90-Day Life Challenge: My Medical Port - What Happened And Why I Should Have Done This Sooner

Getting "real" for a minute, when I was diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma, I was a stubborn woman. It wasn't possible for cancer to take me before my son turned 18, I refused to acknowledge pain, and there was nothing about this cancer-treatment process that was going to scare me. So, on December 1, 2015, I made up my mind that the doctors could just stick me over an over again. I didn't care, and I WAS NOT going to get a port. That changed.

Why Did I Decide To Get A Port?

Around the end of July, I was in the Infusion Pod, and as per usual, the nurses couldn't find a vein. For clarification, I have extremely small veins anyway, but the Opdivo is contributing to the rigidity of the "casing" around them. As a side note, this in no way impairs their function at all. So I got stuck in a bit of a Catch-22: My tiny veins require the use of a pediatric needle, but the pediatric needle is so hard it just bounces off of the hardened vein casings. Two hours and one ultrasound machine later, they were able to hook me up with an IV line in my wrist. Ouch.

For months I had been telling the nurses, "It's fine. It only hurts for a second and then it's done." It was still true, but I was starting to feel like an idiot. A voice in my head kept telling me, You know why you're here. It's not your fault. So, why are you adding insult to injury? I decided to just go for it and get a port.

How Is The Port Installed And How Does It Work?

Let me begin by saying, I have a Bard Power Port. It looks like this:

Very simple design. See the three little bumps? Those help guide the nurses when they insert the PowerLoc needle. All they have to do is feel for the three bumps and insert the needle into the puffy space in between. 

Day of Surgery, August 10th 12:00 pm

Installing the port was a tremendously easy task too. The entire surgery took maybe 30 minutes, and they just got me a little "high," but didn't knock me out. The reasoning being that I had to be an active participant in the surgery, hold my neck in a specific position, check-in that I didn't have any chest tightness, etc... The surgeon injected me with a few shots of Lidocane (after superficially numbing the area, so it only stung a little). After the numbing, he made the bottom incision to insert the Power Port, and the top incision to help thread the catheter into my jugular. Sounds scary, but the elasticity of the veins creates an air-tight seal around the catheter. And that's it.

Two Days Later, Putting GLaDOS To Work

That was a Wednesday, and Friday (pictured above) I got to use my port for infusion. It was amazing. Inserting the locking needle barely hurt since there's only a relatively-nerveless 1mm of skin lying on top of the access point of the port. I named her GLaDOS after the hilarious "villain" in Portal 2. No particular reason, just for fun. I was brought to a sterile room to "access the port," then sent right over to my infusion, and GLaDOS worked like a charm. 

What Is The Verdict On The Port?

Even though it was the right thing to do, I still felt like I was letting someone down or wasn't trying as hard as I was before. But there are so many positives that I didn't anticipate.

  1. Preparation for infusion dropped from 90 minutes to 20 minutes. I regained more than an hour each time!
  2. Since the medicine is administered into the port, it doesn't have to travel from my hand, to my heart, to the rest of my body. It is disseminated straight from the source.
  3. When I go in for my next CT, MRI, or PET Scans, the contrast can be directly injected--all at once--into my port. This makes the scans more accurate since the contrast is distributed evenly and immediately to my bloodstream.
  4. My arms don't hurt the day after infusion. I can pick up my boy.

Today, August 23rd

Can't even see it, can you? Barely a scar, which will fade with time, and no visible bump underneath my shirt. I go again this Friday the 26th for my next infusion, and I'll update you on how use of the port continues.

To all my fellow cancer patients. Don't be scared, keep an open mind and eat that elephant one bite at a time.

Happy reading,

Your Devoted Friend

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