Friday, July 21, 2017 This Week's Paper

The Lucky Woman’s Guide to Breast Cancer

// Chemo’s over, time for the port apart-y

I regret that, even as a kid, I never could do a cartwheel.

I needed that particular skill a couple of weeks ago when, instead of pulling a cheerleader stunt, I merely walked out of the Tacoma General Hospital procedure room where a jolly medical crew removed my port.

For those of you who have never rented a condo in Cancerville, ports are the implants into which nurses infuse us with the chemotherapy that’s saving our lives. Mine was purple, triangular and about the size of a Brach’s chocolate-covered orange crème. Getting it removed means that chemotherapy is over, that I don’t need the weekly bags of chemicals that terrorized and killed the cancer that was jumping beyond my right boob. It means I can move on to radiation, which, in turn, means that after daily zaps every weekday for seven weeks, I’ll be sprung from the hard part.

Like I said, cartwheels.

And some weird mixed feelings.

The chemicals that helped save my life made it miserable at the same time. I managed to nail just about every side effect in the Welcome to Cancer manual, from the top of my bald head to the tips of my numb neuropathic toes, with stops at nausea, raspy voice, a lost sense of taste, fatigue and creepy separated fingernails in between. And yet… I am alive to whine about it.

From the beginning, the people who ordered up those chemicals dreamed of the day when they would never see me again. Sure, they gave us warm blankets so we would be comfy in our recliners in the infusion suite. They had juice and ice water to keep our fluid intake up, and roast beef sandwiches and tapioca pudding if we were there around lunchtime. We shared books, which introduced me to Dean Koontz’ golden retriever Trixie – kind of a gateway dog to his tales of Frankenstein fighters. They checked our I.D. bracelet code and triple checked our meds to protect us from any errors. They asked us about our side effects and symptoms, and sent word to our doc if they thought we couldn’t handle our meds that week. They listened to us, and shared bits and pieces of their lives as if we were old friends. They warned us that if we ran into each other at Costco, we’d have to make the first move because federal privacy regs forbid them from saying hi to us unless we invite it. As if we would not bolt to them and hug.

Toward the end of chemo, I began to realize that when it was over I would not see them again, unless I began stalking in Costco. Which gave me an idea. I looked up how to say “thank you” in the languages – 16 of them – that infusion center staff could speak. I ordered two big Costco cakes with all of them, plus roses, written on them in icing. We brought them to my final chemo appointment as a lovely parting gift.

Except, I didn’t go away.

My numbers, and the numbness in my toes and fingertips, were worrisome. Skip this week, my doc ordered. Come back next week. We’ll schedule a time to get your port out then.

I was horrified. Fighting cancer is all about getting poked. Blood out for testing. Meds in. Blood out. Meds in. Swab with sanitizer. Repeat. That, said my doc, is over. I needed a week to believe him. We’d talk at the next, the last, appointment.

“There will be cake. Again,” I thought.

There was. It read, “Thank you. This time I’m going. Really.”

And I did, finishing up six tough months with celebratory hugs and retro plastic leis from Marianne and Maiken, and an odd sadness. I was done with the worst part and, with luck, I would never spend quality time with these lovely friends again.

Not such a cartwheel thought in itself, but one with joy built into its bones.