brutus was 4 years old when we got him.  In fact, he came from Sande the general manager of the Mario's restaurant we love so much.  Boy, telling him Brutus was gone was really hard!

                                           

     We named the pup Ronan, a Gaelic name meaning 'little seal' or 'promise' and he certainly lives up to his name.  He looks like a baby seal and has filled the promise of being a love sponge.  Following the same tradition as his 'brother,' Brutus, off to work we went.  Our friend Curtis "J" Berryman, who works the same shift at the fire department with Husband always says, "The healing begins the instant the injury occurs."  Little Ronan certainly helped the process, shown above at about 8 months old.

     Imagine the surprise that first day at the office with baby Ronan when the doorbell rings and it's the vet with another MinPin puppy!  Oh good grief!  The puppy was supposedly the same age as Ronan, but weighed at least 5 pounds and was so hyper that the first thing he did was knock over a waste basket, pee on the leg of the nearest table and then pooped in my office!  All that in the first minute! 

     God bless her.  The Vet's heart was in the right place.  She kept saying over and over how sorry she was and that she didn't know what else to say.  I held her and comforted her as she cried.  A great deal of healing took place that day.  For everyone.  The rowdy little one she gave to me is now very happily living with Larry, my land surveying technician and his family.  Larry's little boy always loved Brutus.  Matthew and "Rocket" are best of friends.

     My mother Millie, flew in from Rockford, IL to support Bill and I for this excisional biopsy procedure.  There was a time as there is for most mothers and daughters that we were shall we say, less than close.  Fortunately, in recent years we talk on the phone nearly everyday.  Until now, all my cellular minutes had been used while I walked Brutus and talked to Mom! 

     Stay tuned... It's late and I need a break!  All is well and life is good! Next, Thriving with Chemotherapy!

 

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