Tomorrow, I will have a bilateral mastectomy.
Tomorrow, I will face my fears. I will go in for my first ever surgery, and a pretty brutally drastic one at that. I will learn more about my tumor: it's size, exact type, if it has spread outside of my chest wall, and how successful the surgeons will be at removing it. I will start a difficult road of recovery. I will go forward with a body I will forever thereafter see as mangled; strange.But tomorrow is also the day so critical to my survival, the day that will save me. A slowly multiplying mass has been spreading across my chest for roughly the last decade, inching me toward a terrible death. Tomorrow it will come out.
On the eve of this milestone, there was a small procedure that needed to be performed. As directed, I went to the Nuclear Medicine facility to have the sentinel lymph node(s) located in my underarm. Lymph nodes are often the first place breast cancer spreads to, so it’s common for at least the sentinel, or “gatekeeper,” nodes to be removed for biopsy during a mastectomy. The lymph node biopsy is a strong indicator of whether or not metastasis has occurred.
The procedure to locate the sentinel node or nodes is a two-part process. First, dye is injected into the breast – for me, injected around and under the left nipple. (Given the location of my tumor, the surgeon requested the dye enter right under the nipple.) As one may imagine, nothing pleasant can come out of bundle of sensitive nerves and a syringe.
There were four injections and each was excruciatingly painful.
Then, for the second part, I returned after a couple of hours of catching my breath, time enough for the lymph fluid to carry the dye into the first, the sentinel, lymph nodes under the arm. The radiologist took an ultraviolet photo, entrusted it to my care, and marked the spot in my armpit with a small, black Sharpie. Yes, the high-tech procedure culminated with a Sharpie-x in my armpit.
I was sorry I had to say goodbye to my left nipple with such violence. Tomorrow it will be cut off.