Day 18: Port from Hell

l.gxOKgqMvRiXNwdkbMy first round of chemo was an oral medication. I called it my poison pills, but really it was much easier to tolerate than the second round. When it was discovered that my lymph nodes were involved, I need a much more intense round of chemotherapy and I had to have port implanted. A port is like a tiny silicone balloon attached to a central IV line. The balloon is placed just under the skin and the IV is threaded up over the collarbone and into the right jugular vein in the chest.

By the time my port was placed, I was so thin you could see both the port and the IV line in my chest. Placement wasn’t awful, but the more the port was accessed the more tender that part of my chest became. Probably halfway through treatment, I started getting physically sick the day before “treatment days” and then I started getting nauseous 30 minutes before we would get to the hospital. Anticipatory nausea – I was getting sick, because I knew I was going to get sick.

Once the port was accessed, the chemo (and a cocktail of other medications) were given directly into that central line. I would then leave the hospital with a fanny-pack of poison pouring into my chest for the next 48 hours. I just tucked the fanny pack into a Vera Bradley cross body purse and it was rarely noticed by anyone. There were the few occasions that the alarm went off in public and people would turn and stare, as I dug through the purse, undid the Velcro and hit every button possible trying to shut down the alarm. Once in a pharmacy, I thought there was a slight chance that I may get a “pat down” from the confused clerk.

After completing chemo, I had to leave the port in for a few more months. My doctor wanted it in for a year, but I begged for it to be removed. Life with a toddler and a port was too painful.

Removal of the port is supposed to be super easy (keep in mind I am that small print patient, so I should have expected something different). It’s considered so minor that they are able to remove it with just a local numbing injection.

There was nothing normal about my port removal. That scar tissue that had developed in my abdomen had also encased my port and the IV line. The doctor kept telling me that we were almost done. He would give me another shot of the numbing medicine and continue cutting. There was cutting and pulling, pushing and cutting. He was getting frustrated and I was getting sick to my stomach. The procedure should have taken 20 minutes. After an hour and a half, the port was finally out. As he lowered the table, I jumped off of it covered in blood and told him to stay away from me. I was too light headed to stand and quickly had to lean on the table. I grabbed my clothes and started getting dressed. The nausea had turned into anger and I wouldn’t let him near me. The nurse came in and cleaned off as much blood as she could, as I fought her to get dressed. I started to walk/wobble out of the room, but thankfully she plopped me in a wheelchair before I fainted.

In the recovery hallway, my mom was pacing back and forth. When she saw me – her face instantly changed from worried mother to angry mama bear and there was a disapproving heated exchange of words.

At my oncology follow-up, I explained the horror of the procedure to my doctor. He examined my scar and explained that I had developed a keloid around the port and I should have been put under for the procedure. I had never seen my oncologist even slightly upset, let alone mad. He was furious, but not wanting to get me upset he jokingly asked if the surgeon was wearing the robe and cross commonly associated with the Spanish Inquisition.

When you hear the word cancer your body goes into fight mode and your brain follows. You don’t have time to think about long term side effects or small print possibilities. In that moment you don’t care. You just want the cancer gone. My port scar isn’t so visible anymore, but it’s still quite painful. It’s just another scar to remind me how far I have come.

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