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
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
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?
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
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
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!