Lincoln County News
December 23, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my surgery and final days at the hospital. I return home with much jubilation to celebrate the holidays with my dear Ben, Cuddles, family and friends.

      December 13, 1999: Today, I am having surgery for the implant of my portacath. My friend and American Cancer Society colleague, Dr. Peter Areson, is doing the operation at 10:30 am. Peter is being very cautious and is going overboard to insure that nothing goes wrong, despite the fact this is such a relatively minor surgical procedure. No pain or problems for any of his friends, his says.

     I am thoroughly scrubbed down with Betadyne and taken down to an outpatient surgical room. Peter and his assistant, Pat, are all ready to go. The procedure involves threading a catheter into my neck area and down into the chest area veins. The portcath itself is a small round titanium device not much bigger than a quarter, and about 3/4 of an inch thick. The catheter connects to it and is implanted under the skin bellow my collarbone. A fluoroscope x-ray machine is used to monitor the threading and implanting process. 

     Peter is afraid of hurting me, but, aside from a minor quick stick of Novocain, it is totally painless and all I feel is a slight tugging and pulling as Pat and Peter do their job. I am back in my room by 11:45 and even enjoy a light lunch about 1/2 hour later. I am so glad the surgery is over. I stubbornly refused this operation two years ago, thinking I could tough out all the abuse to my veins from the chemotherapy and the blood draws. I hope this is a sign I am learning to be more sensible in my old age!

     Dr. Tom and Peter check in on me again today. Peter is pleased with the surgery and says it looks like I can be cleared for release anytime, barring any sign of infection. Tom says he thinks I can go home tomorrow if all goes well. I am elated. Tom is carefully reviewing my pain control dose of morphine before I can be sent home. The goal is to have me on MS Contin, an oral form of morphine so I can go home without IV's and full-time nursing care. Taking all oral drugs, I can handle the situation myself. Tom has been scaling back the morphine and yesterday, they took out the abdominal subcutaneous IV. I am now totally unhooked from tubes except for a line in my hand for emergency injections. What a relief to be unfettered from tubes! Of course, I am still hooked up to my TENZ Unit electrode device which has done wonders for my back pain. I am keeping this at a low setting and occasionally turning it off for an hour or two. The goal is to not overuse the device and to have it set at a level that will keep me comfortable.

     December 14, 1999: Hurray! Tom comes in this morning and pronounces me fit to leave the hospital, if I am ready! No question about that. Tom and I spend about 1/2 hour reviewing all my medications. I will be going home with a list of meds that seems like a mile long for me since I am not one for taking many pills. For pain control, I will be on MS Contin oral morphine twice a day, at the lowest oral dose available. Assisting with the pain will be a small amount of Decadron twice daily, a prednisone drug I have used many times during chemotherapy. In addition, I have a choice of several pills I can use for "breakthrough pain" whenever needed. I tell Tom I will probably use my Darvocet, the weakest version of all which is codeine and Tylenol combined in one pill. The rest of my drug arsenal includes my blessed Kytril anti-nausea pill twice daily which has kept me nausea free, stool softeners to combat the terrible constipation effects of morphine and pain killers, prescription strength Zantac, Naproxyn for bone pain, valium for a sleep aid, plus my nightly cocktail of Milk of Magnesia. A well-rounded diet of pills that Tom says we will eventually work on paring down. We make an appointment for me to see Tom in his office next week.

     Before I leave, the nurse removes my hand vein line and gives me my weekly shot of Epigen to boost my red cell count. I will be anxious to see where my blood counts stand next week. Cindy will do a full work up of my blood counts during next week's office visit. In fact, if all goes well, Cindy should be able to draw the blood from my portacath, saving me the stick in the veins. Cindy will also be flushing out the portacath with a saline solution as routine maintenance.

     The time has come to say my final good-byes to all my dear nurses. I am teary eyed as I hold their hands and thank them for seeing me through what has been one of the toughest two weeks of my life. They all say they are sorry to see me leave because I was such a good patient. I am hoping that I will see and meet them again, under different circumstances and preferably in the outside world rather than the hospital! Then I am rolled by wheelchair outside into the glorious sunshine. Ben has my old friend Corvette warmed up and waiting at the back door. I burst into tears of happiness to be outside, free and heading home to my Ben and dear Cuddles.

     December 15, 1999: It is great to be home and Cuddles is all excited to have his Mommy back. He never left my bedside last night. I now have a hospital bed in my room. Ben, with help from our friends, Gary and Cheryl, have removed our double bed to our basement storage area and have loaned us a single bed for Ben to use. A few months ago when Cheryl was redecorating their young daughter, Taylor's, room, I offered her the loan of an antique spool bed. Our daughter, Christy, used this beautiful bed for years and it was also Ben's bed as a child. So, we have a pretty even trade situation, I think. We have pushed the beds together and the room is not crowded and it doesn't look like a hospital. I am determined to keep my home comfortable and as homey as possible. Also, Cuddles is enjoying jumping from bed to bed and leaping through my bed rails like a lion jumping through hoops.

     Dr. Tom has agreed that I can keep my helper schedule. However, at least once a week, I will have a visit from a nurse from CHANS, a local community health and visiting nurse association. Debbie, a nurse from CHANS comes out to meet with me today and review my needs. She seems pleased that all is under control. She arranges future visits, plus evaluations by both an OT and PT therapist who will visit me soon. She hands me a calendar schedule and an emergency phone number as they are on call 24 hours a day to meet their patients needs.

     December 17, 1999: Today, my helper, Ginny, and I accomplished a major feat. We wrapped all my Christmas gifts! Of course, much of what I did was supervisory, but Ben has rigged up a little lap table I can use at my recliner for writing, and it worked equally well for gift wrapping. I feel so organized now for Christmas, thanks to Ginny! Linda, one of my colleagues from the American Cancer Society, dropped by to join us for lunch and a quick visit and was amazed at our assembly line gift wrapping process.

     I have had a small parade of visitors and helpers coming by to visit me since my return home, however, everyone is being very kind and careful not to wear me out. My phone has been ringing off the hook and my mail is overloaded with cards and get well wishes from my many readers, plus my usual Christmas cards and notes from family and friends. I have been totally overwhelmed by the mail from my readers. It moves me deeply to know that so many total strangers are sending me kind and loving thoughts and keeping me in their prayers. Certainly, my readers must be all wrapped up in their own holiday plans without having to add me to their list. With all this positive and healing energy directed my way, I cannot help but recover quickly. Thank you all for giving me what will be my most blessed Christmas and holiday ever. Happy and healthy holidays to all!

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