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Beyond The Diagnosis

Hey friends! I recently contributed a piece of writing to a supplement that was in the National Post yesterday called “Blood Cancer Awareness.” Instead of my usual blog post, I encourage you to read the piece by clicking here. You have to scroll down a bit, but the other pieces before mine are worth reading too!

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Thanks to Media Planet for featuring my story and spreading the awareness. I’ll see ya tomorrow!

A Veiny Situation

I am just dropping in to say they got the PICC in!

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That is not my arm. That is a very sterilized version of what a PICC looks like. The “line” goes up inside my vein and straight into my chest. Mine is currently all bandaged up, I’m actually just off to the hospital now to get the dressing changed. My arm is currently red from the surgical wipes and probably swollen and bloody. Funfun.

I wish I could say I went through the PICC insertion procedure with flying colours. But unfortunately, my predictions of it going horribly were correct. I think we can sometimes sense these things.

I’m “blessed” with small veins. Which means accessing them always turns into a stressful and painful experience. But as my mom pointed out, it’s because of my tiny veins that we were able to detect the cancer early (via restricted blood flow + blood clot), so I can’t get too angry at them now.

They brought me back into a large room very similar to an operating room. I had to lay on the exact kind of bed/table that they do surgeries on. I hate being on those things. Thankfully, the freezing actually worked on my skin, and they were able to get the line in through my vein all the way to my armpit – then it just stopped. My vein seized up, and seemed to get smaller so they couldn’t push it through any more.

At this point, they were injecting me with contrast dyes, taking tons of x-rays, and called the doctor in. Even though I couldn’t feel the line inside my vein, I could feel that things were being moved inside my body, if that makes sense. And they were squeezing and pushing into my arm at the insertion point which hurt like a bitch.

Anyways, it’s not the pain that upset me. It’s the fact that I’m sick with cancer and have to put up with this crap in the first place. Laying on the table with a face mask on, watching the x-rays flash on the screen and seeing the dark shadow in my chest, hearing the nurses and doctor talk about what to do with me. It’s an unwelcome reminder of something I can forget about when I’m at home – I’m a really sick person.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but you may have already gleamed it from the information I share. I am a big fat wuss when it comes to hospital procedures. I have always been disturbed at the idea of doing things to my body – including cutting, stabbing, and poking it. Surgery was (and still is) one of my worst fears. Having to modify my body in some way using items from the outside world (ahem – like the three screws in my arm), make me want to cry, throw up, and pass out all at the same time. So even if the PICC is a small thing to some people, having tubes hanging out of my arm 24/7 reallyreally weirds me out.

Anyone else out there like this? Currently my biggest fear is getting an infection while on chemo and needing a blood transfusion. Getting someone else’s blood in my body is something my brain just can’t compute. This whole cancer this is a nightmare for so many reasons.

So a few tears were shed yesterday and I was pretty weak after just from the stress of the experience. But as my oncologist said, “they got the PICC in, that’s what matters.” And it was quite handy to have during chemo #5 yesterday.

The GOOD part of yesterday is that I got news on my most recent chest x-ray. My oncologist said there was a “marked improvement” compared to the one taken four weeks ago. I should be getting a PET scan after my next treatment, which will be able to show more detail on the cancer situation. It was fantastic news to hear after my mini breakdown in the morning. A boost in confidence that all this crap is really worth it. I’ll do anything to be skipping along cancer-free once again, arm tubes included.

Dropping The Cancer Bomb

During the month I stayed in the hospital, I changed rooms and beds at least half a dozen times. Patients were constantly being admitted and discharged, and other patients would play musical beds as a result.

When I woke up from my lymph node surgery during that time, I heard the nurses talking about bringing me to room 5614. I didn’t think much of it, even though in my doped-up mind, I knew my room was actually 6614.

I went in and out of sleep listening to the beeps of whirrs of the monitors around me. People puttered around my bed checking my oxygen, dressings, and blood pressure. Then I heard it again, “She’s going up to 5614.”

And that’s when I snapped to. “Don’t you mean 6614??”

“No,” the nurse said, “you had a room change while you were out.”

This information sent me spinning into a panic. They were taking me to the fifth floor, the general surgery floor. Not the cancer ward on the sixth floor that had become my second home.

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This was more than just a room change. I was being removed from my safe cancer bubble where everyone already knew my diagnosis. Where I was a cancer patient just by being there. On the fifth floor, no one knew. And I would have to tell them.

The first time I ever told a stranger I had cancer was to a nurse on that floor. She was making small talk while checking my IV. She asked me about my surgery, which led to an explanation about getting my lymph node removed. I remember searching for the right words. My voice dropped a few notes and my mouth went dry. Saying “a large mass in my chest” didn’t sound right. “Lymphoma” was so foreign my lips.

The worst thing about telling people I have cancer is watching their reactions. Everyone is horrified. I think it’s because I am so young and still look healthy. Maybe they think “If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone!” Or maybe they think “Such a sweet girl to die so young.” (by the way, I want to get a shirt that says “I have cancer, I’m not dying”).

I’m equally horrified watching as their eyes widen, faces twitch, and you can see they’re about to launch into a story about their coworker’s daughter or cousin’s husband who has or had cancer. I actually don’t mind it when people bring this up, because it brings the focus off of me and my diagnosis.

It’s hard when I bump into people I haven’t seen in a while and they want to know what I’ve been up to. How do I drop the Cancer Bomb? Should I even drop it at all? Because shit gets serious once the C-Word comes out.

As much as I complain about my immune system keeping me from crowded areas, it’s also a slight blessing. Most days, I am perfectly content to hide out at home, in my cancer bubble. Because as easy as it is for me to yammer on about cancer on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or in the newspaper, looking someone in the eye and vocalizing the words is one of the hardest things to do. I can’t wait until the day when I can say “Cancer? Oh yeah, I had that once.”

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