I had my quarterly CT scan today at Mercy. The day started at 7:30 AM in the Outpatient Chemo Clinic, where I had my port accessed. Most people just get accessed in the radiology department on scan days, but not me. I get accessed in Outpatient Chemo, because my port doesn’t work well. Never has. Since day one. The OPC nurses are the only people on the planet who can get it to work. I think it’s because they have more patience than normal humans, and they’re willing to put TPA in it to bust up whatever little coagulated bits of blood are in the way. Elsewhere, like on the inpatient floors or radiology, they are less patient, and afraid to use TPA, which has all kinds of risks. For example, if you accidentally push TPA all the way into someone’s system, instead of just letting it sit in the port, it can cause a stroke. Every micro-step in cancer treatment comes with its own set of dangers. But I digress…
In the OPC, I’m known for being Little Miss Cranky Port. Its reputation precedes me. If they can’t get blood to come out of the port, they can’t run labs. No labs means no chemo. Early on, I took all this to mean that the port was broken, and couldn’t be used for anything, meaning they wouldn’t be able to give me chemo. What would actually happen was they would just draw blood from my arm to run labs. Not a major disaster, but not a great situation either. Every extra needle stick counts when you’re a cancer patient, and my veins got really fragile. This meant I was a “hard stick”, which meant more pain and more stress. Now, we joke about it but early on, it used to really scare me when my port didn’t work.
Anyways, in addition to “no chemo”, no labs also means no contrast which, in turn, means no CT scan. It was still essential to get blood return today, and my port was being way more stubborn than usual. For the first time, we were almost ready to give up and go with the dreaded arm stick but lo and behold, after a few hours and multiple rounds of TPA, standing up, sitting down, walking in circles, turning my head and coughing, and arm raises, the blood finally started flowing. My scan was scheduled for 8:30 AM. I cruised into radiology at 10.
This all matters, because today was my very last port access. On June 13th, my port is being removed. This is a big milestone in the life of any cancer patient, and a day I’ve looked forward to for two years. I don’t like having a port. It’s freaky looking, and gross to touch. I haven’t touched the left side of my neck and chest in 2 years. In recent months, it’s been causing me stinging pain in the spot where it’s sitting, and it’s a potential source of infection. AND it doesn’t work very well. I’m totally psyched to get it out. And yet….
Today I found out that, from now on, I’ll be getting my blood work done at the lab down the hall, and not in the clinic. I should be happy, right? I’m graduating. I’ll be one step closer to my old life, my “normal” self, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Thing is, the clinic has become such an integral part of who I am, that I was suddenly filled with a pang of what I can only call sadness. I’ve been changed forever by my cancer experience, but I’m walking away from all of the tangible parts of the thing that changed me. Soon, I’ll have nothing but memories and scars to remind myself, and explain to others, all that’s happened, and that feels wrong, somehow.
My scan was clear, and my surgeon remarked how “unbelievable” it is, that it’s been nearly two years since I finished chemo. He can “hardly believe it”. That makes two of us. He’s taken to congratulating me, the last 2 or 3 times I’ve been in for appointments. Today, he did it again. I’m not sure what he’s congratulating me for, but I’ll take it as a really good sign.