Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For Michelle

You won't read this tonight, and certainly won't have time tomorrow.  You and your daughter will be driving to the outpatient surgery center in Fort Worth early in the morning so that you can check in for your double mastectomy.

It was about five weeks ago that I saw your instant message to me on Facebook.  It read, "I found a lump in my breast".  We spoke on the phone that night and you told me about how you had been sitting on the couch watching television when you found the lump, which you said was about the size of a grape.  You promised that you would make an appointment to see a doctor the following morning.
I remember hanging up and then hanging my head.  It didn't sound good to me.

A week later we spoke again.  You had been to a doctor and had a mammogram.  The doctor told you that he wasn't going to mince words.  He said that he'd been looking at mammograms for a long time and that yours looked like you had cancer.  A biopsy confirmed that diagnosis.  You said, "What the hell?  I have breast cancer."  I said, "Yes, you do."

More testing.  You have the "bad kind" of breast cancer (as if there were a good one), the kind that grows fast and spreads fast.  They saw no signs that the cancer had spread to your lymph nodes, so we crossed our fingers then (they're still crossed).  You met with your surgeon.  She said that a lumpectomy was too conservative and advised you to have a mastectomy - just the one breast.  With your delightful sense of humor you were able to talk about how, after the surgery, you'd still have one of your "girls".  Your boyfriend loves your breasts, you said, and we agreed that he would still have one to admire.

Two weeks ago you told me that you'd decided against breast reconstruction - you don't want additional pain and discomfort.  I told you that I thought I would make the same choice.  We are, after all, seasoned women on the wrong edge of middle age and if our men don't want us with flat chests they need to find other old women to sleep next to.  A couple of nights later, you told me that your surgeon had called to say that she thought a double mastectomy would be your safest route.  I asked you how you felt about that and you told me that you didn't want to spend your days and nights worrying about whether or not your particularly aggressive form of cancer was germinating in a second breast, and had decided to go with the doctor's recommendation.  I believe I would make that same decision.

I can't be in the waiting area tomorrow with your daughter and boyfriend because I am in nursing school in Alaska and you're in Fort Worth, but my spirit will be in that operating room with you when they put you under, and with you in the recovery room when you wake up with your chest bandaged.  The doctors will be testing your lymph nodes before the actual surgery, so with luck we'll finally uncross our fingers when they tell us that they found nothing worrisome in those nodes and that your double mastectomy removed every trace of malignancy.  We'll hug (gently) and then I can tell you what I've wanted to say ever since you first told me that you had found that lump, but have been too afraid of bursting into tears to do so.

You're a beautiful, feminine, smart, wonderful woman.  You wear sparkly shoes and have striking eyes and gorgeous hair.  You're strong and willful and so very, very funny, and I've had some of the greatest laughs of my life with you.  I've cried with you, lived with you and shared secrets with you.  I count you as one of the great blessings in my life.

Tonight after I called to tell you that I love you and that I'll be thinking of you all day tomorrow I got down on my knees (which I do rarely) and I said, "God, I usually don't ask You for things for myself, but tonight I am begging You to let Michelle get through tomorrow with no lymph node involvement, no complications.  Please.  PLEASE."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Paging Noah

Yesterday the seemingly eternal sub-zero cold snap broke here in Anchorage.  As I drove home from class last night , I marveled at the temperature reading my Jeep showed on the dashboard: 38 degrees F.
I entered the B&B, walked down the stairs to my room on the ground floor and heard something unusual.  It sounded like a waterfall.  I thought, "Wow, the warmer temps melted all that snow on the roof...that's some big runoff."  I changed into my jammies and went into the kitchen to grab something to eat.  That water was loud.  I mean really loud.  I walked toward the corner of the living area, from whence the sound was coming, and suddenly I was standing in a puddle of very cold water.  "This isn't good", I thought.  The floors in that room are beautiful glossy hardwood.  Exploring the deck just outside the living area wall I saw no water cascading from anywhere above.  I came back inside and started pushing furniture toward the center of the room and away from the expanding puddle.  Once I had saved several nice pieces, I raced upstairs and called the B&B owner's daughter who lives here in Anchorage (the owner is in Las Vegas - she isn't crazy enough to live here during the winter).  The daughter, Martie, said that she and her husband would be over to assess the situation after they had dinner.

I was really worried about that hardwood floor.  Collecting bath towels from each of the five suites upstairs I began sopping up water.  I got close to the source and noted that it appeared to be coming up from the floor itself.  Very shortly I was out of towels and thought to look in the sauna the owner uses as storage.  There I struck pay dirt.  She had visited J.C. Penney at some point and there were maybe 40 new towels in there.  More sopping.

Martie showed up about an hour later with her husband Steve, who is (thank God) a plumber.  I showed them the pond and piles of soaked towels in the living area.  Steve went to work trying to figure out what in the world was going on while Martie and I continued sopping and mopping.

All kinds of interesting things happen when you live in Alaska.  Last year my husband neglected to "winterize" our motor home and the water that was in the pipes when we parked it in the driveway froze.  When spring came, they broke, and leaked.  It was nasty.  This year the owner of this B&B forgot to shut off the valve that controls an obscure pipe that runs from the bathroom of a second floor suite to the back of the house and ends in a spigot before she left for the winter.  Sometime before I got home last night, the ice that had accumulated in that pipe thawed enough, and the pipe burst.  The valve was open, the water was running - and it was running down the inside of the wall and across the ceiling of the suite on the other side of the living area from my suite.

Steve shut the valve and the water stopped running.  Even so, there were gallons of it soaking the insulation in the ceiling of that other room.  We watched in horror over the span of about three hours as large pregnant looking bubbles formed on the ceiling and walls in there.  We poked at them with knives and water poured out of them, further soaking the carpet.

I've washed and dried all the towels (had to put them on a spin cycle first - they were very heavy).  Six loads.  There are three men from the disaster crew in the other bedroom now, at 1 am (24 hours after the flood).  They have what one of them called a "shop vac on steroids", dropcloths, hatchets and other tools.  They're tearing the ceiling out in there and trying to salvage the carpet.  They seem like very good guys, so I may just go to sleep while they're still here (they'll probably still be here when I wake up, for that matter).

I've spoken with the owner several times today.  Each time she has told me how very glad she is that I am here, and that she can only imagine what would have happened had the pipe broken, say, on a weekend while I was home in Kenai.  The fellow in the other room with the hatchet told me that we'd have had two to three feet of water down here if that pipe had gushed for a couple of days.

When I lived in California, I ran from forest fires.  Now I have survived a flood.  From this point forward, I'll be scanning the horizon waiting for and watching for the locusts.