I have a hospital appointment where I receive the fantastic news that NONE of my lymph nodes were infected. I’ll be honest, I struggled with this when they told me. Having zero nodes infected is one of the more important indicators of prognosis, but now it felt like they had taken them for nothing. That felt dangerously ungrateful in the face of wonderful news. But still, I mourned the loss of my nodes, as the reality of what it meant to lose 12 of them had begun to sink in. I was at danger of lympoedema forever. And Ever.
I would have to be careful of using my left arm forever. (Did I already say “and ever“?!) And don’t forget, I’m left handed. I was dealing with the possibility that I’d never be able to play tennis or rock climb or any number of things. (Whether or not I’ve ever done those things or will do them is beside the point, of course!) I now had printed lists of instructions for how to care for my arm with rules like:
• Don’t wear jewelry on the affected arm.
• Don’t carry a purse on that arm.
• Avoid any injury to the arm and hand, including burns, hang nails, insect bites. Immediately disinfect and bandage any received.
• Avoid fatiguing the arm via window washing, vacuuming, etc.
While I didn’t mind the last one, suddenly I felt like wilted flower. I had always been fiercely self-sufficient and independant (perhaps to a fault), and to feel like I might have lost all that in one swoop and “all for nothing”?! Well…I’m sincerely ashamed in the face of people whose path reports aren’t so lucky, but I just couldn’t help it.
On the other hand, I did have some vascular invasion (VI). This means that the cancer had broken through the walls of some vein(s) and thus had the capability of entering the blood stream. This is of course not good prognosis-wise, though to what extent is unknown. The doc’s said that staying to do the surgery immediately was indeed a wise decision in light of this, particularly since they stressed that the VI was to the most “microscopic” extent and stopping it where it was, was very important. Furthermore, they said that the VI meant my cancer has the ability to come back in the lymphatic vessels and nodes. For this reason, I took the implication to be that it was good to have the lymph nodes out. True or not, I’m going with that, as it sooths my feeling of unneeded loss.
Obviously, the lymph node loss remains somewhat of an issue if for no other reason that the fact that I had completely underestimated it as such. I remember one day watching LOST (best show ever!). Kate, my favorite character, was locked in a room but hoisted herself up into the air conditioning shaft to escape. I actually started tearing up because I was thinking wistfully that I used to feel tough like that, but now I didn’t any more. Del asked me what was wrong and I explained that if I were ever locked in a room I couldn’t save myself by pulling myself into the A/C ducts. He must be used to my strange comments because somehow he managed to comfort me without explaining.
Incidentally, today I am generally pleased with the performance of my left arm. Now, over a year post-surgery, I still have areas of numbness, namely the back of my shoulder and down the upper arm. I also have (less and less often) a bit of pain in the scar and a (very common) itch somewhere in there, that I cannot quite find because of the numbness. For this reason you will sometimes see me raise my arm over my head and slap myself with my other hand all around the left armpit and upper arm. It looks silly, but it usually manages to satisfy the itch. Plus, it’s a handy way to recognize me from a distance!
I am still a little nervous about returning to flight attending, as it’s such a physical job at times, but I gain more confidence in the arm each week. Oh, and these days, although saving myself via the A/C system might result in a swollen arm later, I’m quite sure I could at least pull it off initially. That’s good enough for me.