Daily Archives: November 10, 2009

Catching my breath before chemo: May, 2005

The first weeks following my lobectomy were not easy. It was impossible to get comfortable, due to my incisions as well as my bruised rib cage. In addition, I felt so physically diminished; frail really. Once home, my cough returned, sending me back to the hospital for a scan. It was a result of residual fluid in my lungs, and I began to use a nebulizer in an attempt to clear them. I spent a lot of time sleeping in my lazy girl, as the pain medication made me very groggy. I would get up and move around as often as I could, including slow walks around our yard.

My courage would utterly fail me when it was time to change the dressings. This task fell to David, and despite his extreme care, as the bandages came off, so would some of my skin. I had developed a sensitivity to Tyvek, and my skin was now extremely friable. In addition, the incisions where the drainage tubes had been would literally gush each time I coughed: it was horrific.

I should note here that many facilities now perform VATS (video-assisted thoracic surgery) rather than lobectomies on stage I patients, and as it requires three or four small incisions and no spreading of the ribs, recovery is far quicker.

However, the ability of our bodies to heal is remarkable, and slowly I returned to some semblance of my old self. I had lost weight, and in anticipation of the fact that I might lose more during chemotherapy, I did my best to eat. I made more loops around the yard, and David moved the exercise bike into the living room so that I could take some spins on that.

Dr. Lynch had explained that we would give my body just enough time to recover from surgery but not so much that any cancer cells that might be lurking could get a foothold. It was a 6-8 week window–and we would start my chemo at seven weeks.

Just prior to this, I had a port, or porta-catheter, surgically implanted under the skin on my chest. This is a common procedure before starting a course of chemo. Here is a good description of a port that I found online (*We Are Macmillan. Cancer Support–a site from the UK):  “An implantable port is a thin, soft, plastic tube that is put into a vein in your chest or arm that has an opening (port) just under the skin.  This allows medicines to be given into the vein or blood to be taken from the vein.  The tube is long, thin and hollow, and is known as a catheter.  The port is a disc about 2.5-4cm (1-1 1/2 in) in diameter.  The catheter is usually inserted (tunneled) under the skin of your chest.  The tip of the catheter lies in a large vein just above your heart and the other end connects with the port which sits under the skin on your upper chest.  The port will show as a small bump underneath your skin, which can be felt but is not visible on the outside of your body.”

I disagree only with that last part–you could definitely see my port, which I thought was a little freaky (made me feel like an android).  The surgery itself was quick, although I had a minor complication as one of my stitches became infected and necessitated another trip to the hospital to have the stitch removed as well as some topical antibiotics. Ironically, the scar from the port is nowhere near as uniform as the major incisions and in fact I have been told that it resembles a bullet wound. I suppose I could concoct some wild stories if I were so inclined.

In truth, what I had already been through was a bit like combat, and the chemical warfare was about to begin.