Snip,snip…the End of an Era

(https://www.ihadcancer.com/h3-blog/07-13-2015/20-inspirational-cancer-quotes-for-survivors-fighters-caregivers

 

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.

Walking Is Becoming a Challenge

Recently my family and I watched a lovely indie movie entitled Redwood Highway. We love small-scale movies that focus on characters who are going through some kind of rite-of-passage experience. This film was about a woman in her 70’s (Shirley Knight) who decides to embark on an 80-mile walk on Redwood Highway in Oregon to reach the coast for several reasons: to absolve herself of the guilt she feels about making a poor decision regarding her granddaughter; to fulfill a promise she made to herself decades ago; just to prove to herself she can still do it.

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Her journey was eventful, but walking was often difficult. The Oregon scenery was breathtaking as she made her way along the highway with several detours through breathtaking forests, including some with majestic redwoods. She was fortunate to meet many compassionate souls along the way, with one exception, who helped her to continue her journey. I felt every step she took, since I have been having difficult walking the past few months due to progressive spinal stenosis.

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Walking has always been my go-to activity because it allows me to relax and enjoy noticing the things that surround me in nature in any season. Now that walking has become such a challenge for me, I am fearful of losing my mobility. I recently had an epidural steroid shot which has eased the discomfort and increased my mobility somewhat and am due for another one this week which I hope will help even more.

On Saturday I made myself walk somewhat longer than I usually do, just to see how it would feel. For the first half-mile, I was rigid and achy and almost felt I would have to turn around. But I pushed on and soon my stride became more relaxed and less uncomfortable. The walk is one of my favorites: along a shoreline with a full view of the beautiful harbor near where I live. On one side of the road are gorgeous large homes, some built in the early 1900’s, many with balconies that loom over the harbor. The lucky one-percenters!

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When I reached my limit, about a mile and a half, I sat on a broken stone wall to rest my back and gaze at the harbor. I was surprised and delighted to see a lovely shorebird standing all by itself; one that was unfamiliar to me. I took out my binoculars and tried to memorize all its notable features: long, bright yellow legs; a long, needle-like beak for fishing; a beautiful spotted breast and brownish striated feathers down its back with a patch of white. I said to myself, “So that is why I came this far today; just to see you!” Feeling very proud of myself, I thought of the woman in the movie who also completed her journey with difficulty and was rewarded with a very special event, one much more significant than mine.

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As soon as I got home I looked up my shorebird and learned it is a “short-billed dowitcher.” I am an amateur bird-watcher, but always happy to add a new one to my personal list. I am sad that my walks can no longer be extensive as I would like them to be, but feel fortunate that I still can undertake several moderate walks nearby that afford me the opportunity to be surprised by nature. I hope this week’s injection will make doing so even more of a pleasure and allow me to continue to indulge in two of my favorite pastimes…walking and bird watching.

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