One of cancer’s gifts is its’ many indignities. A breast cancer friend tells us she is headed to the doctor for yet another “groping.” Yesterday, for my final surgery, I disrobe in front of a doctor and a nurse in preparation for port removal. After so many surgeries, they dispense with a dressing room and just have you drop your dress in the procedure room.
Lying on the table, thoughts drift. “Please don’t let my nip fall out.”
The nurse, sweet Kathy, instructs me to remove my dress and bra and put the gown on frontwards instead of the traditional ass bearing backward. Chemo ports are lodged above the breast and feed up to the carotid artery. Removing them involves a snip-snip and a little tug.
Kathy applies cold antiseptic. Though draped, I feel a draft about the chest area and my brain screams, “Your nip is out. Your nip is out.”
I pull at the warmed blanket Kathy placed upon the rest of my body, hoping for modesty.
“You can’t touch the area,” she chastises. “We can’t have any germs.” And she goes about reapplying antiseptic. My left hand creeps up of its own accord and she gently stops its upward crawl.
“I’m sorry,” say I. “I’m just afraid my nip is hanging out.” She laughs. After all this time, one would think a doctor or a nurse peeping a wayward nipple would be the least of my worries. A girl can still hope for some dignity regardless of how many times she’s been under the knife and naked at cancer’s hands.
“Oh no,” she says. “It’s not out and I won’t let that happen. You are covered up. I promise.” Each time a draft rolls by I imagine the poor surgeon face to face with my flattened nip, all deflated and pathetic.
Dr. F numbs the area with a series of what he calls, “little lidocaine bee stings.” It’s surgeon code for, “This is gonna hurt like a bitch but if I say its akin to a tiny insect, you might think its your imagination.” After the swarm of killer bees invades my chest wall and we’ve established that “Nope, I can’t feel that,” we make the first slice.
A natural ghoul, I am disappointed that unlike a former surgery, there is no mirror above me and I can’t tilt my head enough to get a peek. I must imagine his slice and dice to remove the foreign matter. Two or three small slices and he gives the port a pull. It does not slide right out with a little tug.
“Looks like there’s some scar tissue.” Lucky me. It takes a number of slices and dices and a few rounds of tug of war before the device finally lets go pulling body sludge, which I do see, with it and causes the doc to take a step back. My bee stings kept me from feeling the pain but the pressure gives me a clue to the level of “small tug” involved.
Seven stitches later, a smidge of glue and my upper chest is again my own, no foreign bodies residing. And not a nip slip in sight. As far as I know.
Today I wake with a sore chest and some discomfort when I lift my left arm. The stitches display Dr. F’s fine handiwork. And I start the day thankful that for the first time in almost eighteen months, my body is my own.
Snip, snip, small tug my ass.