Yesterday morning we met with Dr. Lee for a post-operative consult, and it brought relief in many forms. First, and most importantly, the final pathology report confirmed all the tentative happy negatives from the "frozen" analysis performed during surgery: both of the sentinel lymph nodes that were biopsied were found to be clear of malignant cells. The official designation used in "staging" my cancer is N0 (N for node and zero for absence). Furthermore, the tumor itself was smaller than suspected from physical examination, measuring 2.1 cm in its largest dimension (designated a T2 tumor but at the smaller end of that spectrum). While it was confirmed to be a highly aggressive, grade 3 growth, it appeared not to have infiltrated the surrounding blood vessels, and the margins around Dr. Lee's excision were found to be clean and clear. The final (let's hope) diagnosis is a stage IIa, triple-negative carcinoma, making my prognosis with chemo much better than we'd feared a couple of weeks ago. I'll have a better sense of how much better when I meet again with my medical oncologist, Dr. Barnett, on the 27th.
In the meantime, I'm going to try to make the most of a short window of feeling not bad at all. The other great and immediate relief yesterday came from the removal of the drains; I hadn't realized quite how much they had weighed on me psychologically nor how much they had interfered with my unconscious attempts to accommodate a new physical reality. Dr. Lee had warned me to take a dose of oxycodone before the appointment, and getting those silicone snakes tugged out of my chest was painful and weird as anticipated, but Pete held my hands (one at a time), and after five or six deep breaths it was done. We celebrated by driving directly from the hospital to the Hoyt Arboretum, where we walked for an hour among strong and abiding trees.
In the twenty-six or so hours since, with nothing but ibuprofen to put a veil between us, I've been making more direct acquaintance with my altered somatosphere, assembling a new sense of my interior presence (composed in part of conspicuous absences). Scary but interesting work.