Between all the fatigue, the blood coming out of my nose, my skin and fingernails flaking off and my hair falling out – it’s getting pretty hard to not feel “sick”. I just keep trying to remember that all of these symptoms mean it’s working. The tumor is getting a beating.
So, to distract myself from everything else I’m going to talk about the port. I get a lot of questions about it so here we go. This is of course my experience and understanding. I am not a doctor or specialist. My port is called the Power Port and it is made by Bard.
Ports have evolved just like everything else over the years. I did not understand how the port was going to work, and I thought I would have some sort of device coming out from my skin that they would access for the meds. But nope, it’s all underneath my skin. This is a good thing because it stays sterile, I don’t have to clean or maintain anything and I don’t have to deal with tubes. The drawback is that they have to go through my skin to access it every time. So why do they use the port if they have to poke me every time anyway? I think the main reason is the drugs. Chemo really is putting poison in your body. It’s corrosive. Using the port, the drugs go into a vein right above my heart. It’s a big, thick, strong vein. The smaller veins in my arms could get damaged from the drugs, and if the IV slipped out and the meds touched my skin it would get burned.
So what does this thing look like? You can go here to check it out: http://www.bardaccess.com/port-powerport.php?section=Features
What you see is a purple triangle with a rubber circle. The port is placed just under my skin, the closer to the surface the better so it can be seen clearly. When I post pictures, this is the bump you see. On the rubber circle, you can see three raised bumps. These can be felt through the skin so that the nurses can verify the access point. You can see the white catheter line in the picture, which you can also plainly feel through my skin. It goes up from the port and directly under my collarbone. From this point, it weaves down towards my heart and attaches to the vein there.
As you scroll down on the website, you can see the four holes around the triangle which is where it gets stitched down. One of those corners is where I’ve been bothered by the knot irritating my skin. Last night I noticed those stitches finally floating to the surface so the knot is finally dissolving. The port overall has finally gotten more comfortable as well, it took just over a month. By more comfortable I don’t mean that I am not aware of it – I can always feel it. But it no longer hurts and when the kids bump it or when I lean over something and hit it I am okay now.
If you scroll to the bottom of the website, you can see the Power Loc device which is how they access the port. It’s a needle attached to a catheter for the IV. You can see the needle goes straight into the rubber port of the device (you have to imagine that being under the skin). The top of the needle bends over so it is flat and doesn’t stick out too much from my chest. The whole thing is then covered in a clear patch (Tegaderm) and the fun can begin.
The rubber covering the access point on the port is thick. Can’t have that stuff breaking down. So when they put the needle in and take it out, they have to grip the sides of the port to stabilize it. This hurt at first since everything was so sore, but it doesn’t hurt to grip it now. As you’ve read, they use a spray to freeze the skin before putting it in so it is pretty numb. I think it’s the kid method as after the first time they keep asking me if I want the spray, but I keep saying yes. I figure if I have to get it I’d rather be numb. The needle coming out usually doesn’t hurt but last week I think they hit a blood vessel because it hurt coming out and bled a lot afterwards. I guess that just happens from time to time.
When they finish with the port, they have to properly flush it so it doesn’t get blood clots because that would mean more surgery for me. They inject two big syringes of saline followed by Heparin (a blood thinner). I pretty much close my eyes whenever they work closely with the port and I’ve noticed a smell repeatedly. This past week, I asked her what the smell was. Turns out it’s nothing – it’s the saline being injected. Since it goes in right above my heart it is instantly sent out to the rest of my body in a rush. When the rush hits, most patients can either taste or smell it. I can smell it. It is bizarre to me to think about such a strong smell coming from the inside, that no one else can smell it. But I guess it’s normal.
So that’s your lesson in how a port works. For breast cancer it is always installed on the side opposite of the cancer so mine is on the right. If you have other questions, feel free to ask.