Phlebotomy: The Art of a Good Stick

My father being an expert in hematology did not prepare me for understanding why the phlebotomist (person that takes your blood) is so important.

I had to have blood work before chemo every two weeks. Some stickers (what I called them) were good and a needle going into your vein wasn’t so bad. I could have had blood taken through my port, but that is basically a medical procedure and I waited in the hospital 4 times as long as when they took it from a vein.

Furthermore, I decided early on to get used to only having blood draws and pressure taken on the left side because of my cancer was on the right side and it spread to my lymph nodes. There is a risk of developing lymphedema (painful swelling of your limbs) after surgery, so as a preventative measure, I wanted to burn it into my brain, LEFT SIDE ONLY.

But as time went on and veins break down, it became harder and harder for some phlebotomists to get a good stick. Trying again and again and again. The only thing you need to be a good phlebotomist is to get the stick right the 1st time and if you’re really good, the patient won’t even feel more than a tiny pinch. A few such stickers existed.

But bedside manner and foot-in-your mouth disease are another thing altogether. I had just had an MRI of my neck, ordered by my neuro-oncologist to try and figure out where my massive headaches were coming from. I was going in for bloodwork and the young phlebotomist said, “How long have you had brain cancer?”

I said, “I don’t have brain cancer.” Talk about freaking out. Did she know something I didn’t?

No, she just assumed because she knew I had cancer and knew I just had an MRI of the top of my body. Hence, she concluded, brain cancer. I was flabbergasted.

Every time I would see her, she would ask about my brain cancer. She was so good as a phlebotomist that I just let it go. One stick and no pain, that’s what makes a patient not dread getting frequent blood work.

How to Tell People

Crowd sourcing and roller derby really did save my life.

One of my roller derby crew called me up and said, “Can we raise some money for your medical costs?”

“Sure.”

5 hours later, social media explosion. Derby girl has cancer! Friends who didn’t know now knew. What can we do? Derby community near and far, and some unknown, sharing and liking and sharing and donating.

Five thousand, then ten thousand, fifteen, and finally twenty. Booty for Boobies for Pirate-i-tude (that’s me). Most people don’t have a lot of money, but people gave a lot of money.

Derby girls: strong, beautiful, fierce, but lovely and generous and will pour their hearts out for a cause. I’m so humbled that for a time, you let me be your cause. You loved me so well and so much.

Time to Clean Up the Spilt Milk

You know when you spill something? It’s annoying, but we know how to clean it up: grab a towel, sop up the mess, put down a different towel and step on it to let the towel take the milk up, see if it’s dry, see if it stained the carpet, put down some special shampoo and wait for it to dry, then vacuum that up.

That’s how cancer felt at first.  Not a full reality, but something to take care of and move on from.

For example, they said, “Here’s the list of doctors you now need to go see.”

Breast surgical specialist, oncologist, fertility specialist, cardio oncologist, nutrition expert, chemo class, break from doctors, then the headaches, neurologist, psychologist, radiation oncologist, oncologist, oncologist, oncologist, breast surgeon, plastic surgeon and back and forth.

The Past Year and a Half in Fast Forward

[Hey there! It’s been awhile since I wrote about my cancer journey, but now’s a great time to reflect and catch everyone up. I’ve been cancer free for about a year, and it happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’ll be posting a blog every day for the next two weeks, then we’ll tell you about our next big travel adventure!]

Lump, big lump, mammogram, ultrasound, biopsies, diagnosis, MRI, port surgery, chemo, shots, shot in your butt every month, blood work again and again, chemo, shots, okay repeat, break, chemo, chemo, chemo, repeat, break, start school, then surgery to remove breasts and all the cancer, break, ok really recovery, really 4 weeks of hell, well 6 weeks, then back to school, radiation x 30, recovery, blood tests show CANCER FREE, hormone therapy (thank God it’s just a pill), wait, now try this pill, no wait we have new research so go back to this pill, relax, done with radiation, my skin never will be though, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, still cancer free, expand tissue expanders to make room for reconstructive surgery summer 2015, expand expanders, repeat, repeat, still cancer free, summer’s here, now we rebuild you, take your belly fat and make new breasts, can’t stand straight up for weeks, now I have a walker, NO CAFFEINE for 6 weeks, at least teachers have the summer off, laying low, walking slowly, very slowly, 6 weeks out now CAFFEINE, Baltimore and DC adventure, now back at school, going full tilt, STILL CANCER FREE.