One of the things I’ve looked forward to is having my port removed. It’s something that is necessary and I appreciated the ease it gave when getting chemo and such. For those who don’t know, a port is inserted into your chest and has tubing that runs up into a vein in your neck. Instead of getting an i.v. every week, they would simply access the port, which means they would puncture it with a needle with tubing attached, and I would be ready to go. I was told that it also meant the medication went directly into my heart, versus having to have it work it’s way through my bloodstream, which is a good thing.
The drawback is that you know it is there, especially in the beginning. I really noticed it in my neck and it creeped me out. The part in my chest just felt like a bruise most of the time because it was directly under the skin. I would definitely feel it when I woke up in the morning, after I had slept on that side. It wasn’t awful and like I said, I appreciated not having to have an i.v. each week. It also helps keep your veins in good shape from not being repeatedly punctured. That said, it is constantly there, reminding you that you have cancer and a foreign object in your body.
I started having neck pain issues, just after I completed radiation treatments. I had a conversation with my massage therapist and chiropractor and the theory came up that perhaps my port was causing the left side of my neck to pull out of whack because of the port on the right side. Because I had been taking steroids every week during chemo, it would have masked any pain I was having, but now the steroids had worn off. It made sense and I decided to try removing the port to see if it made a difference. I called my oncologist’s office to see if we could discuss it and ended up being called back by someone I didn’t know in the office. She started telling me that they can’t just put it back in and that with my stage 3c status my chances of re-occurrence (aka my cancer returning) are higher. It freaked me out. I am a realist and an optimist and am aware of the possibility of my cancer coming back. I had been feeling so good after radiation and didn’t expect to be met with that response from my doctor’s office. I just wanted to talk about my port and ended up spiraling into a depression.
Suddenly, I felt tied to my port, as a symbol that cancer was lurking in my body and waiting to come back to kill me. I know that is always a possibility, but I really wanted to think that I was going to enjoy a period of decent health and happiness, at least for a while. A few days later I received a call for an appointment to come in to have my port flushed. I was a bit surprised. Once a month a port has to be flushed with saline to keep it from getting backed up. I knew I either had to have my port removed or flushed because it had been just over a month since I finished treatment. I put the appointment on my calendar and figured I was not going to get to see my doctor and was just going to have a maintenance appointment. I kept hoping somehow I would get to see my doctor and maybe convince him to remove the port.
Today I went in and was told they were removing my port. I was excited and grossed out at the same time. Sam had come with me, just in case it went that way, so she could document it. They check you into the hospital when they install the port. When they remove it, they do it in office. My doctor came in and we hugged and smiled and spoke about everything. I was prepped and shot up with lidocaine to numb the spot. He made an incision over the previous one and loosened the port and popped it out. It’s amazing that the vein will close itself off and not bleed after the tubing is removed. The human body is a crazy thing. He then sewed me up and we spent some more time chatting about my trip I want to take to the South (he is from Memphis). I teased him and said I might get more chest tattoos just to make his job harder if he has to re-install the port. He laughed because he had told me avoiding tattooed areas sometimes makes him have to be more creative with placement in order to avoid cutting into them. There’s something you don’t think about every day – tattoos and surgery scars.
My doctor is a great guy and made me feel much better about everything. We spoke about the realities of my cancer being an aggressive variety and the possibility of it returning, or not at all. Chemo actually works better on aggressive cancer cells than on slow-growing ones, because they are rapidly mutating, which allows the drugs to get inside and kill them. There is a possibility that I will never need treatment again. There also is a possibility it might come back in 1-2 years. I just wanted facts and he was great about that. He reassured me that it wasn’t a big deal to put the port back in, if I should ever need it again. All of that stress and sadness for nothing. When they asked if I was wanting to keep my port, I said yes and he said, “Of course she does. If you asked me about any other patient, I’d say no, but you, I knew you’d want to keep it”. I said something about how on my first meeting with him I asked if I could keep my lady parts after my hysterectomy, which established where I was coming from. We laughed.
I’ll be going back for my check-up in January and in the meantime, I will focus on being healthy, doing yoga, hitting the gym, and hopefully, feeling better in every sense of the word. Cancer may come back in the next couple of years, or maybe never, but for now, I’m running the show and I refuse to keep feeding the depression spiral. Onward and upward.
Disclaimer – these are photographs from a minor surgical procedure. Be forewarned.
All images copyright – Sam MacKenzie, 2014. None of these images may be used or reproduced without written consent of the artist and subject.