Needles, giving blood and cancer flashbacks


I had to have blood drawn for a test last week and it was a nightmare. I didn't have great veins before chemotherapy, and now they are impossible because of scarring. I also have to worry about lymphedema in the left arm since my second diagnosis of breast cancer in the fall of 2007. Even though I had a sentinel node biopsy, which only removed one node, I am still at risk of getting lymphedema. I never thought about my veins before cancer, making that just another of cancer's gifts that keeps on giving. But after having a few inept technicians try to find a vein in the years after chemotherapy, I have a very clear boundary about my left arm and the veins that live there. No 1. Know what you are doing when you come at me with a needle. No. 2. Don't fish in my arm. If you don't hit the vein, get out. I know this about myself, so when I had to be stuck for a test last week, I told the person making the appointment that I needed a pro. And she was. I went to my happy place through self hypnosis as she prepared the arm with the patting and slapping that precedes the stick. The stick was painless, but then the vein dried up, as scarred veins sometimes do, and she tried to get it going again with a little tug. Well, that did it. There is something about that particular pain that takes me back to chemotherapy in an instant. It's one of those body memories, like the smells of the chemo suite that can STILL make me nauseous after 23 years. I have no control over it no matter how hard I try. We were done. She immediately pulled the needle out and was very apologetic. I tried to explain that it wasn't her, it was my body reminding me that there are feelings that cannot be explained that are held in our cells and that re-emerge no matter what we do. She called in the top person at the lab who asked if she could look for another vein. The fact that she asked impressed me. I said it was OK but we would discuss the next option. I knew she wouldn't find one because I was shivering by then, another body reaction when I get stuck and upset. And cold is the last thing you need when giving blood because the veins seem to head to deeper tissue when you are cold. She agreed that there was no vein and said she would look at the test to see if we had enough. By then I had regained some control and left. As I sat in my car before heading back to work, I thought about the past 23 years and how many ways cancer has impacted and continues to impact my life--and the body's ability to store such strong responses to something so insignificant.

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