My dad always says The Florida Keys is a place where you go to forget or to be forgotten. I never really believed him until last week, when I found myself barreling toward the southernmost point of the country trying to forget about what was happening to me back in Miami.
A mere twenty-four hours prior to my trip, I had spent a long, emotional day at Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach, where I had undergone a series of appointments and tests to see if a mass found in my left breast was cancer.
The area in question, which happened to be the exact same breast and location in which both my grandmother and great grandmother had developed cancer, was detected during a routine mammogram and sonogram that had been performed a few weeks earlier. (I wrote about the experience extensively in my “Reinvention: The Rusted Jalopy” blog.)
Waiting for my test results wasn’t just painstaking, it was borderline suffocating. So instead of watching the clock drip by (it would take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to hear back from my doctor,) I decided to skip town and rendezvous with my parents somewhere down in The Florida Keys. Coincidentally, they were already in town, visiting me from New Mexico.
Unfortunately, no matter how many miles I put between me and Mount Sinai, it didn’t give me the distance I truly needed from the thought of living my life with cancer or dying from it. God, how I hated the C word. Even worse, when I let my mind wander, there I was in the hospital all over again: laying face down, half naked and freezing, inside a gigantic MRI machine with my breasts wedged apart, hanging in a suspended position.
The experience wasn’t just uncomfortable: for whatever reason, I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Mainly because my body was failing me – yet again. After a long battle with Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome, the likelihood of me getting cancer just didn’t seem plausible, but there I was getting poked and prodded, in hopes of finding out “The Naked Truth” about what was really going on inside my body.
During the procedure, the tears came quickly and easily. They dripped straight out of my eyes onto the belly of the imaging contraption. Crying when you’re upside down is an odd feeling. Then again, at that moment everything seemed pretty odd, although I didn’t say as much to the technician performing the MRI.
She had been incredibly impressed with my fortitude when she stuck me with a needle and I didn’t flinch. “Wow, that’s a painful area. You didn’t even blink,” she mused before starting my IV that would be used to pump contrast through my veins. Apparently, contrast helps light up the tentacles of cancer when photographed.
My first instinct was to brag to the technician about my superior mind control when it came to needles, but instead, I smiled weakly and remembered the endless days, nights and weeks of Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG,) the live-saving medicine that helped me recover from GBS.
During that time, the needles and ports became second nature. Without mincing words, I grew a helluva backbone. My veins became so damaged and weak, it was almost impossible to hit one. To ensure I received my “liquid gold,” as I used to call it, I would guide the nurse’s needle under my own skin, until it made contact with a decent vein…
One that would be able to sustain a six hour infusion. I’ll never forget the way the medicine burned when it hit my vein and how it smelled when it entered my body. I’ll also never forget how the procedure itself would clear a room. No one could watch it, not my friends or the people taking care of me. I don’t blame them: it was excruciating, but I never wavered, not once, because I had NO other choice. It was all about survival and I did what I had to do.
Just like when I let the technician choose a painful area on my arm to hit my vein. She could have chosen another place, but she knew that particular area was more than likely a sure thing. She just didn’t know that I knew it, too. She also didn’t know that it was the vein I had nicknamed “Lady Luck” during my GBS days.
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Styling & Assist: Jackie Kay
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Editor: Matthew Auerbach