Snip, snip. Within 30 seconds it was over. I had just entered the room and wasn’t even paying attention to the surgeon as I spoke to his nurse standing beside me. As we were talking, the surgeon gently pulled the collar of my tee shirt down below the stitches on my upper right chest, snipped twice with his scissors and it was done. For me, it was the end of an era; my chemo port had been removed from the site two weeks earlier by the same doctor and now all I had left was a red scar.
I was almost disappointed at how uneventful the procedure was. For me the removal of my chemo port symbolized so much. I was expecting a bit more of a production. Perhaps lying on the patient bed, being draped around the site of the stitches, having the doctor sit beside me while he carefully pulled out the threads. But, no, there he stood, grinning at me. I’m not sure whether he was grinning because he had tricked me, or because he was happy for me, or both. I like to think the latter.
Anyone who is a cancer survivor can vividly remember having to endure certain rites of passage as a cancer patient. For many of us, getting a chemo port inserted into the chest area signals the beginning of the dreaded chemo treatment period. It is put there to make things easier; so that each time blood must be drawn for analysis, it can be done more easily through the port than by inserting needles into the arm, hand or wherever else may be necessary to deliver the chemo cocktail. It is, in fact, very helpful in streamlining that process. It seems a small thing, but it makes a big difference in enduring the various ordeals a chemo patient must endure.
It does require attention. Following two months of chemo treatment, accompanied by daily radiation doses, I was told to come back to the oncology unit every 4 to 6 weeks to have my chemo port “flushed” so it would continue to be viable. I did not dread those visits; the worst was already over. In fact, I looked forward to seeing the oncology staff who become so important to me. They are the “hands-on healers.” And besides, I had been through the worst of it, so this port-flush stuff was “easy peasy.”
It has been four years since cancer was first identified. It was several months later that the port was inserted. For four years I have lived with a small bump on my chest that most people probably wouldn’t even notice. That small device had been punctured dozens of times in the past four years, and then one day it stopped doing its job. It could still be “flushed” but it was getting quite difficult and sometimes impossible to draw blood through the port. My oncologist said it was time to have it out.
I am not the first cancer survivor to bond with her port. Others have told me they keep it in because they are superstitious. Mine was kept in as a precaution. Because my cancer was so advanced and had metastasized, I was considered high risk even though there was no sign of cancer in my body two months after my treatments ended. There was a very strong possibility, however, that the cancer would come back and I would need the port so I was given a two-year period to keep it in. Somehow another year and a half passed and it was still there. It had become part of me.
Then during one recent visit, my oncologist said, “Why do you still have the port?” I replied, “Because you haven’t yet told me to get it out.” Then I finally made the appointment to have it removed early this summer.
So last week I had the followup visit to have the stitches removed. I celebrated by having lunch with a local friend who is also a cancer survivor. We both know how lucky we are to be alive. She’s had cancer three times. Sometimes it’s good to talk about these things with someone who has been on a similar journey. And, so, one of the most terrifying and stressful times of my life symbolically ended not with a bang, but with a snip, snip.