Sand In My Shoes

A Port In A Storm

There are not many happy days in a cancer hospital.

This was going to be one of them.

But a year and a half earlier, Ryan’s daughter Bridget, at age 38, was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

The tumor had at first been misdiagnosed by doctors at one prestigious hospital.

“They admitted me, diagnosed me with diverticulitis, and treated me with antibiotics for five days,” Bridget says. “I never saw a urologist to see if the rupture had invaded my bladder or urinary tract. No tests done for the presence of cancer. I was released and scheduled for a colonoscopy in eight weeks.”

Two long months later, Bridget had the colonoscopy. “They found a mass and took a biopsy,” Bridget says. “Three days later my husband was at work and I was playing with my two-year-old daughter as two workmen were fixing floor tiles in my kitchen when the doctor called. She told me I had colon cancer. I looked at my baby and asked the doctor what stage. She said, ‘Stage 4.’ When I hung up the two workmen saw me wiping my eyes. They asked what was wrong. I said I was just told I have stage 4 cancer. They both hugged me — complete strangers.”

The misdiagnosis allowed the tumor to grow until it eventually burst, breaking through the colon wall and touching her bladder.

Not good.

Bridget went to a top surgeon at another hospital for a second opinion and the new doctor specializing in colon cancer downgraded her tumor to Stage 3. But he said it needed an immediate resection surgery. A bladder cancer surgeon would also need to cut a small crescent from her bladder.

Those first few weeks of misdiagnosis, diagnosis, and a plan of action were a whirlwind of emotions and fears. All Bridget could think of was her baby girl growing up without a mommy.

Bridget put on a brave public face, but many of her nights were spent staring at the ceiling reviewing her life and making plans for her little girl if she didn’t make it.

Ryan went with Bridget on the day they embedded a port under her skin on her upper chest so that medicine and chemo could more easily be sent into her system. This port is like the gas tank portal of your car. It turns you into a pumping station for cancer drugs. Some cancer patients never have their ports removed.

Then Bridget went into surgery, with doctors excising the tumor from her colon and skimming the bladder.

No cancer surgery is ever 100-percent successful, but doctors told Ryan they felt very optimistic about his daughter’s chances for a full recovery.

Then began the six grueling months of chemotherapy, dripping toxins through Bridget’s embedded port into her bloodstream to kill any wayward cancer cells. Bridget had to take another bottle of chemo home to attach to her port the following day. The port had to be flushed and cleaned and immaculately maintained to avoid infection. The port was a like a badge of cancer on her chest, a symbol of terminal illness.

Ryan accompanied Bridget on every one of her sessions, spending that time lost in father-daughter-grandfather chats. Watching and discussing the news. Eating lunch in the chemo suite.

At the end of her six months, chemo-related neuropathy caused balance-loss numbness in Bridget’s feet and a scary loss of dexterity in her hands. When she visited her neurologist for a prescription he became alarmed at the severity of the neuropathy in Bridget’s hands. “It’s usually only in the feet,” the neurologist said. “When it’s in the hands like that it could indicate that the cancer has spread to the spine and brain. I want scans of both.”

This is the rollercoaster ride of cancer. The long slow climb to good news is often followed by sudden dips into new fears and dangers.

Bridget undertook the scans on December 7. The results would take five anxious days, like awaiting a death penalty verdict. Then on the first day of Chanukah, Bridget sat with her husband and father in her oncologist’s office. The doctor entered with a poker face, a sheaf of papers in her hand, nodding to all.

The female doctor asked Bridget how she was feeling. Bridget said she’d tell her once the doctor told her the results of her scans.

“Oh,” said the oncologist, waving the test results. “I have nothing but good news. We’ve studied all the scans, brain, spine, colon, and bladder. You are cancer-free.”

Ryan and his daughter and son-in-law hugged.

But it still was not over.

Six months later another colonoscopy had Ryan and Bridget nervous. But results found she was still cancer free.

Okay, one last piece of business.

Last week Ryan’s daughter entered the cancer hospital. A nurse asked her what she was here for. “I’m getting my port removed,” Bridget said.

“That’s wonderful news,” the nurse said, smiling. “We love hearing that around here.”

Ryan smiled at his daughter Bridget because at long last it looked like the war was over.

Then Ryan’s daughter went home to life — sweet, beautiful life — with her own three-year-old daughter.

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