Portia was a champ for her inaugural run today! (For those of you just stepping in to my journey here, ‘Portia’ is the name I’ve given to the chest port that was surgically placed inside me just two days ago. Because I will be getting drug infusions for a very long time (‘indefinitely’ according to my oncologist) on a schedule of every three weeks like clockwork, a chest port is necessary because without one, the veins in my arm would become collapsed quite quickly making it very difficult over time to find a vein to use for needle insertion that will deliver the drugs via intravenous drip. The port itself a triangular shape and thicker than I expected it to be. It is typically placed beneath the skin just below the collar bone. Because the port has raised bumps on each of the three corners, once implanted the nurses can feel for those three bumps and know where the center of the port is for insertion of the needle.
At my pre-op appointment with the surgeon, who looked ridiculously young with an over-sized mug of a half downed and likely cold cappuccino sitting on her desk, she explained all of this to me by showing me exactly what the port looked like. She had one handy sitting on her desk. I could touch it and fiddle with it (right after I picked it up off the floor because I immediately dropped it in my clumsy attempt to hide my shock that it was PLASTIC. Plastic? Ten years ago after my bi-lateral mastectomy, I opted for no reconstruction because I didn’t want anything foreign in my body. Good grief.)
“Plastic?” I asked her with an unrecognizable chirpy voice. She just smiled and said there were ports made of metal, like titanium, but those would prohibit me from getting accurate MRI’s and other scans medically necessary down the road.
Ohhhh. Well, then. Plastic it is. And the color purple is nice, a lovely easter shade. Are there any other color choices? I wanted to ask her, but I decided not to sound stupid after that chirpy voice had just come out of my mouth.
So, instead I asked “Where does it connect inside?” Given that they stick needles into arm veins when there is no port available, I was curious to know what vein lives inside my chest that they’d connect this purple plastic thing into. It was an answer I wasn’t anticipating.
“It goes directly into your heart.”
HOLY SHIT! MY HEART? My…. HEART???
Now, if hubby had been with me, I’d have grabbed his arm and likely squeezed it to a size substantially smaller. But hubby was away on a trip I insisted he not cancel…a reunion of his high school football team that he’d organized and planned for almost two straight years. I knew this reunion was hugely important to him. Fifty years ago his team went undefeated two years in a row, winning their conference championships both years (they didn’t have state playoffs back then.) In Ohio, football is a big deal…so he flew back to the little town of Aurora where he grew up and connected with these guys who he’d grown up with. Some went on to play pro after college. My hubby went on to become an All American in lacrosse, having never seen a lacrosse stick until he was a freshman at Denison University. These guys are all hard core athletes…the reunion was a three day event, the high school rolled out the red carpet for them, and teammates came from far and wide to be there. I desperately wanted hubby to go, and have a reprieve from this cancer shit…because it affects him in a deeply emotional way that only devoted hubby’s would understand. So, at my insistence, he went. Which is why I was solo in the surgeons office that day.
As all physicians do, she began to explain the risks of this surgery and as she went on, the color began to drain from my face. “It’s a confined space there without much wiggle room. There’s a possibility that I could puncture your lung. But, don’t worry! The hole heals up in about an hour or so, and we’d just give you oxygen in the meantime until its closed.”
Once I found that chirpy voice again, I asked about risk of infection. Overall the risk is low, but she of course had to divulge all risk factors, which she did quite well. Please oh please let Portia not get infected, I prayed to myself.
Then I asked about exact placement. Turns out I had choices…as long as there was a flat surface behind it, it could really go anywhere. But I had to keep in mind accessibility and comfort. Typically just beneath the collar bone, but she could try to move it to where it wouldn’t interfere with my wardrobe necklines. I made sure she understood that I was only concerned about my golf swing. “Are you right or left handed?” she wanted to know. After I told her I was right handed, she was pleased because she didn’t want to put it on the right side anyhow because that’s where my cancer was surgically removed seven weeks ago. They try to avoid cancer locales. I stood up and demonstrated my swing in an understated way. Hmmm, not real sure about placement on the left either…could be in the way. No matter…my game isn’t great anyhow. Maybe Portia would balance my swing out better.
Then I asked how long one of these things would really last. That was my very last question, because the answer left me so rattled, I was weepy on my drive home. “The longest one I’m aware of was over seven years…but the cancer outran the patient by then. The port was still working great though.”
I left her office only to find all elevators out of service. A medical building with ALL elevators out of service? Her office was on the sixth floor, so I hoofed it down the stairs trying to find the lobby. But the door below the 2nd floor was the basement. Where the hell was the lobby? The lobby IS the first floor. What the hell? So, I hoofed it back up a level. Nope…second floor. I hoofed it back down a level. Nope the basement. God damnit! I want OUT of this building. So while I was fuming, the elevator door in the basement suddenly burst open with a crowd inside packed like sardines. I pushed my way in. The button for Lobby was illuminated. When the doors closed and the elevator lurched upward, I prayed. I’m not a religious person, but I prayed anyhow. And before I knew it the doors burst open once again, and there was the lobby. All of us raced out like a stampede at record speed. I then was focused on finding the machine where I could prepay my ticket for the garage. I looked everywhere. Unable to find it, I asked someone nearby. “Do you know where the prepay machine is for the parking garage?”
“I think its by the elevators inside the garage.” he said. Great those damn elevators…all broken, including the garage elevator from the lobby. So, I walked outdoors and stepped over the construction barricade that was to have blocked my way to the most direct route to the sidewalk. Once there, I walked briskly to the garage entry where cars drive in. There was thick tape strung there too with ‘WET PAINT’ signs hanging on it, blocking my way to the low concrete median that separated incoming and outgoing cars. I stepped over that and stepped onto the bright fresh yellow paint job. Then I had to think about the fastest route down to seven levels below me where I parked my car in the space apparently meant for deep subterranean termites. I got there by using the ramp that cars drive to climb out of the depths of darkness back up to street level…so I was actually hoofing it against traffic. NOT fun. Finally I made it all the way to the bottom level and headed to the elevator where two people waiting there instantly asked me if the elevators could possibly be broken. “Yes, they are…happy hiking!” I glanced around for the prepay ticket machine. Nothing. So I asked these annoyed people who’d been waiting too long for an elevator that wasn’t coming if they knew where the machine was. ‘In the lobby of the medical building behind the pharmacy door,” they said. Well, SHIT.
I hoofed it back up those damn ramps, leaving them in the dust as they tried to stay with me. I barreled back across the wet paint, jumped to the sidewalk, leaving yellow footprints as I went, and burst back through the construction zone. Inside the lobby once more, I was winded. And ready to cry. I went to the pharmacy and looked behind their door. No machine. I walked up to the register in the back and asked. “Oh, they moved it just to the left of the construction barriers blocking access to the broken elevators. It’s hard to see, really.”
Back to the broken elevators, I followed the construction wall and peeked around the corner. BINGO. Got my credit card out, paid for my parking and raced back outside. Now there were construction GUYS there…so I took the handicap ramp instead to the sidewalk below, ran back through the yellow paint, down the seven ramps of garage hell, and got into my car. Where I sat and sobbed. For about five minutes.
Then I chastised myself and started the engine. Chevy Tahoes weren’t meant for these stupid old garages…I ducked my head every time I had to drive in one, certain those low concrete ceilings would sheer off the top of my Tahoe (and me). After carefully navigating my way to the exit with the precision of a finely threaded needle, I at last got to the gate where two cars were ahead of me. I saw the first driver in line put their ticket into the machine that opened the gate immediately…they drove off. Then the car ahead of me dropped their ticket trying to feed it into the machine. They had to open their door and retrieve it. They tried again. Success. But the gate didn’t open. The ticket was spit back out. They inserted it a second time. The gate didn’t open.
Wide eyed, I sat there staring. Then I could see the driver lean out further, seemingly talking to no one…so figured there was someone on the intercom inside the kiosk where normally a parking attendant would stand, telling them what the problem might be. FIFTEEN MINUTES later, I gently honked my horn. The driver stuck his head back out the window, looking directly to me and demanded I not honk at him. What’s going on up there? I asked kindly…well, as kindly as I could manage. Turns out, he couldn’t find the prepay machine, and so the voice on the intercom was running the credit card numbers from some unseen location. ARGHHHHHH. Another five minutes later, the gate finally swung up to let the guy drive out. Adios!
I drove up, fed my ticket in and the gate swung up immediately. I left a bit of rubber as my lead foot hit the accelerator. Traffic in the city was heavy for mid-morning hours, but I cranked up the radio and focused on meditating as I inched along.
But I digress…
The surgery itself was easy…outpatient, and I was given a ‘local’ type of anesthesia, but don’t remember one thing once they started the drip. Next thing I knew, I was in recovery. No oxygen and no nausea from anesthesia. Major relief!
On our way home from the hospital just an hour after I woke up, hubby and I stopped for a late day breakfast at my favorite spot in Sausalito. We’ve been regulars there for 16 years. I get the exact same thing EVERY time…the ‘veggie storm’ scramble with fresh fruit instead of hash browns, and an English muffin. Typically I’d get their vanilla latte too, but I’ve walked away from those for awhile…without taste buds, its rather a frustrating waste on me now. I look forward to that breakfast once a week with great anticipation. Wonderful local spot, wonderful owners, and simple good food, although I couldn’t vouch for much other than my Veggie Storm.
But, I digress yet again.
So TODAY, Portia (newly installed just a mere 48 hours ago) and I sailed through the infusion process in fine form, just as I did without her three weeks ago. It was all pretty much the same in terms of the drug line up…first a bag of anti-nausea drugs, followed by the two chemo drugs dripping one after the other, followed by the two gene specific targeting drugs (also administered one after the other), followed by Heparin to prevent blood clots that are a potential risk of infusions.
THEN Portia was released of the IV needle (pain free, I might add…both going in and going out), and then I was given a shot of Neulasta…which is to ensure I produce more white blood cells over the next two weeks, because all those drugs will cause the white blood cell count to drop very low…as happened after my last infusion three weeks ago. So low in fact, that they delayed my port surgery pushing it back two days due to high risk of infection. They quickly got me an injection of Neupogen which boosted my white blood cell count quickly over a matter of days, confirmed by yet another blood draw… and surgery took place at long last. It all worked out just fine, even though it was an unexpected delay.
I’m feeling well, I’m feeling strong, I’m not looking back and I’m thankful I’m in very caring and capable medical hands. I have the best team. THE BEST. My nurse today was delightful, young and actually knows my daughter…from the small world of competitive sailing. We took a selfie, me in the infusion chair with nurse smiling broadly behind me. I texted it to my daughter….gotta love this age of instant communication! I’d post it here, but my Portia might scare a few of you in her raw appearance, and quite frankly, next to adorable nurse, I don’t look so hot. So instead I’ll post a photo of my gypsy-esque attire that I wore on my noggin today. I get a bit cold sitting in that infusion room for hours on end, so I didn’t want my head to be cold too. The receptionist was lovely to compliment my new look. Yup…it’s my new normal. No biggie.
I GOT THIS. I SO GOT THIS!
You are an amazing writer with an equally amazing strength! You go girl-you’ve so got this😍
Thank you, Marcia! I am feeling well and count my lucky stars that I started this journey from a position of physical well being and strength. It’s a great advantage both mentally and spiritually. Thanks for the very kind words about my writing and for taking the time to comment on this post! xoxo
You definitely got it! xoxox
YES I DO! xoxoxo
Oh, Ann, you are a most incredible writer, in the wake of all this @#%* you are going through! I just wish I had known that hubby couldn’t be with you during the day from hell, as I would have been there in a nano second. Please, please let me know if you ever have to go to an appt. without his steadfast presence, and I’ll happily drive you wherever it is you need to go! You definitely “GOT THIS” in spades. Stay strong. Hugs.
Dearest Mollie, thank you so very much for your message. Although I had several friends who’d asked to come along with me, I figured it easiest to go solo…having expected to head on out to the airport to pick up my niece immediately after my appt with the surgeon. But, then her flights got cancelled due to severe storms coming through the area..so she didn’t finally get in until much later in the day, and she just hopped on the airporter so I wouldn’t have to go back through the city to get her at SFO. I think all the unexpected medical surprises are behind me now, and in hindsight the pre-op meeting with the surgeon was a rather surreal and sobering experience to cap the already surreal reality of this diagnosis! But, once I barreled out of that silly garage (3838 California building…can you BELIEVE EVERY SINGLE elevator was out of operation?!), and got my wits about me once again, I simply felt relieved to know that there was a port device that would make my life infinitely easier going forward. And, of course now that Portia has arrived, it’s a complete non-issue. Surgery was easy, and just a few short days later, I’m barely aware she’s even there! Thank the good lord for medical advancements, technology, research and the compassionate physicians on my cancer team. They truly are the BEST. And, whatever it takes…I’m fully on board. Feeling well after my infusions yesterday…and planning to sail through this just as I did 3 weeks ago, maybe even better because now I have a sense of what to expect. Big big hugs right back to you and to Dennis too. Love you guys!
You do “so got this”! I can’t believe your experience just getting out of the garage after your appointment! We’ve all had trying days (and they always seem to come on top of already trying circumstances), but I think yours takes the cake. 😉 It will make me think twice the next time I have a little “issue”. I’m glad to hear Portia and the infusions are going well. You have really set yourself up to win this.
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Ya, that was rather a rough day for me that only got more exasperating once I left the surgeons office! But I will say that once I was back on the road towards home, I refocused and realized how truly lucky I am to have these technologies available to me with a cancer team that is at the top of their game. Now that I’ve had Portia for a few days, I’m hardly aware she’s there. I’m healing up nicely where they had to tuck her in 🙂 I’m feeling strong, motoring forward, and enjoying every day as a GOOD day. xoxo
You are terrific, Ann. I wish I had known you were going this alone. I could at least have driven you to the front door & picked you up there later. What a nightmare. It does seem like when the going gets tough sometimes it gets tougher before it gets better. Your great attitude will take you a long way!
Thank you, Jill. It was the most unexpected and crazy day, and I’m just so glad THAT adventure is behind me! Big hugs…let’s get together for lunch when you get back from LA. Have a great trip! xo