We had 2 appointments today, and in my head, they are classified as “one good appointment, one bad appointment,” although really both went fine.
First we had the “bad” one with plastic surgery. As with everything, it was a mixed bag. The good news was that they took out ALL my stitches & my bolster, in my chest, cheek/ear and the one in my forehead. She said the graft took completely, which is great news, and all the stitches looked good as well. The bad(ish) news is that the area of the skin graft is about as frightening as she said it would be and feels extremely large and is very sunken in. It literally looks like someone scooped out most of my right forehead/temple area. The nurse said over time that it should fill in more, but for the time being, I’m definitely keeping it covered with a bandage when I go out in public. Mad props to mom and Peter for being there through the removal of every stitch and for not betraying any emotion when they saw the skin graft area. But at least with my new “regular” bandage, I now just look like I hit my head instead of looking like a Frankenstein zombie victim!
Near the end of that appointment, the ENT called with more news/details about the surgery. It will be a superficial parotidectomy and a neck dissection, which will take about 6 hours. The surgeon said this is because melanoma is a nasty bugger and the best outcomes are seen with aggressive surgery. In addition to removing part of the parotid gland (a salivary gland in the cheek), they will also be removing all the lymph nodes in my neck, in addition to the sternocleidomastoid muscle, and there is some danger of damage to the accessory nerve (Cranial nerve XI, for those of you keeping track at home!). I have to say, those last two are the scariest for me, as it means I will have difficulty turning/tilting my head on that side and if there is damage to the accessory nerve, or if they have to remove it completely, it means significantly more trouble with shoulder elevation, etc. I’m not only generally fond of being able to keep my shoulders up, but it could also have a significant impact on my long-term ability to dance.
The only real new news the ENT had was that I will be in the hospital for 5-7 days after the surgery, which I was not fully expecting. That’s a long time, friends! It also gave me an indication that I should not really expect to go back to work between surgery and baby time (ETA unknown, but within 2-6 weeks of surgery date), since it took me a week to recover from a 2 hour outpatient surgery.
So even though there was no real “news” in the call, it still just brought home how much this all SUCKS and how dumb, awful and terrible it is that I/we have to deal with all of this right now. The silly little thing that put me over the edge this time was when the very very lovely plastic surgery nurse was explaining how we might have to maneuver to wash my hair, and then said, “But leaning backwards will probably be hard with being pregnant.” And it was so TRUE and AWFUL that either one condition (cancer/skin graft and pregnancy) is hard enough to deal with by itself, but the two together is just too COMPLICATED and terrible and no one should have to do this.
Then the “good” appointment was with the high-risk OB to talk about risks and complications and to get the steroid shot to help develop baby’s lungs just in case. She WONDERFUL and the nurse was also wonderful too (there had been a mix up about appointments, because the OB added me on during her lunch hour because I have cancer and cancer is awful and she is nice and understands that, and the nurse kept apologizing over and over about the mix up even though it all worked out). Not only were they wonderful, kind and caring and actually READ my chart and didn’t make me explain everything, but we also got an ultrasound to make sure everything was going well, and she even threw in a “freebie” 3-D ultrasound (which they normally do not do), mainly I think because she knew how much this all sucked for us. Also impressive: she had read up on melanoma in pregnant patients over the weekend. Amazing!
Baby looked great, and was measuring at 4.5 lbs, which is in the 50th percentile for her gestational age, which is good. We got some nice views of her profile and a few glimpses of her nose and mouth. Seeing her profile made me tear up and made it so real for me. It was wonderful.
The “news” from the OB was mostly that there is no news, which is good. We learned that the real risk from anesthesia is not for the baby, but for me. If MY oxygen levels plummet and the anesthesiologist can’t stabilize ME, then my body will try to protect me first and divert oxygen from the baby. THAT’S when they would do an emergency section. I had no idea about that, so that was good to know, especially since the risk for a young, healthy person like me under anesthesia is not huge. She did not at all sound like an emergency c-section during surgery was likely, so that was a huge relief (of course, still a possibility). Also, they would let Peter know if they did have to do one, so even though he wouldn’t be able to be in the room (given the whole “emergency” part of it), at least he would know and could see her/take care of her well before I would be able to. He is well aware that if this happens, his job is to take care of Baby, and my mom can take care of me.
Another concern we had was the idea of pushing with so many stitches, etc. soon after surgery. Obviously, the sooner baby comes, the more of a risk this would be. We had been thinking that if baby came at 37-38 weeks (1-2 weeks after surgery), then maybe they might have to do a c-section just to prevent damage to me or stroke, or other bad things. The OB helped allay those fears, saying that there are other cases where a mother cannot push for whatever reason, and that there are non surgical ways to help that (vacuum/forceps, etc). She was very much of the mind set of avoiding a c-section if at all possible, since that would be ANOTHER major surgery to add on, and even in a different area of the body. I very much like the idea of avoiding surgery.
It is funny how we’ve had to go from planning/wanting as natural and drug-free a birth as possible to the medical realities of a possibly unconscious surgical birth. Or, more likely, a birth that will involve being cautious of healing wounds, etc. We shall see!
The best part of the day was that seeing the baby came AFTER the news about surgery. It’s so much lovelier to go to appointments where we talk about the baby than about surgery and cancer, so we were able to end on a good note instead of a downer.
Important: at some point in those appointments, we also got surgery scheduled. My surgery will be Friday, May 20th at 8:30 AM. As previously stated, I’ll be in the hospital at least a week, most likely. I think I will be at Exempla St. Joseph’s in downtown Denver. Many of you have offered to help in different ways, and this (and after the baby comes) may be the time we take you up on the offers.
We’re going to try to have a point person who can coordinate offers and needs, because I don’t think I’ll be in much of a position to coordinate after the surgery 🙂 And we may ask for an IOU after the baby comes, because I’m already getting a little nervous thinking about how HARD it is to take care of a newborn when everyone is healthy, let alone still recovering from surgery and/or still going to multiple doctor’s appointments.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the messages you’ve sent and the love and support. It’s sometimes too emotionally hard to even write a quick thank you reply, but please know I read every one and they REALLY make a difference!
I love you all!