Atia was 20 months old when her port was placed into her chest. In the beginning, it was hard to get used to. She was afraid of it. I was afraid of it. She was resistant to it being accessed. She and I both cried the first time the needle went into her chest; she cried because it hurt; I cried because it hurt her.
But as time passed, our entire family gained a respect for her port; we could see the value in its use. In fact, Atia grew so attached to it that she called it her Magic Button. “It’s what drinks the medicine to help make me better,” she’d say. She was proud of her port and became very comfortable with it being accessed.
On most occasions, before we’d head off to the hospital, she’d help me apply the numbing cream, and then she’d talk through the steps with the nurses as they’d insert the needle and inject the medication. After nearly three and a half years of this piece of medical equipment being inside Atia’s body, on October 5th it was removed.
It was a magnificent milestone in Atia’s cancer journey, and anyone in their right mind would have celebrated this victory without hesitation, but not me. Though initially I’d despised the idea of her having a port, like Atia, I had become very fond of it.
Cancer, cancer treatment, hospitals, high-risk situations, side-effects, needles and blood are what we were used to. Like an abused victim who can’t seem to walk away from his/her abuser, I was afraid of leaving her port behind. To you, an outsider looking in, that probably sounds absolutely crazy, but for me, her port had come to be my security blanket. It was a quick access point if ever there was an emergency situation. So, for me, the joy of its removal was laced with loads of anxiety.
What if the moment we took it out she needed it? This question and my thoughts were deeply rooted in superstitions and fears of the unknown. Dare I say that her port was something of a lucky charm? Could it be removed without consequence? I know my thoughts are the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), caused by the way cancer had terrorized us for so many years, but it was hard to shake off my underlying fear, even this many months after Atia ended her cancer treatment.
But there was no stopping it, the date and time were set: October 5, 2012 at 6:00am. Atia couldn’t eat after midnight, so we were happy that the appointment was first thing in the morning. We woke the kids up at 5:00am, got them dressed and then headed to the hospital. We were the first patients to check-in.
I was nervous, but tried not to show it for Atia’s sake. Fortunately, she didn’t seem the least bit afraid; I admired her for that. I was proud of my baby and drew from her upbeat spirit that morning.
Atia’s experience was pretty good until she woke up from surgery, but I’ll let her tell you about that…
In Her Own Words, here is Atia’s account of what happened that morning (about 8 hrs after the procedure):
The only two pieces of advice I’d give any parent going through this in the future are*:
(1) If you feel like your child will be nervous walking to, or being wheeled into the operating room, insist on the oral medication administered by the anesthesiologist that makes them giggly and silly beforehand. It’s the medicine that Atia referenced as the yellow medicine that tasted “disgusting.” I don’t remember the exact name of it, but make sure to ask for it. They won’t give it to your child unless you do.
(2) Insist on walking your child into the operating room. Because Atia had taken the anti-anxiety medication, she was loopy and unsteady on her feet, so they asked me to carry her in, but only after I explained to them that I wanted to be there so that my face was the last she saw before “going to sleep” (i.e., put under anesthesia). Since this wasn’t the first time she’d been anesthetized, we’d developed a routine of me singing her to sleep and I didn’t want this time to be any different. They conceded and I was able to be there. Again, it’s not something they’ll typically offer, so don’t be afraid to ask and insist upon, if necessary.
*Warning: If you are to do these, you must be prepared to walk into the operating room and see your child under anesthesia. It can be quite frightening and shocking to the system.
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