This has been the longest month of my life. It’s safe to say that I can barely remember what my “normal” life was like since being thrust into this alternate universe where cancer rules and I’m just a forced participant. One of the first things you have to decide is to port or not to port. I’m clearly not a doctor and in the one month of education I’ve forced myself to absorb on breast cancer, I’m going to try my best to regurgitate it in layman’s terms as I understand it (please correct me if I’m wrong).
Chemo is given most commonly intravenously (through an IV) or a Port (and Catheter). In some cases, it can be an injection or a pill – although I don’t know much about what it takes to qualify for that route. The risks of doing an IV the entire time is that it could permanently damage your veins and if the vein collapses and the chemo leaks into your body, there could (and probably will) be irreversible damage. If you choose the port route- then you’re at risk of infection and obviously, having to deal with a pesky surgery of inserting a foreign object into your body.
At my initial consultation in NYC, the surgeon and oncologist I met with were both against inserting a port but at my 2nd consultation in DC, they strongly suggested it. I was taken aback by the differing opinions but after talking to a few (new) survivor friends, it seemed that was the most convenient way. One friend shared something her doctor told her about the benefit of a port – “think of it as using the highway vs the back roads.” Anything to minimize damaging my veins for the rest of my life, or God forbid, having the chemo leak, I’m a green light for. Not to mention, I’m not for needles and if I’m going to have to deal with them for a year (if I’m lucky) then the less of those shiny, thin metals swimming around my flesh trying to locate my veins, the better. Even if that meant I had to get my first surgery (ever!) and adjust to having my very own easy button installed for the immediate future.
(What do these four have in common?…)
As for surgery day, not going to lie- I was really nervous. The biggest and strangest thing I’m adjusting to now is being by far the youngest patient in any given treatment area I occupy. The pre/post-op room is a shared space and let’s just say I was the only one below 60 years of age there. It constantly reminds me of how “young” I am and again, how uncommon this seems to be for people my age. I really wanted to see just one other person around my age on the patient stretcher, but per usual – just me. I felt lonely, scared and definitely not comforted by the nurse trying repeatedly to stab my right arm for the vein. Not a good start. After she complained about my small veins, shook her head and tried to go for my hand- I asked if she could please try my other arm (secretly praying for a more experienced nurse.) The big Guy must have heard me because another nurse quickly came by and found a vein, no problem. Whew.
Rolling into the operation room, Taylor Swift was blasting and the room was all white. If there was any time I needed the comfort of Tay Tay, this was it. They prepped me, stuck a million wires and monitoring tabs on me, and secured a blue cloth (like they do for a C-section) in front of my face so I wouldn’t be able to see what was going on. I was really nervous by now- they kept repeating my name, birthday and what I was there for. I noticed they’d changed the music to a soothing lullaby, I joked I felt like I was in a nursery and one of the nurses told me she was going to give me the “yummy” drugs and that I would be okay, she’d make sure of it. I remember a wooshing sensation in my left arm and then felt instantly happy and relaxed. A shot of sedation and valium to the brain will do that to you and I came around over an hour later, back in the pre/post op area. They told me no driving/doing anything the rest of the day because I will be “drunk” for the rest of the day. Interesting.
The next couple days, I was in pain- it felt like someone punched me repeatedly on the upper left side and decided to tie my veins in a knot. Nothing unbearable, but I couldn’t sleep or sit comfortably. I’ve been told that once the pain subsides, you barely notice the port. Right now though, it looks like I burned myself with a curling iron and then decided to put saran wrap over it. At least they gave me the slim size (I’m petite at 5’2) so it doesn’t protrude as much as the sample I’d seen pre-surgery. On the bright side, as much as I’m not thrilled with this new battle scar, it’s one step closer to beating this thing.
Getting a Port Tipbox:
- One tip a survivor friend passed along is that at some places, you may be able to get a child’s port so if you’re on the petite side, it’s worthwhile to check.
- You’ll get your port flushed every so often to keep it clean, some people get sick off of the liquid they use to wash it out – get some tart candy to suck on.
- You can’t shower the day of surgery, but you can the day after – just let the water run off the spot and pat dry.
- Another survivor friend recommended getting a seatbelt cushion/pad for the belt can hit where the port is, if that’s the case for you, I heard it really helps.