Of all the things that cancer left me with, scarred veins in my only good arm has been the worst. I have learned to treasure those techs who can find a good vein and hit it the first time.
Kathy LaTour is a breast cancer survivor, author of The Breast Cancer Companion and co-founder of CURE magazine. While cancer did not take her life, she has given it willingly to educate, empower and enlighten the newly diagnosed and those who care for them.
Giving blood for any reason has become one of those things where I draw the line quickly these days. Of all the things that cancer left me with, scarred veins in my only good arm has been the worst. It’s my only good arm because four years after my mastectomy I got a hangnail that got infected. I ran it under hot water as I always did, but this time the infection was set. The next day a red streak had run up my arm and was moving onto the chest wall.
Scary, and serious enough that when my breast surgeon saw it, she walked me over to the hospital and admitted me. I was there for five days—longer than my mastectomy.
I have often said that I wish I had gotten a port to receive my treatment, but when I received my diagnosis, they weren’t using ports for what they saw as a basic round of chemotherapy. So now when I must give blood, or worse—get an IV, I start talking about what a hard stick I am as soon as there is a human being present.
So, here I am with bad veins made worse by cancer treatment. And my problems were exacerbated when I received a second diagnosis of cancer 20 years after the first in the other breast. They did a sentinel node for that one, and I had immediate reconstruction after a second modified radical mastectomy.
But, while a sentinel node reduces the chance of lymphedema, it doesn’t eliminate it completely.
I had to have an MRI a few months back. After calling in the best in the hospital and sticking me nine times, they gave up on contrast. By the time they quit, I was sobbing, which no one seemed to care about.
With all this in mind, I have learned to treasure those techs who can find a good vein and hit it the first time. I had such a nurse yesterday when I had to give lots of blood for an upcoming procedure.
She worked at one of those independent labs that we have around the city. As soon as I saw her, I remembered that she had drawn my blood before and that she was good.
I went through my routine while she was getting the vials ready.
“I am a really hard stick,” I said.
“Hmm,” she replied, never once looking directly at me.
“I mean I am a REALLY hard stick,” I said.
“Uhuh,” she said, not making eye contact as she began looking for a vein.
“I am going to my happy place,” I said, closing my eyes and trying hard to meditate away from the moment.
And then she was in. I could feel my whole body relax, and I recognized how hard sticks were for me since they took me back to chemotherapy in a very visceral way.
“Thank you so much,” I said. And this time she looked me in the eye. “You really made this easy for me and you are really good at it.”
This time she smiled.
“I will be back,” I said.