My name is Sandy Martin and I am from coastal Alabama. At age 39, I am currently fighting breast cancer again. I was first diagnosed with DCIS and BRCA2 genetic mutation in October 2015 at age 36. I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy because (if you asked my 36 year old self) “I never wanted to deal with breast cancer again.” I am currently fighting a new Stage 3b chest wall breast cancer discovered through self check earlier this year. I am also a wife, mother of two awesome children, a business owner, a pediatric occupational therapist, a runner (well, more like walker at the current time but I’ll be back), and proponent of self-checks after mastectomy.
Another day, another surgery. It’s the life of a cancer patient. With this being my second diagnosis, I’m unfortunately quite familiar with the surgery routine. Apparently so much so that I tune out details. In getting a cancer diagnosis, you are inundated with so much information that it is impossible to process it all.
So, I walked into the hospital to have my mediport placed and was just going through the all too familiar motions. I was much more concerned and anxious about getting chemotherapy later that day, as it would be a totally new experience for me. The unknown parts are the hardest.
I had changed into the fun gown, fashionable nonslip socks, and flattering hairnet and was lying in the hospital bed trying to relax. My anesthesiologist comes in to give his regular spiel. I halfway listen because, again, it’s the same information, right? Just go ahead and let’s get it over with. Knock me out.
And then he starts saying things like, “you’ll be able to hear what’s going on.” “We’ll be tucking in your arms so that you aren’t tempted to reach up and help with surgery.” Hold up. Back up. What?!!! I completely missed the fact that they were only using twilight anesthesia. No big deal, but it’s an unknown. And again, unknowns are difficult for me. Especially when I’m not prepared for them.
The nurses and anesthesiologist accurately pick up on the fact that I am starting to freak out! Probably not their first rodeo, so they start talking to me to try to calm me down. The nurses are telling me all about my “singing surgeon.” “Oh! Your surgery is with Dr. Soul (name changed to protect the innocent and guilty party). He is great! If you’re lucky, he will sing to you. He sings to some of the patients during surgery! Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones!”
I work in pediatrics and sometimes sing with my patients, so by singing I’m thinking along the lines of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Well that’s kind of weird, but OK. I’m a bit curious now and definitely distracted. The anesthesiologist also keeps telling me not to worry. To just say “Ow” if I feel anything. The last thing I remember before transferring over to the operating table is the anesthesiologist asking me, “Remember, what are you going to say if you feel anything?” I answered with, “Ow,” and promptly fell asleep from the anesthesia.
The next thing I know, I wake up and realize they are operating on me still. And all I can remember is I’m supposed to say “ow.” So, I do. Even though I feel nothing. I say “ow.” And cue the music and singing.
Seriously. Like someone had a soundtrack ready at the go (or, in the case, the ow) to hit play. It’s not 100 percent unlikely that I made up the music part in my head, but it was darn real. Music and my surgeon singing tunes like “What a Wonderful World.” And he wasn’t half bad. I was picturing all of the nurses and doctors singing and dancing flash mob style right there in the operating room during my surgery. It’s still what I picture every time I think about it. I was too out of it to laugh at the time but I was cracking up inside. And it was oddly calming.
After surgery and in recovery, I was telling my husband about it. And I was thinking I might possibly have made the whole thing up in a drug induced stupor with ideas that were planted in my head. Which I was OK with too, because I love drug induced recovery room stories. I would probably still be questioning whether it actually happened had I not gotten an email from Dr. Soul with recordings of several of his songs. Yep. And I still have the emails and recordings. So it was real.
I’ve held onto this moment for a good laugh throughout my treatment. Anytime my husband sees me getting a bit anxious about this procedure or that, he can always say, “Want me to sing to you?” and I start laughing and saying, NO! Because he can’t sing and I am saving the ears of innocent parties. I’m coming up on my last chemo and may have to play the recording for everyone. Because some days are tough. And it’s the little things that help us to get through all of the hurdles.