This has been a very hard week...easily one of the hardest I have faced so far in my journey through cancer.
On Tuesday I had two procedures: one in Charleston in the morning and one in Savannah in the afternoon. The appointment in Charleston was with my plastic surgeon, Dr. O'Niell. I have been going to see him weekly for post-operative visits since my surgery on February 11th. He checked to make sure everything was healing well and then injected about 100 cc's of saline into each of my chest expanders. The expansions are usually somewhat painful, but this time I experienced a very sharp, intense pain in my back immediately after he expanded my right side. The doctor expected it to go away over the course of the day, so we went on to our next procedure back in Savannah.
The procedure in Savannah was for installing a port for chemotherapy. Most of my veins are unusable due to the cancer in my lymph nodes and previous chemotherapy treatments, so the port will give direct access to my blood stream without having to tap into a new vein at each treatment. As we walked into the vascular surgeon's outpatient office I had a very unsettled feeling, but wasn't sure why. After getting a saline IV started and doing some paperwork, a doctor came and said that the surgeon that was supposed to do the procedure today was not available, so he was going to fill in. I nodded and smiled, but inside I was quietly hoping that didn't mean he was the second-string doctor! We told him that my oncologist wanted me to get a port in my arm, but he disagreed with that recommendation and told us it would be best to put the port in my chest. We were a little confused with his reasoning for doing a chest port, but we figured this was his specialty so hwe should trust his advice.
When he finished going over the basics of the procedure with me the nurses brought me back to the procedure room. I was hoping for a nurse to give me a more detailed explanation of the procedure and what to expect, but she didn't say too much. I asked if and when I would get pain medicine. The nurse told me they would give me pain medicine through my IV before they began the procedure. Then she had me lay flat on the table (which hurt extremely bad because of the downward pressure on my newly-expanded expanders) and she began spreading a surgical prep solution on my chest and neck. Without warning, the nurse draped a blue paper cloth over me from head to toe. I could not see anything or breath well and because of my severe chest pain, I wasn't able to remove the cloth from my face.
The next thing I knew, everyone left the room and I was lying on the table alone, struggling to fight the pain and the claustrophobia. I'll never forget what I heard next: the nurses were shouting down the hallway, "Hey, who is doing this surgery? Is it Dr. Haresh or Dr. DeChamplain? Where are we putting the port? Oh, I thought it was in the arm?” Needless to say, these were not very comforting comments. I would like to think that the people who were about to cut into my carotid artery knew what they were doing! Finally, a doctor came in...but it not the doctor who had spoken to me earlier. I could tell this new doctor was a woman from her voice, but she did not speak to me and I never saw her face. Finally, about half-way through the procedure, one of the nurses noticed my body beginning to convulse because of the pain. She lifted up the blue paper and saw tears streaming from my eyes. Surprised, she asked, “Are you okay?" I wanted to say, “Oh, yes I am doing wonderful today…and how are you?” But all I could say was, "Um…no…I'm in horrible pain." Finally, they gave me some pain medicine (though it didn't kick in until after the 30-minute procedure was complete) and they finished up the procedure. All in all, it was a pretty miserable experience.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening I continued to have the sharp pain that I had from the expansion. It got so severe around 1am that we called my plastic surgeon's office. Though he was not even on call, my doctor was willing to talk with us for nearly 30 minutes. He even gave me his personal cell phone number in case I needed to call him back or text him with a question. After discussing my symptoms, he suggested either going to the ER or coming in to see him the next day. We decided to manage the pain with medication that night and to go see him first thing in the morning. such a kind and thoughtful doctor. So at 5:45am on Wednesday we began driving back to Charleston for my 8:30am appointment. At the appointment, Dr. O'Neill removed about half of the saline he had injected into my right side the day before, hoping that the reduction would mean less pressure and pain. Thankfully, throughout the day that is exactly what happened.
And today, Thursday, was chemo. Now to be honest, with all of the pain I experienced on Tuesday and Wednesday, the LAST thing in the world I wanted to do today was to experience more pain or to add nausea into the equation. I was at the end of my rope physically and emotionally and did not think I could handle one more thing going wrong. Thankfully, in general, everything did go okay. But wouldn't you know it, they ended up not even using my port! The area around the port was still so tender from the installation that we decided to use a normal vein for one more week.
I've had several hard days in my journey so far, but today was probably one of my hardest days. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually I am just exhausted. It's been a day of longing for my heavenly home! During a particulary hard moment during chemo today Matt handed me his iPhone. I looked at the screen and the title said, "Psalm 55." I looked at him and said, “Matt, I honestly don't feel like reading the Bible right now.” He said, "I know - that's why you need to read it," and he put it right in front of my face. I guess when you are married to a pastor there is no getting away from God’s Word…especially when he has it on his iPhone! Reluctantly, I read Psalm 55. The passage - a psalm of lament - was a perfect fit for my mood. Here are verses 4-8 and 22a:
My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.” Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.
As I read David's cries of anguish and his reminder of God's sustaining hand, I instantly felt my heart soften its spirit and lighten its load. Sometimes we may not “feel” like reading God's Word, or praying, or going to church, but when we do we realize that these are the primary ways God relates to us and encourages our hearts. Thanks be to the Lord for His grace, mercy, and friendship to us when our hearts are weak!
After this very hard and exhausting week of doctors appointments, I am excited to say I do not have any more appointments until next Wednesday! Also, I am looking forward to a short getaway with Matt (on Monday) and Lydia's 4th birthday (on Tuesday). Hopefully I am feeling well for both of those things. I am still fighting pain from the expansion and a bit of nausea from the chemo treatment, so I'd appreciate your prayers that those would be done with soon.