When I was diagnosed, I knew I needed to have 16 infusions of chemotherapy drugs over 5 months. What I didn’t know was how many more times my veins would be accessed for blood draws (minimum once a week) and hydration (16 additional IVs). Throw in my known surgery and I was at over 50 vein punctures. I was someone who DID NOT like needles, but I got over my fear quite quickly and truthfully it was much easier than I thought.
As I got close to the end of my chemo regimen, the nurses started to have trouble finding veins that worked. They either had to try new locations or attempt several times before a successful line was established. Apparently, chemo is very taxing on your veins. Combine that with the scar tissue from the IV needles and they were done being poked. On treatment days or doctors visits I didn’t have concern about the side effects or conversations, I fretted about the IVs. They became a source of anxiety for me. Will they be able to get me on the first try? Will they have to “dig” around? Will my vein collapse after they’re in? Are they going to use a new location? Will I have to reschedule this chemo treatment because it's taking too long to find a good vein? I remember on my last day of chemo I texted my sister “they got in!” which meant I was actually going to finish chemo today. (FYI – I learned that a “kiddie needle” in the hand is quick and easy.)
Looking back, I don’t remember having a conversation about a port, which is a small device placed under your skin usually in your chest to draw blood and give IV treatments. This provides simple, easy access instead of a fresh IV every time. My cancer was growing so rapidly my doctor wanted to start treatment ASAP. Scheduling a port surgery would obviously delay that start. If I had only had that initial treatment, I think not having a port would have been the right call for me. Fast forward a few months and I needed to have my toe amputated for a different cancer. (I know you are probably thinking “poor you! Another cancer?!” but that cancer actually saved my life). My doctor was able to write me a prescription for an immunotherapy treatment that was in the trial stage for my initial, and much more threatening, cancer. The fly in the ointment? I was going to get infusions every three weeks for two years. Which mean lots and lots of IVs. Now, a port was necessary as my veins were done.
Luckily, I was able to combine my amputation with the port implantation and in one 40-minute procedure it was all done. I’ll be honest, my mastectomy didn’t faze me. I was surprised at how little discomfort I felt. I was on a plane 48 hours later. My port, that was a different story….
Maybe I had unrealistic expectations, but my port hurt! It was sensitive, throbbing and uncomfortable. Right after surgery I was in bed reading my phone and I accidentally dropped it on my port incision. It was the most painful part of my cancer journey. I am embarrassed typing that, but it’s true. I took pain meds - and I never take pain meds. A few days later I was still sore. I would guess two weeks, maybe a month went by before I felt normal again. My port and I were off to a bumpy start.
Heading to my first infusion post-port I was tense. If the port itself hurt, how will it be when they access it? My fears were all for not. I hardly felt the prick! It was so easy and painless I immediately changed my port-hating tune. My port was my new best friend. Yes, I have a small circle of three bumps that poke out under my collarbone, but I hardly notice it (try to find it in my picture!). The best part? When I go for hydration, a blood draw, treatment or surgery I know it’s a one and done - the port is a sure thing. Easy access!
For a few tips, tricks and what to ask your doctor before you get your port click here.