Monday, September 9, 2013

It ends where it began

I began by treating it like a normal day.  I helped the kids get dressed, I ate some breakfast, I drove to work via Azalea's elementary school.  I signed some timesheets, I invited reviewers on a manuscript, I labeled baggies for tomorrow's fecal sample collection.  Then I came home for lunch and walked with Ian to the clinic, which started the day all over again.

The General Surgery waiting room is one of the best waiting rooms at the clinic:  a view of the atrium, vintage National Geographic magazines, HGTV softly streaming on the television, and rows of empty chairs.  I was reminded of my previous visits to this waiting room over three years ago.  The first visits, back in the "it's certainly not cancer" days, were pleasant enough, but the last visit on the day before diagnosis had a certain amount of apprehension and doubt.  In drawing myself back to that day I began to feel the gravity of the present day.  I was beginning to explore these thoughts when I was called to the procedure room.

Ian walked back with me although he did not intend to stay back there.  A nurse checked me in and gave me a cape.  I changed into the cape.

Dr. Surgeon did not keep me waiting long.  When I saw Dr. Surgeon I had so much to say to him that I couldn't say anything at all.  Dr. Surgeon is the one who found the cancer, the one who put my port in, and the one who shaved his head for my good luck.  I wanted to thank him for giving me my life.  Instead I gave him a hug and a grimace-smile that probably looked like I was teasing about something but instead meant that I was trying not to cry or choke or laugh.  He made a sweeping gesture at the procedure table, inviting me to lie down and get started.  He and the nurse prepared the field around my right chest, surrounding my port.  He started to talk to me about the book he's currently reading, which happens to be my favorite book in the universe, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  This reminded me to share my favorite quotation:

"Would that I had the chance in my sons' lifetime and my own to one day explain to them all the forces that moved me."  --Abraham Verghese in his memoir, The Tennis Partner.

But I didn't say it because I still couldn't talk.  You see, saying these words would have been poignant because Dr. Surgeon, Dr. Oncologist, Dr. Surgical Oncologist, and Dr. Radiation Oncologist are the ones who gave me more chances to explain to my daughters that which moves me.  I had no hope of sharing this on account of the lump caught in my throat.  I'll have to write a note.  I'll have to write each of them a note.

He numbed the area with local anesthetic, but the tugging combined with the sounds of calculated flesh-cutting forced me to stop talking.  I employed some deep breathing and took myself away.  

Once the incision was made, he simply snipped the few stitches that were securing my port to my muscle and pulled it out.  I felt a bit more tugging as the 8 inches of cord slipped out of my superior vena cava, and even more tugging as he stitched up the blood vessel encasing the port (because the superior vena cava is truly a superior vein and over the years had generated a cellular tube around my port cord).  This unnatural vessel-around-the-port-cord is actually incredibly useful for the healing process because without the cord inside, it collapses on itself and sticks together, preventing my superior vena cava from bleeding excessively.

He dropped my port into the baggie I had brought, and Ian placed it in the Stride Rite shoebox (aka biocontainment and a secondary container).  This thing is too precious to be incinerated with the other biohazard waste.  I'm keeping it along with all of my other cancer mementos.  

This is my port, displayed adjacent to a nickel and a crayon for size references.  The dark purple area in the center of the port is firm yet permeable material through which needles were stuck for blood access and chemotherapy administration.  The part of the cord just above the purple port is where my superior vena cava crafted a vessel.  The cord next to the crayon is the part that dangled in my bloodstream.
I got dressed and sat down in a chair next to the procedure table.  Ian had stayed in the room the whole time (he said he didn't see anything) and was quietly supportive.  We tried to hold hands but it was an awkward angle, location, and mood.  After a few moments he gently pointed out that we were free to leave whenever I was ready.  I thought I was waiting for something--outpatient wound care, pink follow-up slip, closure of any sort--and felt foolish for lingering.  

When I got home I wasn't sure what to do with myself.  I was a pot of emotions with a dash of pain.  I distracted myself with a trip to the craft store to pick up a few art supplies for the girls.  Then I picked up Eleanor from preschool.

My sweet little Eleanor.  She remembered that today was the day that I was having my port removed.  She ran across her classroom and asked me if my port was gone.  She stood up on her tippy toes and tried to touch the place on my chest where my port used to be.  She asked if she could see my owie.  I said yes to everything and tried not to choke for the second time today.  I flipped my sunglasses off my head and over my eyes so that she wouldn't see that tears were forming in my eyes.

At that moment I realized that Eleanor never knew me without a port.  When she was little and learning her body parts she would point to mommy's port and daddy's port, and we'd have to explain that only mommy had a port.  No one else in her life had a port.  Now mommy doesn't need her port and so it doesn't have to stay in there anymore.

At dinner we continued the conversation about my port, and this inspired questions about my nipple, namely whether I can keep the one I have and whether I'll ever get my other one back.  We talked about keeping healthy body parts and removing sick ones.  We also talked about replacing useful body parts like legs, but how my breasts already served their biological purpose and so I don't need to replace the one that I lost.  I'm glad that my daughters ask me questions.  I find it easier to answer their questions than to strike up random conversations about all these things that I've done.

Then I hopped on my bike to attend what ended up feeling like my third day today.  Yoga.  This was my first night of yoga class in almost 2 months due to a brief lapse in the schedule.  I decided to attend class with the intention of skipping strenuous poses while engaging in meditation.

Today's class was focused on energy and on moving energy around in the body.  I tried to meditate my energy away from the pain of my new incision, away from the fear of cancer ever recurring, and away from the lump that had clogged my throat for most of the day.  I moved energy toward the bliss in my heart center.  As the energy breathing up and down my spine dissolved the lump in my throat, the throat energy worked its way upward and started leaking out of my eyes.  I didn't want to be distracted by the leakage so I tried not to notice it.  With moist cheeks I sat in the final yoga pose, bending for a bow not to the instructor but to myself.  Yes, it's true that I was the weird lady who cried through yoga tonight.

Afterwards I wanted desperately to thank the instructor for a beautiful class.  For the second time today I couldn't speak, but I think I avoided the grimace-smile this time.  Guess I'll have to rely on another note.  Fortunately my prose is kinder than my oral skills.  

I was powerless against my tears for the entire pedal home.  By the time I entered the house I had managed to divert the leaking energy from my eyes to my hands.  I worked with the girls on a new art project, which required me to poke holes in small cardboard boxes that will later become pipecleaner-hair monster masks.  I think it's appropriate that the last of today's throat energy will be manifested as colorful pipecleaner hair on monster masks.

And to think that I was going to go back to work after the procedure today!  Not because I'm a work-a-holic, but because it didn't occur to me that I'd need the afternoon off.  Ha!  That was so yesterday.  After today I think I need a vacation.

8 comments:

  1. This is by far my favorite post ever; what a beautiful conclusion to the story. We're so happy and excited for this good news! We love you, Heather!

    S.

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    1. Love you too, STC&P! This reminds me that I want to talk to you sometime about our project. ;)

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  2. Happy tears are a magic, healing balm.....long may they flow.

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    1. I agree, MM. Tears are one of the many balms in my life, along with hugs and words. :)

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  3. The joy flows north of the border today. I love you, Heather.

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    1. I love you to, broson. Miss you like I don't know what.

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  4. So glad you kept the port! Also, soooo gross!. Also, Cutting for Stone is super awesome!

    You went through a big thing Miss H. And you will feel that now and then. Those of us who witnessed you go through it feel it too. And we are grateful to share these moments with you. And how could anyone not get teary when they read about Eleanor wanting to see your owie?

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  5. Lovely words Martha. Thank you for these. <3

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