Toronto, January 27, 2016 – It was an incredibly positive experience.
The day started with Shayne and Sabrina calling in, as we were driving to the hospital, to ask how I was feeling. I told them honestly that I was a bit nervous, a bit anxious, and mostly hopeful. Sabrina asked if I was wearing my most colourful bright pink socks – which I was!
The procedure I was going for was a right breast radioactive seed localization lumpectomy (seed removal) and complete axillary lymph node dissection. In layman terms, it means removing the cancerous lump from my breast, as well as removing all the lymph nodes from under my right arm. This was scheduled to be a two-hour procedure where I would be operated by Dr. Brian Pinchuk.
As I was waiting outside the surgical room in a gurney, waiting to be wheeled in, Amin Naran, a friend who works at North York General Hospital, came by. He said he saw my name on the roster, was expecting me and had a gift for me! He came back with a pillow (apparently they are in short supply) and expertly positioned it under my head so I could rest comfortably. He then told the OR staff to take extra special care of me because I am his friend. God sends angels in many ways!
The mood in the operating room was relaxed. Everyone took their time to introduce themselves to me and ask me how I was doing. There was a humanness in the sterile operating room that I was not expecting to find. As the anesthesiologist was looking for a cooperative vein to insert an IV, Dr. Pinchuk held my hand for the entire time. And then when he left to “get his headlights” to start the surgery, his assistant, with a big smile and personality, took his place to hold my hand. This simple gesture, at a vulnerable time, was all I needed to go into surgery feeling safe and secure.
But a little bit more about Dr. Pinchuk. We first met him in December, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. We were immediately struck by three things:
- His clarity and precision in explaining the diagnosis and potential treatment plan (complete with exact pictures carefully labelled and drawn to scale!);
- His good handwriting (doctors are notorious for writing illegibly); and
- His patience. We never felt rushed – he took the time to answer every question and to listen to everything we said.
It was at the first meeting, that I made the decision that I wanted him to do the surgery. In my head, I figured that he would bring the same discipline of structure and preciseness when he performed the surgery.
Back to the surgery. I was asleep through it. In the meantime, Nagib spent the day pacing from the crowded waiting room to the somewhat quieter cafeteria downstairs (where he comforted himself in the company of a couple of Tim Hortons Double-Doubles). Every so often, he would rush back upstairs to the crowded waiting room to check the scoreboard and update the results on Whats App so that the kids in Nairobi and New York could follow along. You see, North York General Hospital has an amazing system where the patient’s family can electronically keep track of the patient’s progress:
Finally, after 2 1/2 hours, Dr. Pinchuk came out to see Nagib and told him the operation was “textbook” and that there were no surprises.
When my status changed to Purple (Out of Recovery), Nagib was allowed by my bedside in the Recovery room. I have no recollection of what I said but apparently, I was very loving to him, the nurses, the volunteers, the orderlies, and everyone who passed by me.
Meanwhile, Dr. Pinchuk went back to the operating room for his third surgery of the day. When he was leaving at the end of the day, he came by to check in on me and told me that the surgery was like a textbook, exactly as planned. In fact he said, “It was actually quite boring!” – nothing untoward, nothing gone awry. And then he smiled and said, “Boring is good, especially when it comes to you!”
I am home now and using this time to rest and sleep. On my right side, there is a drainage tube that is attached to a container which is pinned to my clothing. Every few hours, I have to drain and measure the fluids that come out of the surgical site. I expect to have this tube for two weeks or so, until such time that the drainage stops.
Today, I had my first visit with a nurse at the local CCAC Community Clinic for wound care. And now I realize why I am in so much pain. There is a huge cut under my arm – I measure it to be about 8 or 9 inches. It is in the shape of a smile! So I am relying on strong painkillers every 6 hours to combat the pain. I expect the pain will subside in a few days.
In two weeks, I will be seeing Dr. Pinchuk again for a post-operative visit. At that time, he will share with us the results of the pathology tests on the tissues he removed from my breast and from my underarm. Hopefully, the results will show that the cancer has been completely removed. Fingers crossed. Then the plan is for me to start radiation at the end of February, every day for 5 weeks.
Despite a long day of four scheduled surgeries (and an emergency case), Dr. Pinchuk had made a commitment to pick up his young daughter at 5:45 p.m. and take her skating. As Nagib pointed to his watch, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of time.” And, he kept that commitment to his family.
I wondered how the conversation would go with his family that day:
“How was your day, Daddy?” And he would say, “Rather routine. Boring really. Just another day at work.”
I want him to know that for me, he was more than boring, more than textbook, and that the work he did saved my life. And kudos to Nagib for taking such good care of me before, during and after surgery – every day he gives me another reason to fall in love with him all over again!
And, thanks to all of you for your many messages of love, good wishes and prayers. Somebody upstairs was listening.