The Impossibility of Forgetting Cancer

Chemotherapy killed my veins, and quarterly blood tests won't let me forget that. How it's impossible to ever forget the changes cancer brings.

One of the things that I as a cancer survivor wish I could do is forget I had cancer.

Oh, to sink back into pre-cancer days, beyond the treatments, the pain and the fear. I would love to return to the innocence of 2010, a year before my breast cancer was found. But this is impossible for me to do because there are so many reminders that I endured two bouts of the disease.

For one, I don't have any breasts. That's a big reminder. And then, there are the scars all over my chest and back. There's the little port scar on my arm. But the most annoying reminder is the fact that every time I get a blood test, the phlebotomist can never find a vein. They say chemo "kills" your veins; well, it did mine.

I get blood tests every quarter to monitor a psychotropic drug I'm taking. It's always the same thing. "Boy, are you a hard stick," they say.

The phlebotomist starts out optimistically on my arm, patting the skin, looking for a nice, juicy vein. She pats and pats and can never find one. Then, she says, "Do they ever use your hand?"

"Yes," I reply.

So she moves down to my hand, patting my skin, but to no avail.

Then, she breaks out the hot compress.

"Did you drink any water this morning?" she asks, squeezing the little plastic bag of hot material that she will place on my hand to cause a vein to pop up.

"Yes," I reply, knowing that phlebotomists like you to hydrate yourself before you come to them.

"O.K., just hold that hot compress on your hand for a few minutes."

Drat, I think. For the rest of my life I'll have to endure this. They can never find a vein, and this is a near-constant reminder that I was stricken with cancer! I just want to forget.

The phlebotomist takes the hot compress off my hand and ties the rubber band around my lower arm. She begins her patting process all over again.

"My goodness," she exclaims. "I'm having a hard time finding a vein on you. We're going to have to bring in the ultrasound machine."

Fortunately, with the use of said machine, they can usually find a nice vein. Sooner or later, they do find one and take my blood.

"Oh, good," she says. "It's flowing nicely."

One time, the hot compress AND the ultrasound machine didn't work. They had to bring in the big gun— the anesthesiologist. He's stuck thousands and thousands of folks. And do you know what? He instantly found a vein without any tools or tinkering. Anesthesiologists are my heroes.

Not every cancer survivor has to get so many blood tests every year. It just so happens that I have a mental health issue along with my cancer history; I have bipolar illness, and the Depakote I take for it causes my blood to be monitored every time I turn around.

Maybe it's a good thing that I have this quarterly reminder that I survived cancer. Maybe this reminder is ultimately good for my ego. In any case, it's not in the cards that I forget my "cancer journey."

Anyway, how could I forget the bizarre, horrific ride that is burned into my psyche?

It is not mine to forget. It is mine to remember.