I woke up in a surgical room at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, looked down and noticed I was topless and there were men around me.
My scars from my bilateral mastectomy were in full view. But I didn’t panic.
“There goes my career as a stripper,” I joked.
I later updated my Facebook status: “Done with surgery! I’m high as a kite singing Strawberry Fields.”
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It has been two weeks since Dr. Frederick L. Moffat surgically removed a device that had been implanted about a year ago beneath my skin. It was placed below the collar bone, near my right shoulder to facilitate the delivery of the drugs during chemotherapy.
The device is known as a “portacath” or “implanted venous access port.” It was slightly wider than a quarter and about as thick as my iPhone 4S. It also had a plastic tube attached that a doctor at Mercy Hospital inserted into my jugular vein, which made it uncomfortable to wear necklaces.
The new accessory was one of the first steps in my breast cancer treatment. Despite the discomfort, I grew attached to it. Without it, I would have had to deal with big needles that can produce a painful burning sensation and leave one bruised for a few days.
Chemotherapy ended on Oct. 25, 2011. I didn’t have the port removed out of fear.
“What if the cancer comes back and I need a port?” I asked Moffat before my recent surgery.
He said I could get another one. He explained there were risks to leaving the port in my body for too long.
“A blood clot can form in the catheter,” Moffat said.
I agreed to removal after I learned that my uncle in Colombia had recently suffered a thrombotic stroke, meaning a blood clot had obstructed the flow of blood to a part of the brain. What shocked me the most was his loss of speech. Stroke is the single largest cause of disability in adults in the developed world. The choice was clear.
Now that I have let go of the port, I know I have to move beyond my fears. It won’t be easy. For instance, now there is a small lump under my arm. I will see Dr. Robert Derhagopian, a surgical oncologist at Baptist Hospital, today so he can examine it for a second time.
Another surgery means another scar. Already the scar from the port surgery is about an inch long. It looks like I was stabbed. Décolleté dresses and tube tops would never look the same. I put on a sweater and went on with my day. I will get used to it.
My perspective of the scar changed after I saw a video this weekend that a friend sent me. She is being treated for breast cancer. It is titled “Stuff Breast Cancer Survivors Say.”
In the video, a sign appears: “Chemotherapy is generally administered through a port surgically inserted under the clavicle.”
Then a woman shows off her port scar, and a sign reads: “A scar basically means I survived.”
One after another, several other women showed their scars. It got me teary-eyed. Sometimes I am my worst critic. Earlier that day, I had looked at myself in the mirror without a sign of compassion.
On them, the scar told a story about their struggle to survive. On them, the scar was beautiful.