#sharestrength – Chemo Port Surgery & Chemotherapy #1

So it happened. 7 weeks after my colectomy surgery to remove 26 cm of my colon, I went for another surgery to commence my chemotherapy. This, however, was a minor surgery. So minor I was fully awake throughout the whole 1-hour procedure.

Awake? Yes, I was awake.

For my colectomy surgery, I was unconscious at the waiting ward. I did not see the operating theater. I did not see my surgeon’s face before the surgery.

For this minor surgery to implant a chemo port in my chest, I climbed onto the surgical table myself and even chatted with the surgeon during the surgery. It was surreal. It was scary just because.

For the record, I am afraid of pain. I’m afraid of wound and blood; not just my own but others as well. With that said, I get traumatized looking at or visualizing images of wounded and anything gruesome. So yeah. This minor surgery where I was not sedated, was gory to me.

university malaya specialist center umsc ward
This was before the whole ordeal started, when I first “checked in” to my ward.

My surgery was supposed to happen at “lunchtime” — yeah that’s exactly what UMSC said. It was about 1.30pm when I was pushed into the operating room, greeted by a team of very friendly doctors, lead by Prof Dr Anushya, the radiologist who performed the surgery on me. Yes, the procedure was so minor it was done by a radiologist instead of a surgeon..

chemo port device
This is a chemo port. There’s a tube that connects to a vein that directs blood to my heart. I’m supposed to implant this under my skin.
chemo port function
This is how the chemo port is supposed to work. Every time I go for chemotherapy, the nurse will poke through my skin to connect to the chemo port so that drug can me delivered to my blood vessel.

Anyway, the team got busy in the room trying to position me for the surgery. My head had to be tilted so that the vein at my neck would jolt out for the radiologist to poke through. They had to make sure I’m comfortable so that I don’t move during the surgery, get neck cramp and whatnot so I have to say we spent quite some time getting me into position.

I think it was about 1.50pm when they administered antibiotic via intravenous (IV) tube in my arm and got into the whole drill. I felt the local anesthesia injections, followed by feeling of very tough and tight skin being messed around near my neck area. I could hear every conversation that happened between the doctors. “She’s got very very tiny veins,” was not pleasing to my ears, especially when Prof Dr Anusyha had to say it a couple of times before piercing through my vein. I heard them coordinating when I felt like they were stuffing something down my throat; I believe they were pushing the tube/wire down my vein. It wasn’t the most comfortable when the surgical table was being pushed up, down, left and right while there were hands around my throat and face; I believe they were scanning me to make sure the tube/wire was being inserted properly. I felt like a specimen.

By the time the procedure at my neck area was done, I was already in disbelief. How did I sign up for this? How did I end up in the operating room, wide awake when someone poked through a vein on my neck so that chemotherapy drug can later be administered right to my heart? I wished I slept through the whole ordeal.

With the neck area done, Prof Dr Anusyha and the team had to secure the chemo port on my chest, under my skin. To do this, she administered more local anesthesia to my chest area. I felt the local anesthesia injection and unfortunately, felt some needle piercing pain shortly after too. I hope it wasn’t the pain of the scalpel cutting my skin open.

Anyway, I felt more “messing around on my tight and tough skin”. It felt like my skin was being pulled, pushed and roughly handled with the local anesthesia doing its work. As the feeling has gotten more repetitive, I suddenly thought I felt like Ironman. No joke. Suddenly I felt like Ironman because I now have a device implanted in me.

The Ironman moment didn’t last long though. Because when Prof Dr Anusyha said she’s gonna stitch me up, I felt the stitches! I felt the final few stitches piercing through my skin. The pain was similar to getting local anesthesia injections so I just managed through without more injections.

The team of doctors were out before I saw their faces again. Others cleaned me, transfered me back to my bed and rolled me out the operating room, onto the walkway. Seriously, they left me outside the operating room, at the public walkway right after the surgery. I felt like an abandoned specimen but whatever. I think I slept there for almost an hour before someone picked me up and pushed me back to my ward.

chemo port surgery
Here’s me trying to smile for the camera during chemotherapy. I saw the bandage for the first time while taking this photo =P

At the ward, I rested more while trying my best not to move my neck because of my fresh wound. It was past 5pm when a chemo nurse came over and complained about how late my chemo port procedure was and how late I was for my chemotherapy.

I couldn’t be bothered much because I didn’t schedule the procedures to take place in a day. I was supposed to get the chemo port done a day before. And I was scared as hell with “chemotherapy” than to keep track of time.

I was supposed to finish some chemotherapy in the hospital and continue 46 hours of chemotherapy at home; that’s the drill every cycle. For whatever reason, the chemotherapy in the hospital took so long that I ended up staying a night in the hospital. I only got my take-home chemotherapy drug at about 5am the next day.

chemotherapy drug
The chemo drug needed protection from the light they said…

My first chemotherapy was scary more than anything. Before the procedure, I felt very sad because I was about to inject drugs into my body. When the chemo drug was first administered, I felt cynical — staring at the chemo drug, I wasn’t sure if I should love or hate the bottle of liquid. During the entire chemotherapy ordeal, I was just afraid of uncertainties. No one was able to tell how my body would react to the drug until things happen. Even now when I’ve completed my first chemotherapy cycle, I’m still very scared. The side effects are supposed to still kick in a few days after the drug administration so I’m still waiting to see if anything happens. So far, so good. If my fear hasn’t engulfed me, I think my body is doing fine.

So in short, my chemo port surgery and first chemotherapy treatment have been an emotional adventure more than anything. I believe I can move my arms but I’m afraid putting on my t-shirt would tear my wound open. I believe I can live life like normal but I’m so stressed up I feel dysfunctional and down. Oh well. I hope this is just part of the chemotherapy story. It has only been a few days but they felt like forever.

discharged from hospital
On Day 2 of chemotherapy when I was allowed to go home with my take-home chemo drug.
Traveling during chemotherapy
Was summoned to the hospital to check on my chemo port wound to make sure there’s no infection. Took the train home for convenience. On Day 3 of chemotherapy, the drug was still being administered continuously.
folfox chemo drug
Here’s the bottle of chemo drug that I brought home. There was a ball of liquid when I started and in this photo, the ball has depleted, meaning all drug in my body at 2.5ml/hour.
colon cancer chemotherapy
I couldn’t wash my hair during the chemotherapy so not to wet my chemo port. Here’s me after washing my hair post-chemotherapy.

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