Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Million Dollar Mama

I have a confession to make. I'm high maintenance. Always have been.

Don't roll your eyes at me.

I know you know this, but it bears repeating. I'm high maintenance. Not because I want to be, it's just that I always seem to require more than what is reasonably expected by normal people. Braces? I had them twice. Drug store beauty products? They agitate my delicate skin. I've purchased jeans for less than $150, but they just didn't fit right.  I don't wish to be this complicated, but I've come to accept it. For this reason, I was not at all surprised as events unfolded over the past couple months and my pregnancy became more complicated. These complications had nothing to do with the baby, of course...it was all Mama.

To fully understand my latest High Maintenance Melodrama, you'll need a brief history lesson:

I spent much of 1997-2004 baking myself in one of these:

"But Samantha, you're a ginger kid," you say. "Wouldn't you spark like a fork in a microwave if you set one pasty, freckled toe in a tanning bed?" The answer is, "No, I wouldn't. And don't stereotype me." Not all redheads are incapable of tanning, and I am one of the lucky few who can. I can actually achieve a golden glow that Miss Hawaiian Tropic would envy. (This claim may be slightly exaggerated, but I think I made my point.)  Regardless of my tanning ability, I did pay a price. After many freckled, sun-damaged winters that followed those gloriously tan summers of my youth, I finally hung up my tanning bed goggles the summer after my college graduation. It was time to find a new dream. A dream that involved not looking like this...

...without having to resort to this...

That Aussie can deny she uses Botox all she wants, but lemme tell you something. See those peculiar-looking wrinkles above her brows in the terrifying photo above? Well, I'm no stranger to "The 'tox", (my own nickname for Botox, feel free to borrow it) and that forehead has all the earmarks of Botox Gone Bad. Girlfriend needs to own it. No shame in trying to stop the hands of time. But find someone new to inject you, because the person who currently does it obviously hates you and wants to make you look like a fool.  But I digress.

So, for the five years that have followed since my tanning retirement, I have slathered on the SPF, vacationed under umbrellas, and splurged on high-priced, anti-aging beauty products intended for a much older demographic. As the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." So, I armed myself with many, many ounces of prevention. I was going to outsmart the aging process. Bwaahahahaha!

Note: in addition to being high maintenance, I'm also a procrastinator. That tidbit ties in with what comes next:

As a fair complected woman of a certain age, I thought it would be prudent to see a dermatologist for one of those "skin checks" I've heard so much about. I "keep up" with those Kardashians, and on one episode, Khloe had a skin check. I decided right then and there, if that Armenian Amazon is doing it, then by golly, I should too! I had been carrying in my wallet the business card of a fantastic dermatologist since the fall of 2008, and I was very eager to schedule an appointment for a skin check right away.

Late January 2010: 14 months later, I visit my dermatologist. She biopsies three suspicious moles. I just love that term, suspicious mole. It makes me think of a villain in a 1940s film noir. (Note: Steve's fantasy basketball team name is "Curious Mole". Did I mention he is 17-2?)

Early February 2010: Biopsy results are back, and two out of the three moles have got to go. They are dysplastic nevi, so they aren't cancer...but they have cancerous aspirations. I'm told these excisions are no picnic, and it is recommended I remove them one at a time. I start with the one that is located on my lower back. Good thing I never got around to getting that tattoo I always wanted. (Note: In addition to being a high maintenance procrastinator, I am also indecisive.) Doc sends me to a Mohs Surgery specialist to remove the other mole. Apparantly it was even more suspicious than the one on the back; and shockingly, I never even knew it was there. The pathologist said it was just this close to being melanoma. Hidden danger is everywhere, it turns out. So, after having both moles excised, which hurt like hell, involved removing a surprising amount of skin ("margins" for those in the know) and living for a couple weeks with dozens of stitches, I felt confident the worst was behind me and grateful to have taken care of this so swiftly. I pat myself on the back for being so proactive.

Mid-February 2010: Like a horror movie villain  thought to be long-dead, that suspicious mole wasn't done with me yet. The first mole, the one located where my tramp stamp should have been, the one nobody suspected of wrongdoing, turned out to be melanoma. I was told not to be alarmed, but that the oncological surgeon wants to see me. Now. So, to the oncological surgeon I went, I was scheduled to have surgery a mere 36-hours later.

The details of my ordeal were enough to make my head spin, and since I was assured I was being treated by experts in the field, I was comfortable getting my information on a "need to know" basis and leaving the rest to the professionals. Here's the scenario, to the best of my understanding: melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers, it's rare to find it in someone my age, and pregnancy is an immunosuppressed state...in other words, it's the perfect storm.  The Doc hatched an action plan, and it became clear to me (as I sit, wearing a paper gown, in his exam room filled with an impressive collection of Simpsons memorabilia) that this is no ordinary doctor, and his take-no-prisoners approach to my treatment would be agressive but thorough.

Surgery Day: I relax in my room at Medical City Hospital as I await my procedures, laughing at reruns of Roseanne, blissfully unaware of the house of horrors that awaited me. Now I know how George must have felt the day I said "Let's go for a ride" and that ride ended with him getting his manhood snipped. I'm so sorry, little buddy. The first procedure was a lymphoscintigraphy, which is where they inject a small amount of radioactive dye into the skin near the tumor (this was shockingly painful -- lethal injection painful because mama couldn't have any numbing), and after 30-40 minutes (lying alone in a cold, silent room on a narrow, uncomfortable, hard table similar to an MRI machine), this machine takes pictures my insides, and the nodes that receive lymph from the area of the tumor are illuminated in blue. That's how the Doc knows which lymph nodes to take. I asked the doctor who performed this procedure what sort of risk this lymphoscintigraphy posed to my unborn child. He stared at me expressionless for a moment, before shrugging his shoulders, half-heartedly throwing his big hands in the air and replying, "Well...it is what it is." I suppose it's this bedside manner that led him to nuclear medicine. After this procedure, it is determined that three lymph nodes from my groin will have to go, and I'm anxious to just get on with it.

The Recovery: Oh. My. God. I was not at all prepared for what this was going to feel like. Seriously, I asked for one day off of work to recover, and instead I lay flat on my back for the next five days. Apparantly Vicodin is safe during pregnancy, and while I had an ample supply, it did little for my pain other than make me drowsy enough to sleep round-the-clock. I'm fortunate to not have experienced a whole lot of pain in my life (I suppose), but this was by far the most painful experience of my life. So painful, I'm convinced that it isn't possible for child birth to be more painful. I may be wrong about this assertion, but I suspect that one day of painful labor cannot possibly stand up to five days of constant, uncontrollable agony followed by another 10 days of persistant pain and discomfort. And the scars, oh the scars. To remove the margins of a tumor that is .33 millimeters, along with three lymph nodes the size of almonds, and the suspicious mole on my leg from earlier, I am left looking like I entered a knife fight -- and lost. I don't mind it from a vanity standpoint. I have no plans for swimsuit modeling in my future, but I was just surprised by the extent of my incisions.

This entire experience has been eye-opening to say the least. I have been fortunate to live in good health for my 28-years. This latest event, although serious, was found and treated early. It's over, and I'm lucky. When I retire to The French Riviera Geneva, Alabama and write my memoirs, this will be just a footnote. Certainly others, even in my own family, have faced greater tribulations. Which makes this final tidbit all the more surprising. The bill came. Now, it isn't the bill. Blue Cross paid it and this was just the statement breaking down what was charged to and paid for by Blue Cross. We Steve paid a $200 deductible (I didn't bring my wallet to the hospital!) Ready for the grand total for this little surgery?


Can you believe that? It cost $149 just for the one Vicodin that was given to me while in recovery. This was about 4 times more than I would have predicted. I really don't have a point here, other than to say...can you believe that? So once again, I am -- by no fault of my own -- the most high maintenance mama in the land. I mean come on, how many other people do you know who are diagnosed with a tumor that is one-third of one-tenth of one inch in size and run up a $41,000 bill?

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