So I’ve had my port-o-cath for a little over a year now. It’s literally a part of me. This little medical devise was implanted under my skin last spring to enable my medical team to obtain easier access to my veins for purposes of administering chemotherapy. The catheter connects the port to a large vein in my neck. And under the skin, the port has a bubble through which drugs can be injected and blood samples can be drawn with less discomfort than repeated needle sticks. That’s the purpose of getting a port; and by and large, this was true in my case. The port saved me (and my poor infusion nurses) a lot of angst. But oh how I fought getting it.
After I was diagnosed with Fallopian tube cancer, my oncologist told me she’d need to open me up to see what was what before she could stage my cancer and determine how far it had spread. She told me that she’d try to remove as much of the cancer as possible, and that what she wasn’t able to excise, we’d treat with chemotherapy. She said that if the cancer wasn’t too widespread, we’d treat it with IV chemo through my veins. However, if it seemed to have spread further than we hoped, she’d likely install an intraperitoneal (IP) port onto my ribcage. Then she could shoot chemo drugs directly into my abdominal cavity. It was a more aggressive form of treatment, which some patients weren’t able to tolerate, but had apparently been proven to be highly effective.
So I knew going into surgery that if I woke up with an IP port attached to my ribcage, my doc had found the cancer to be widespread.
They asked if I also wanted a port-o-cath installed, for administration of the IV chemo. The alternative was just to shoot the drugs directly into my arm through a standard IV. Let’s do that, I said. I didn’t want another procedure to install a second port. And mainly, I didn’t want another visible reminder of my cancer. I had just been cut from stem to stern and hadn’t yet adjusted to my new scars. Hell, I still had a jagged row of staples traveling down my torso and around my belly button. And my c-section incision hadn’t even fully healed. I was feeling unattractive and out of control. This (very small) decision about the port was something I could control. I don’t want it. I’ll be fine.
Every time I had chemo, whether in the abdomen or in the arm, I had lots of other drugs injected into my body via IV drip. Anti-nausea drugs, drugs to prevent allergic reaction, etc. So I was forever getting stuck. Within a few weeks, it became more and more difficult for them to find good veins. Then we’d find a good vein, start the drip, and the vein would blow, so we’d have to start the process all over again. Periodically a chemo nurse would tentatively ask if I’d considered getting a port. No, I said. I don’t need one. I’m fine. I’ve got this.
I gritted my teeth and suffered through week after week of attempted needle sticks and blown veins. Not only was it stressful and uncomfortable for me, I started to feel bad for the nurses. They would now come to me in teams, bringing their “best” IV stick person. I could tell they were as stressed as I was, maybe more. And it wasn’t just an annoyance; it was potentially dangerous. Each time a vein filled with chemotherapy drugs blew out, there was the risk of highly toxic chemicals getting into the surrounding tissue, with the potential for necrosis. Plus it hurt when it happened. I knew the situation was getting a bit ridiculous, all because of my vanity.
Then there was the day I blew veins a record five times. Tears were rolling down my face, as well as the face of my sweet friend who had come by for a visit. And sweat was rolling down the face of the nurse who was attempting the IV a fifth time. Okay. Uncle. Enough was enough. Go ahead and schedule me for a port installation, I said. It felt as thought the entire infusion staff gave a collective sigh of relief. I’m sure they were thinking, “well it’s about fucking time”. And it was.
So, about mid-way through what turned out to be 24 rounds of chemotherapy, I had my port installed. The procedure was more painful than I anticipated (you’re awake for the whole thing), and the port stuck out more than I had imagined. It was ugly and creepy. I felt like some sort of a cyborg. I could hide my incision scars with a sexy little camisole, but it was hard to hide this strange protrusion right under my collarbone. As one of my fellow chemo friends told me, “you never know how slutty your tops are until you get a port installed”. I hated it.
I’ve since commiserated with other cancer chicks about how much we hate our ports. One friend told me she so couldn’t stand to touch hers that she’d apply body lotion to “that” area using a thick wad of fabric. I got it. I went to great lengths – and still do – to avoid touching it. I told a friend that it felt like there was a metal hockey puck under my skin. She said, “that’s because there is a metal hockey puck under your skin”.
Okay, so it’s gross. Now let me tell you why I’ve grown to love it.
At some point about three-quarters through my treatment, I had some scans and it appeared that I still had cancer. This prompted a difficult discussion with my oncologist, who explained that if I still had cancer at the end of this very aggressive regimen of treatment, more chemo wouldn’t help. This would mean that I had platinum-resistant cancer. If the best drugs they had to offer didn’t kill it, more of the same wouldn’t help. I’d be in big trouble.
I’m now almost a year out of treatment. I may or may not be having a recurrence of cancer. We’re watching some spots and hoping they either disappear or stay the same size. But the good news now is that if it turns out that I am having a recurrence, I could have more chemotherapy. My cancer might be platinum-sensitive at this point, but not resistant, because I went through a period of time where there was no evidence of disease. They could now try different chemo drugs on me. For that reason, my oncologist said she thought we should leave my port in place. This was music to my ears.
Talk about a change in perspective.
For me, now, the port means hope. As long as my oncologist believes my cancer is still treatable, I have hope.
I’ll take it.