Posts Tagged ‘port’

Three New Tattoos

Today was a day I had been increasingly nervous for. My anxieties were running rampant up until the moment my Radiologist began speaking. The purpose of my appointment today was to make sure my Radiologist and I were on the same page as far as the next step in my treatment journey: radiation. In addition, I was to get a “simulation scan” for the doctor and team to better aim their laser beams. For those who need a quick recap of where I am in my treatment, I will gladly update you. I had my radical hysterectomy on February 8th, which I am healing wonderfully from. I am still pretty sore in my stomach, and have been experiencing pretty common side effects. You know, the usual numb right thigh, and numb section of my stomach. Ha. However, my Oncologist says that my scar looks like that of a woman who is a year out of surgery… I’m not even three months out of surgery! Looks like I’ve got some gnarly recovery soldiers in my body. I officially completed my first three rounds of chemotherapy on the 4th of this month. This feat was a huge one! The next step in my treatment will be six weeks of radiation with weekly doses of chemo. Once that phase is complete, I will then finish three more rounds of chemotherapy. By then, it should be August, and I will be done! So looking forward to that!

Now, back to today. Holy crap, was I nervous. I’ve heard of cancer survivors forever being anxious for every scan. Scans to determine if the monster has returned or remains stomped out. That’s a big deal. I didn’t quite understand their perspective until this day came closer and closer. I was scared, nervous, anxious, and stressed. My faith and trust in God remains unwavering, that’s not the issue. The issue is I’m human (believe it or not). I have human emotions, regardless of how hard I try to ignore, avoid, or pray away these feelings. Unfortunately I fall prey to the devil. I fall prey to what he wants me to believe. That’s what causes these fearful emotions. Yet in my fear, God remains. He’s holding my hand, encouraging me to take another step into the unknown. It’s as if I’m blind, and He is my seeing eye dog friend, guide, and leader. Although I can’t see the next step, He can. I am learning more and more to rely on His eyes, not my own. He’s got all the pieces to the puzzle in His hands, and He gives them to me one by one. Today He gave me another piece.

My husband and I arrived at the Radiation Oncology office and soon met with my doctor. This is the doctor that I have mentioned in previous posts whom has an affinity for being blunt. Remember the doctor who looked me straight in the eye and without any pause told me that I would most definitely die if treatment didn’t work? Yes, that one. Well, truth is, I love my doctors, each and every one of them. I have a fabulous team. They are the smartest in their fields and truly are a team who works together for the betterment of my well-being. This specific doctor, my Radiologist, has spoken facts into my life. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s good to have the cold hard facts. Sometimes it’s okay to be rid of the fluff that often envelopes the hard news. However, today I was not only nervous because every sit down meeting with my doctors have increasingly been full of negative updates, and because it was yet another new step in the journey, but also because my doctor is blunt. If there were hard facts to share, he would lay it on me. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it. In my heart I believed I would receive good news. I have shared with a few of you that I believe my body is rid of cancer. I still believe this. Yet, where hope is, Satan isn’t far behind. He will constantly try to change your mind. He will constantly try to poison your hopeful thoughts. He doesn’t want us to have faith or believe in miracles. And he surely wants me to believe that cancer has creeped into another crevice of my insides. It is more important than ever for me to guard my heart from this toxic evil.

The first words out of my doctor’s mouth were that I looked great. He doesn’t seem like the guy to add flattery to the conversation, so I knew he was being genuine. So far, the meeting was going well! He continued on to tell us more good news. He confirmed that I indeed will receive six weeks of external radiation with weekly chemo doses. Great, we’re still on the same page! In addition, I don’t have to worry about ever receiving Brachytherapy, as I don’t have a cervix anymore. Brachytherapy is internal radiation and often destroys sexual function. (Hello!? My husband and I haven’t been married 2 years yet. We need many more years of that function!) I also was pleased to hear that each radiation treatment will take less than 30 minutes. I will be going to the office every day, five days a week, same time every day to receive this treatment, so not having to be there for hours on end is a blessing. After hearing much information about the side effects of radiation, I was gladly surprised to hear that my “knowledge” wasn’t necessarily the case. I shouldn’t experience skin irritation or burns. In fact, the main side effect that I will notice will be fatigue. Seriously? I’m a pro at being tired now…I’m pretty sure I can handle fatigue. I then asked him about the following scan I would get. Would it be able to reveal if there is cancer anywhere else? The specific name of the scan I received is called a “simulation scan”. He informed me that it would be concentrated on my pelvic region, and its purpose was to show my anatomy. “Ok, doc, if it’s a scan, will you be able to see if there is cancer there?” He assured me, that in his honest and expert opinion, he highly doubts there is any cancer there. He strongly believes that it was completely removed in surgery. Hallelujah! That’s what I have been feeling and believing! I went on to ask when I would receive another full body PET scan. He explained that it probably wouldn’t happen until the very end of treatment, meaning around August. As I explained that to my parents after the appointment, they both became alarmed. Shouldn’t they be making sure it’s nowhere else? Luckily, my Radiologist informed me, that again, he was very confident that if there was a tiny chance that the cancer has spread elsewhere and my earlier PET scan didn’t detect it, by now (after plenty chemo cocktails) it would be annihilated. Essentially, my Radiologist is extremely confident that my treatment (surgery, chemo, and radiation) is doing it’s job. More wonderful news: radiation is very effective with my type of cancer. Neuroendocrine cells are very sensitive to radiation. Hell yes they are! Frankly, if there were/are any miniscule amounts of cancer cells in my body, they are going to be murdered. End of story. Oh, and let me throw this in… As we were leaving his office to head to my scan, he shook our hands and with a smile said, “You look very good, and I am confident that with this treatment, you are going to do great.” Hooray!

On to the scan. Much like my PET scan, I was given contrast. Contrast is a dye that is used to illuminate any cancerous cells. After informing my nurses that I have a power port, they called a special nurse to come access it. Side note, most general nurses can not access ports because they require a different needle and application process. Today I had forgotten to apply Lidocaine cream to the top of my port. Soon you will find out why this was not good. This “special” nurse came in and accessed my port, AKA: shoved the giant “special” needle into my chest. Typically, I apply the above mentioned Lidocaine cream to numb it. Today, no cream. Today, no numbness. Today, pain. I will never again (fingers crossed) forget to apply the numbing cream. It is too important to forget. I learned the hard way. Access needles are much thicker than regular needles. After all, they need to get through the silicone at the top of the port. Ugh. Horrible pain. It feels exactly the way it sounds. A giant needle being shoved into your chest. Wonderful. And typically, with Lidocaine cream, the removal process is easy-peasy. Totally different today. When my lovely nurse removed the access needle, I swear she nearly pulled the port out of my skin. It was even more painful than insertion. If accessing my port wasn’t enough description for you, let me tell you about my new cancer treatment souvenirs…

Three new tattoos. Yes, you read correctly. Tattoo: “A permanent mark or design made on the skin by a process of pricking and ingraining an indelible pigment”. Yes, that’s what I got. Three of them, in fact. One on each hip area and one right above my pubic bone. The reason for these tattoos is so the radiation therapist can precisely pinpoint the area needing treatment. It allows the tech to line up the treatment fields quicker each session. A road map of sorts. Here me out, I’m not new to tattoos; I actually have eight already. And from my experience, tattoos hurt. Very worth it, but painful. So, here I am receiving a simulation scan, and soon told I will get tattooed. What? I asked the nurse if it feels like a real tattoo, and she too quickly said yes. Luckily these tattoos are extremely small. Folks, I’m talking the size of a freckle small. Had you freaked out a little, didn’t I? Nevertheless, they are real tattoos, and therefore hurt like a real tattoo. Let’s just add them to my visual reminders that God performs miracles!

Mark 11:22-25 (NIV)

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Port Procedure

Today has been the first day since diagnosis that I have felt like an actual human! Sounds odd I’m sure, but with the amounts of tests and doctors’ visits I’ve had, lately I’d more accurately describe myself as an experiment. Not to mention undergoing invasive surgery and a minor surgery within a week of each other. Life has been so busy and chaotic physically and emotionally, so getting a day where I wake up feeling wonderful and rejuvenated is a welcomed change! I felt so great today, that my mom and I even went around town to do some shopping. We came home empty-handed, but the excursion itself was such a treat for me.

Not only is a day like today a treat, but considering its only a day after my port placement procedure, it’s a true blessing. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since diagnosis has been that plans can no longer be “set in stone”.  You just can’t do it. Well, let me rephrase: the only definite planning that my life contains now is planning for treatment. It’s number one. But as far as planning anything even as minor as running to the grocery store or the bank, it’s now up in the air. Scheduling events is even more of a challenge. My days have recently consisted of resting, taking medication, speaking with doctors over the phone or in person at appointments, chatting with my out-of-state family via phone and FaceTime, and spending time with my mom, step-dad, pup, and most of all, my adored husband. Therefore, scheduling hangouts with our closest friends has proven an extreme challenge. My body gets tired at all the wrong moments, my pain kicks in right when I think I’m feeling good, and just when I think I’m getting settled into the current nest of immediate cancer news, more updates appear. This, however, will not be forever. Today has proven that. I will not always be stuck at home. I will not always be sick. I will not always be tired. I will not always be in pain. I will not. I refuse. That’s not how I’m going to live my life. It’s an oxymoron in itself: living life tired? Doesn’t sound like really living to me. It’s not only a good lesson to those of us affected with cancer, but also to everyone, no matter the circumstance.

As most know, I was at the hospital again yesterday. The occasion this time was to receive my port. It’s actually referred to as a “power port”, and that in itself makes me feel powerful. Assuming most of you are like me (pre-diagnosis), cancer terms are not in your vocabulary. So, let me explain. I was given a pamphlet that informs me all about my port, so I will be quoting directly from it. “Your Bard PowerPort device is a small device (about the size of a quarter) used to carry medicine into the bloodstream. It has one or two small basins that are sealed with a soft silicone top, called a septum. The port is placed under the skin on your chest or arm. The port connects to a small, soft tube called a catheter. The catheter is placed inside one of the large central veins that take blood to your heart. When a special needle is put into the septum, it creates ‘access’ to your bloodstream. Medicine and fluids can be given through the needle and blood samples can be withdrawn.” I’ve included a couple of pictures, to better illustrate my device. In case you are wondering, yes my port is purple. It’s actually more of a fuchsia purple in person, but regardless. Those who know me, know that girly is my thing. If I’m having a device implanted in my skin, it better be a girly color.
The procedure itself was only 8 minutes long. That was shocking to me. 8 minutes to implant a device under my skin? Seems a little rushed, don’t you think Doc? (Apparently, that’s why I’m a patient and not a doctor…) I checked into the hospital at 11am, and was not allowed any food past midnight. I, however, could take my prescribed medicine and drink water up until check-in. No big deal right? Wrong. My last dose of pain meds was at 8am the morning of my procedure. Check in was at 11am and the surgery didn’t begin until 2pm. That’s more than 6 hours since my last dose. That’s 3 hours past my scheduled dose, therefore, I was in the most pain I had been in since my hysterectomy. It was excruciating. By the time I was hooked up to my IV, wheeled into the operating room, and told to shimmy onto the operating table I was nearly in tears. I’ve been on a very scheduled pain management regimen, so I hadn’t had much time to experience the depth of pain that my hysterectomy surgery was causing me. This lack of medicinal intervention quickly put the pain on the forefront of my mind.

Once I got onto the operating table, and the nurses prepped me for surgery, my lovely pain management nurse asked me if I had ever had a margarita. Why, yes I’ve had a margarita, Nurse! Why would you ask me such a question before I am to be cut open; interesting conversation starter, don’t you think? She soon informed me that she would be giving me the equivalent of 2 margaritas through my IV. Oh, joy! This is going to be fun. I was given what is called “conscious sedation”, which means I am awake and alert throughout the entirety of the procedure. This frightened me greatly before surgery, but 2 margaritas in, I was fine with it. They placed what appeared to me like a small blue tarp over my face, and I was told to look to my left. They inserted a numbing injection to my right collarbone area, which took effect pretty quickly. Then my doctor walked in, whom I met in pre-op, and he quickly began the implantation. Not only did he start the procedure, but he also started up conversation with me. What a nice guy. Just another nice doctor in my cancer adventure. It’s been amazing. We talked about how long I had lived in Denver, but mostly about my immense love for my husband. How we met. How long we had been together. How I knew by our second date that I wanted to marry him. Friends, I deeply adore my husband. This wasn’t just the margaritas talking. He is my best friend, my encourager, my lover, my rock, my support, my personal comedian, my teammate, and my heart. Pretty soon, I was interrupted and told that I was done. My surgery was complete. What? Dang, that was quick!

This surgery did not hurt at all. It wasn’t even uncomfortable. Thus far, this has been one of the easiest things I have undergone since diagnosis. I merely felt pressure in the area in which my doctor was pushing my port and catheter under my skin. What a relief! Praise God for allowing some of these procedures to be easy! What I’m realizing, the deeper and deeper I get into treatment, is that the peace and grace of God is all I need. Not to say that I don’t get nervous, anxious, and afraid before all treatments (that’s my flesh, folks), but my spirit is continually drenched in the calm of Jesus. He has gone before me on this one. Just like everything before. He has always been here for me, and He will never leave me. He has my back. He has scouted the road ahead to make sure I can handle it. And, even though at times I don’t think I can, with God all things are possible. I will conquer this battle. But, ultimately it’s not just me. It’s Him. He is ever-working through me to fight this enemy. He will succeed. He has promised me that. Hallelujah.

Exodus 14:14 (NIV)

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”