Patient With Cancer Asks, ‘To Port or Not to Port?’

A woman with ovarian cancer explains why she was reluctant to get a port put in and why she ultimately went forward with it. “Somehow, I felt that if I got the port, I was giving in to the cancer,” she writes.

I have been on my journey of fighting ovarian cancer for over eight, close to nine years. What a journey it has been! I am sitting at my computer recovering from having my first port put in yesterday. This is my port story.

For those of you who do not know what a port is, it is a way for doctors, nurses, technicians and lab personnel to give chemotherapy, contrast or any other immunotherapy. It is also a way to extract blood for needed information for treatment. In lay terms, a port is inserted under your skin and has a connected tube to a vein near your heart. The port has a small round area for anyone who needs to perform needle sticks for therapy or blood draws. The most common placement for a port is under the clavicle. This is where they placed my port yesterday.

I was a patient who tried for all my therapy to not get a port. The reasons may be a bit vain, but I believe for me, it was seeing the port each day in the mirror that would always remind me, “You have cancer.” My vanity and my veins finally gave in two weeks ago, and I had a port put in yesterday.

I need to first explain my history. For those who are reading my blog for the first time, I was diagnosed in January of 2013. Three surgeries, four chemotherapies and two radiations later, I can say that I have been poked a million times. Blood work, chemotherapy, CT and PT scan contrasts, blood infusions and tumor marker sticks are what you must do to get and give critical information and therapy. At first, my veins managed the needles with no issues. Because the chemotherapy is so caustic, I am told that they leave scar tissue in the veins, and it makes getting a stick a bit challenging. Veins can blow as well, and I had my share of blown veins.

This last spring, I had my fourth chemotherapy, and it gave me constant anxiety knowing that I needed to have a needle stick in my arm, wrist or hand. Hands and wrists are extremely painful. I would drink lots of water and try to do things correctly, but it became almost impossible to find a vein for blood work, contrast or chemotherapy as my veins were so damaged.

One place that I would go to get my regular blood work was an outreach branch of my hospital and if I was lucky, I would try to get “One Poke Penny.” That was the name I gave her, as she never failed to get the required blood for evaluating the very first time, and it rarely hurt. Thank you, Penny.

If I was not able to get Penny, then I would very honestly and professionally share with my technician that I was a difficult stick so please look in many places and get the best person for my blood draw. Most times they would listen but there were other times that I endured up to three pokes until the blood was flowing. While it left bruises everywhere, it also hurt terribly.

Many people, including my medical professionals, suggested that the port will make things so much better as it will accommodate one poke to get needed blood and give therapy. But I was trying to prove that my veins were strong and that I did not need it. Somehow, I felt that if I got the port, I was giving in to the cancer.

For my last round of chemotherapy, the staff did their best, but almost every time the ultrasound technician needed to be called to find the vein needed for the chemo. The nurse in charge of the infusion floor is a friend of mine so she was instrumental in making sure I was well taken care of during each chemotherapy. Thank you, Kelly! Honestly, I decided that enough was enough and that if I needed any more chemo, I would succumb to the port. My guess is that when all is healed and done, I will question why I waited so long to have the port put in my body.

To put it briefly, my surgery for the port placement was extremely simple. Again, this is my case only so as I describe how it was done, other patients may have had a dissimilar experience all together. A radiologist performed the surgery. I was not to eat anything after midnight and surgery was at 11 a.m. I got there at 9 a.m. and prepared by getting in a gown. They washed my upper chest area, and then came the time for the IV as I would be placed in a relaxed state with some anesthesia during the surgery. I felt bad as an RN came in with a perfect record for getting in an IV for difficult patients, but she was unable to get it with her first stick. Clearly another reason that this port should have been placed earlier in my treatment! Again, the ultrasound staff came in and they found a very deep vein and I was ready to go to the operating room.

The operating room was cold, so they gave me warm blankets which put me at ease. There was music playing so I made a joke that I should have brought my own playlist. They asked if I had any requests. I told them to play the music that they like as I did not want to mess with any changes to the norm. Kiddingly, I did suggest Pitbull, and they were surprised and offered to play it, but I said no as I might want to get off the table to do some Zumba! These kinds of conversations helped to build a special rapport with those taking care of me yesterday.

I like to be informed about what is happening during any procedures that I am having so I asked them to tell me what exactly what they were doing through the whole procedure so I could know what to expect to feel during surgery. I also asked questions throughout the whole procedure. I honestly did not feel any effects of the anesthesia and was not a bit groggy. I did feel the lidocaine used to numb the incision. But, because I knew it was coming, I was fine. After the procedure was done, they showed me the X-ray of the placement of the port and tubing to the vein. It was so amazing to see this in my body. The whole procedure took less than 10 minutes. The worst part was waiting to be taken down to surgery and to get back to my room. That is what took time! You need to have a driver take you home because of the anesthesia, but I felt so good that my friend and I went to a late lunch and then home. It was such a needed yet simple procedure.

The port was placed on my right side and that is the side I slept on last night as it was the most comfortable on that side. I was sore last night, and I am sore today, but ibuprofen has managed the pain easily. I am taking it easy today and for the next few days. No lifting or showers yet but by the weekend, I should feel better.

I titled this “To Port or Not to Port.” I reiterate that every person must make their own decisions based on their own journeys. Some doctors may make the decision for them. My doctor was very patient with me and allowed me to know when it was time for the port. At first, I did not want the port, but I think that taking the anxiety away from the horrendous worry about finding a vein will make this port worth it. The next part of my journey will be better with my port.

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