Me and My Port
When I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2011, I had never heard of it. On top of that, cancer wasn’t something that I had experienced in my family. My understanding of cancer was minimal. My hematologist/oncologist, who diagnosed me and who I continue to see, had a very small office at the time. Three infusion chairs, two nurses, and one admin person. I was one of his first myeloma patients. I started chemo the day after being diagnosed and to say I was scared is obviously an understatement.
My first port
When I went to his office for that first treatment, he told me that the next day I’d be getting a bone scan, x-rays, and would have a Port-a-Cath inserted. A Port-a-Cath? I had no idea what that was. The nurses had me talk to the only other patient, Steve, receiving treatment at the time. I was already confused by Steve pleasantly talking to the nurses about movies. Is that what cancer patients do? They were laughing and chatting like regular people. Steve showed me his port. He told me it’s under the skin, that he can shower with it and that it makes chemo so much easier, as opposed to getting poked all the time.
The next day, I went through a series of tests at my local hospital and then was taken into a freezing cold procedure room with loud music playing and told to lay on a table. I was given warm blankets, a nurse explained the procedure and soon a doctor entered the room. I wasn’t totally knocked out, but enough so that I didn’t feel pain. But I could feel weird poking around in my upper chest. It was frightening. But fifteen minutes later, I had my first port. It was slightly under the skin on my right upper chest. A tube runs over my clavicle, turning downward and connecting to an artery. It’s a direct connection for sending my cancer drugs right into my system.
My first port was a clunker
My first port was kind of like my first car. A clunker. It was hard for the nurses to find and got clogged on a regular basis. Nonetheless, it absolutely made life easier. No more poking in my arm at infusion. Oh, I should note that my first kidney doctor was so concerned about my kidneys that she strong-armed me into getting a fistula in my left wrist, in case I ever needed to do dialysis (which I never did). I didn’t use my port for blood draws at the lab and because of the left wrist fistula, I could only use my right arm for those blood draws. After about a year, the veins in my right arm stopped working. So my regular blood test became me going to my doctor where they draw blood from my port and I then carry my blood to the lab.
My first port eventually became inflamed and unusable. Back I went to the cold room to get my original port removed and a replacement inserted. This time I got a power port, yes that is what it is called. It’s got three prongs under the skin, which make it impossible to miss. And I love my power port. I’ve had it for almost 9 years now. It occasionally gets clogged, but I know all the tricks to get it flowing. Flaps my arm. Stand up. Lay down. Deep breathes. Flush it. I still do my monthly blood draw from the port. I still do my monthly infusion with it. My right arm veins still are unusable. And by the way, the left wrist fistula doesn’t work anymore. For a while, it was a good party trick, letting people feel the powerful thumping of the blood flow in that wrist. But now it’s just a bump on my wrist. Occasionally I’ll do a blood draw from my left arm, but only if it’s the last option.
My port is a reminder of how strong I am
What else can I tell you about my port? When I’m a passenger in a car, I wear my seatbelt under my arm, so the strap doesn’t go directly over the port. If I wear a backpack, I must be careful not to have that strap go over the port. I’m careful not to do overhead movements that might pull on the port. I suppose becoming a master’s level shot putter is out of the question. I will say that I painted our living room ceiling and that wasn’t smart. Both because the movement irritated my port and also because my wife wasn’t happy with the horrible job I did. You can see my power port’s bump when I wear t-shirts. No one has ever asked why I have this strange bump on my upper chest. It’s interesting to see it in x-rays.
And that’s it. My port and I are connected for the foreseeable future. Myeloma is an incurable cancer and treatment typically continues throughout the entire journey, so the port isn’t getting removed, unless for some reason it needs replacing. And lastly, unlike my first clunker car, I kept my original port. It’s in my cancer memories box. It and the other things in the box are I reminder of what I’ve been through and how strong I am.
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?