I used to be a lot tougher. Any problems giving blood? Nope. Any issues with claustrophobia? Nope. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, please rate your pain: 2, maybe 3. These answers have now all changed to "yep, yep, and off the chart." I might be exaggerating on the last one, but I no longer can trust my ability to assess my own pain.
These changes can all be traced back to exactly four years ago this month when I underwent my first chemotherapy session. Going into that session I didn't really even understand what chemotherapy was other than it was injected intravenously into my body and was going to make my hair fall out. I thought it was actually the name of the drug used for cancer patients. It's really just a generic term for the treatment of cancer through drugs and the types of drugs and the way they are administered are as varied as the types of cancer and the patients undergoing the treatment.
I did my treatment at a small, rural hospital that was a satellite location of the larger cancer treatment centre. On any given day I was seated beside men and women of different ages and ethnicity, all living with different types of cancers and at various stages. The common denominator was the compassionate and kind nursing staff that remembered all our names, family history and fears. I came in that first day with only the fear of the unknown, but in a matter of weeks I became anxious at the site of the town's welcome sign and felt nauseous just from the smell of the hospital parking lot.
The problem is that IV chemo treatment can be very hard on a patient's veins. While I'd never had any issues giving blood (had even donated blood for many years) I became one of those patients. After just two sessions, my veins collapsed and I'm sure Terry's hand almost broke under the pressure of squeezing it through the pain. It was clear we had to take another route. I had a port-a-catheter inserted in my chest cavity, which gave medical staff pain-free access to my veins for the next year. I just had to make sure I got it flushed clean every few weeks and alert airport security whenever I went through the metal detector.
Though it has been three years since I've had to take chemo treatment intravenously, I still have to undergo monthly blood work and have dye injected on a regular basis when having scans done. The port is long gone, which means a revolving door of nurses and lab techs deal with my rebellious veins that never recovered from the initial chemo treatments. There are some who just seem to have a knack for it and are able to get in and out with little trouble. I don't usually even realize I'm holding my breath until I exhale with relief when I see those talented people enter the room. On other days I've learned that keeping hydrated, keeping my arm warm, and turning my arm inward just slightly, giving the injector the right angle, helps a lot. This may seem resourceful on my part but I still feel embarrassed about the whimp I've become.
Even needles that are not anywhere near a vein have put a dent in my tough exterior. Only six months ago I was in the ER, waiting for a head scan and a nurse was giving me a shot for pain in my upper arm. "Be prepared," she said, "People seem to have a hard time with this shot and I think it hurts quite a bit." I barely flinched and smugly grinned with self-pride when she commented on my high pain tolerance. Cut to last week and as I'm getting what will be monthly upper arm injections for a bone builder drug, I hear the words "OUCH" (yes, upper case means it was yelled). I look to see who else is in the clinic and come face-to-face with my own big-baby reflection.
"Uhhm," I stammered. "I wasn't expecting that to hurt so much." She looked at me kindly and I was waiting for her to say, "Oh, yeah, this is the mother of all needles. Lesser people than you have crumbled under its insertion." Instead, I heard, "Well, you have a tan so maybe your skin is a little tough. You should be fine in a few minutes. Let me find you a Scooby-Doo Band-Aid." Okay, I made the last sentence up, but she might as well have said that for all the whimpering I was doing.
The last blow to my self-esteem came a few weeks ago when I had to undergo an MRI. This involves laying very still on a flat bed while a tube-like encasement slides back and forth over my body (think body-size straw). There is barely an inch of space between my nose and the tube and less than that on all other sides. It lasts about an hour and includes a series of loud banging and knocking noises. I've had an MRI before, as well as several other scans that have a similar set-up, so when asked if I had claustrophobia problems I replied with my standard "nope." Then something happened half-way through the test. I started to sweat, breath heavy and be overcome with a sense of 'get-me-the-hell-out-of-here.'
I had an emergency call button in my hand but I was damned if I was going to use it. If I couldn't make it through this safe, simple, and much needed, procedure, I was going to be in for a long couple years. I closed my eyes tightly and tried to remember the breathing exercises from prenatal classes I took over 20 years ago. When the technician said I had 30 minutes left I started going through my Harry Chapin song lyric repertoire. I got through two and half songs and was done. (Harry Chapin fans will see the humour in that).
I'm not sure if it's age or my body just rejecting everything and saying "enough", but it means switching up my game plan now when I have appointments. I used to wear my badge of toughness with pride so I literally have to get used to living in this new, softer skin. There are a long list of things I can take to help with the process. Pain relievers. Anti-anxiety medication. A companion. Shot of tequila. Whatever it takes to get over myself and get on with the procedure of the day I'll do. It's taken me a while to come to the realization that when it comes to getting needles, shots and tests I don't need to be a tough cookie. I just need to get a cookie.
Until next time......carry on.
Still the toughest person i know Sis!!ReplyDelete
Thanks Joe! I don't know if I can chase you and pin you down anymore but it makes me smile knowing you still think I'm tough!Delete
Thanks for mentioning the nurses, Cindy. When my mom was going through chemo, she had similar issues with her veins -- the nurses were simply wonderful and amazing. And yes, my mom too knew just which people would get the job done quickly and relatively painlessly and which ones were going to have trouble :)ReplyDelete
Nurses are a Godsend!Delete
I dont know you Cindy but I have to tell you that every time my friend Melody Soers shares your blog posts I cant wait to read it! you truly are a brave person and an inspiration but dont get me wrong i dont want you to be that much of an inspiration!! wishing you nothing but continued success in this journeyReplyDelete
Thank you so much! Melody has been a great cheer leader for me! I appreciate your kind words and hope our paths cross one day!Delete
Your posts are so honest and truthful. No need be the "tough cookie" when all you want to do is crumble. You deserve to succumb to the pain/anxiety/claustrophobia every now and then. Like you said "Whatever it takes" to get it done and then move on. Sending you smiles and best wishes.Delete
another great piece of writing and sharing cuz, thank you. while I cant comprehend the pain you are going through, your ability to use humor ie the scobby doo band aid to share is priceless, I hope that never leaves you.ReplyDelete
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