A momentous day as I put my erm… chemo port where my mouth is and spat it out, never to see chemo again.
I’ve had this port just below the surface of my chest for just shy of 4 years. It’s been a great help over that time in saving the veins in my arms from needles and scar tissue. It’s also irritated me as the silicone tubing over my collar bone rubbed under the seat belt in my car. And it’s just been residing in my chest only to be felt when I roll onto my side and feel it push into my chest.
Since I refuse to ever have chemo again, it was time to say goodbye. The short 30-minute extraction was less intricate than inserting it but there were other marked differences, too. I’m a different person. As I lay on the cold table under a blanket, contemplating the ceiling, waiting for the doctor to arrive, I watched a deep panic rise but was able to talk it down in my mind. I now know for certain that paying more attention to what’s going on inside than outside, makes me more resilient.
I breathed deeply, stopped shivering, and drew my mind to something else that turned out to be the NATO phonetic alphabet. I came across it as a kid and was fascinated so I learned it. In my mind, I went through it: alpha, bravo, charlie, delta… It’d make for a good pub quiz question, right? Wait. Jackal? Jackal doesn’t sound right. Oh, and I left out Q and R. Do it again. Alpha, bravo, charlie, delta… Juliette. Of course that’s what it is. Bored of that and having tested my spelling with it, I decided to think about this milestone. Before, I’d have been impatient to get this over with but now I face it and go through it.
That’s what I’m refusing by doing this. Projectile flames coming out of a helicopter, scorching everything in their path, leaving nothing to survive. That’s how chemo works. In the scorched earth that is my body, green sprouts of renewed life emerge and those are worth protecting. Everything I put into my body will be to support, not to destroy.
By the time the doctor arrived, I was okay. The panic rose again as my exposed patch of chest was swabbed with icy disinfectant and sharp-smelling iodine. “Are you ready”, asked the doctor.
“Never, but let’s go anyway.” I turned my head away to the side as the nurse came to stand at my side to hold my hand – but, I’m sure, mainly to make sure I didn’t pass out or something. The first needle with anaesthetic, hurt. “Owwwwy!” Before, I’d have gritted my teeth in stony silence. That was the superficial layer numbed. Time for the deep needle of anaesthetic. “Owwww! Sh…”
I kept my head turned. Once the anaesthetic took hold, I was okay and the nurse left my side. I was talking, answering the doctor’s questions, and asking my own like, “Don’t you prefer surgery where the patient is still and quiet and you can just get on with it?” He kept asking if I was okay whenever I went quiet. I was fine. All I could feel was numb tugging. Out the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the scalpel. He was about to cut me! I voluntarily kept talking – about travel overseas, mainly. He was just going to keep asking me questions anyway so I spoke for as long as I could so that ALL his attention could be on his work! Every so often, I asked how far he was. When I felt a strange, far away slithering near my neck, I peered upwards out the corner of my eye and he was holding up the white silicone tube that’d delivered napalm assaults into my bloodstream.
More tugging and the sputnik came out. It looked just the same as going in – all clean and white with a squishy grey patch in the middle. I asked to look at it – I suppose to see proof of what I’d been through. There were indents where needles had punctured it. In the bin. Then came the stitches. 2 layers of dissolving (thank goodness for medical advancements) stitches. The deeper layer took forever. I could feel the tugging as he then stitched the outer layer. Finally, it was over. My neck was stiff on one side from pushing my head into the pillow. But I was done.
I went through the process conscious of everything to say goodbye and actually have some closure. There’s always been a next step, a next problem to solve, a next side effect to deal with. This is part of an end that I’ve been fighting for. Until we leave this life, there’s forever another step but I’ll rest a bit now first.