My recovery began with a dichoctomy. Emotionally, I was elated that surgery had even been an option. Physically, I was a wreck. It had been more difficult and painful than I had anticipated. The 1/2 inch diameter tubes in my back drained into a suitcase shaped apparatus which gurgled at the side of my bed. One of the very first hurdles was forcing myself to cough in an effort to help clear my lungs (it hurt so much!). A nurse came in and quite roughly kneaded the muscles in my abdomen which was helpful (why they hurt, I couldn’t tell you). I have heard that some hospitals provide you with a teddy bear to hug when you cough which sounds like a good idea. I also struggled to blow the ball up the tube in the little spirometer–kind of like a circus trick but not as much fun.
The morning after my surgery, while I was yet quite groggy, my oncologist came in to introduce himself. I was unaware that it was my good fortune to be assigned to Dr. Tom Lynch, who had been testing for mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor gene for some time. As a young, female, never smoker I fit the profile of someone with an EGFR mutation. However, when all the biopsy work came back, that would not be the case. What we did know was the following: I had a bronchioalveolar carcinoma (BAC), mucinous. My tumor was 5 cm in diameter. Margins were clean. Also present was centriacinar emphysema. All lymph nodes and bone were free of tumor. I was a stage IB.
My stay in the hospital extended to 9 days, as my lung partially collapsed again. My ipod provided some distraction, but I also spent a good deal of time perusing two books that were a great source of comfort for me. The author is Pema Chodron, and they are aptly titled Comfortable With Uncertainty and The Places That Scare You. In addition, I had the window seat, and there was a great view of the Charles River. I would watch the crew teams in their sculls, and marvel at how far from my world that degree of physical activity now seemed. For me, a lap around the thoracic wing with my IV cart in tow was a workout.
David was at my bedside daily, although it was more than an hour from our home and Peter’s needs had to be addressed as well. Pete had just turned nine the week before, and had taken the lack of a real birthday party in stride. A network of friends had been rather magically spiriting Peter to and from school and invited him for lots of sleepovers as well, but he still needed a parent around.
As difficult as this time was for myself, David, and our older children, it was harder for Peter. We had a very close bond and he was so frightened and anxious now. One of my strongest memories from my stay in the hospital was the first time David brought him to visit. Peter crawled onto my bed and kind of wrapped himself around my legs and made these small animal noises. My heart was breaking, but at the same time, it was going to be my love and dedication to my children that would pull me through.
The day I was released, we made a crucial stop on the way home at a store that sold Lazyboy recliners. Because of the extreme discomfort from the three incisions on my back, as well as my lack of ability to be on my side due to my fractured rib, we knew that sleeping would be difficult. A recliner seemed like the best option. There was going to be a two week wait for a chair, but David played the C card for the first time, and we were able to take a floor model home with us. It was quickly re-christened the Lazygirl, and became my home base for many weeks to come. I would make a nest of blankets at night, and imagine myself in a small boat that was taking me back to a safe place.