“You are going to feel a little pinch,” the nurse said to me as she injected lidocaine around the port that has been under my skin for the past seven years. Yep, seven years . . . crazy, I know. I should of had it removed years ago.

I knew I was free of cancer and certainly free of the toxic drugs that kill cancer and anything else in their path. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t have it removed sooner. I guess my life got busy, and it had just become a part of me.

Needless to say, the removal of my port marks another victory in my long journey to get rid of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

On August 18th, 2006 I was told I had a five-inch tumor in my chest. Following the biopsy, which revealed a large B-cell abnormality, I endured a combined seven months of insanely toxic chemotherapy, and then four weeks of radiation.

Finally, at my request, a surgeon sawed open my chest to remove the tumor that was now a mass of scar tissue surrounding a small glimpse of cancer cells. 

While I got pounded by drugs every week and suffered the effects of toxic chemotherapy, I dove into the research to understand what was happening in my body, and what I could do to prevent damage, help the chemo kill the cancer and, at the same time, rebuild myself so I could be productive and have a normal life.

I applied the research to myself, which not only got me through the chemo relatively unscathed, I rebuilt myself to a level that was better than it had been before.

However, on my journey to victory I suffered war wounds along the way. One of those was the obliteration of once-admired veins in my arms.

To those beginning a battle with cancer and getting infusions of chemotherapy, I urge you to have a port put in. The port is an “access point,” a device inserted under the skin on the chest to allows drugs to be infused or blood to be drawn.

The lego-shaped plastic device has a long flexible tube that is inserted into one of the major vessels of the neck, then surgically attached under the skin for the duration of your cancer care.

Why should you  demand that your doctors insert a port?

Chemo is extremely toxic, not only to cancer cells and your healthy cells; it is damaging to the veins. Let me briefly tell you my experience. 

Due to the urgency of my diagnosis, it was suggested that I start chemo immediately. In a local hospital—my mistake—a nurse rolled up with a cart carrying IV bags loaded with a chemo-and-water mix, rubber gloves, catheters, band aids, disinfectant, and a whole bunch of other unrecognizable medical do-dads.

As the infusion nurse prepared my arm for injection, she made a comment about how “wonderful” and abundant the veins in my arms were . . . were.

Since I am not fond of needles, I turned my head to look away as the nurse pushed a catheter (large needle) into one of the prominent veins in my arm, taped it down, and attached the IV bag of drugs.

As the valve opened on the IV bag, I could feel the cool water and chemo move through my veins—a very unnatural feeling. There is a reason for the hazard warning on the chemo bags: chemo is extremely toxic, not only to the body, but to the veins in your arms. Chemo destroys the small valves inside veins, causing them to cease their normal function.

Highly hazardous drugs, including cytoxan, taxol, vincristine, adriamycin, and others, can create enough damage to cause your veins to swell, turn rock hard, become painful, then turn brown and eventually flatten. I wish I had been told this was going to happen.

I was told the veins would “come back”—they didn’t. Those veins that were once easily accessed and visible are now deflated like flattened plastic straws.  

So now, seven years later, I had the port removed. My second bit of advice is to get the twilight anesthesia before removal.

For some reason, I decided to have local anesthesia (lidocaine shots) instead of the “go-to-sleep-for-30-minutes” anesthesia.

Perhaps I was fed up with the whole process, or perhaps I thought I could handle the numbing and cutting as though it was a simple procedure, like having a cavity in a tooth filled.

After waiting in a holding area for an hour and a half, I was taken into a small operating room filled with surgical assistants getting scrubbed for my procedure.

I didn’t realize that it was such a big deal. I was instructed to take off my shirt and lie on a table covered with white linens.

While the idle chit-chat began, I was then strapped down with large safety belts, which made me feel like Frankenstein’s monster in the old Lon Chaney movies.

After the lock down, they prepped the area around the port with multiple applications of disinfectant. The location of the incision was marked with surgical tape, and finally a blue paper-like cover was thrown over my face and head.

I’m not sure if this was part of the sterilization, or they just didn’t want me to see what was happening.

The surgeon cracked some jokes before she injected lidocaine around the port. After a few minutes of numbing time, she let me know she was going to start the incision—OK, cut through my skin.

I didn’t feel the incision, but I could feel her tugging on the port to pull it out from under my skin, which sent my body into shock. I wasn’t feeling any pain, but my brain just knew I was being cut.

My stomach twisted in pain from the stress hormones flooding my bloodstream. At the same time, I broke out into a cold sweat and gripped the table as my fingers went cold.

I could hear the surgical assistant announce loudly that my blood pressure was dropping.

I let them know I was OK, and this “vagal” reaction is just what happens to me when my body experiences some kind of trauma.

As I lay there, I realized the twilight anesthesia would have prevented the stress. With a few more tugs, I heard “the port is out.”

At that moment, my stomach pain subsided, the feeling came back into my fingers, and my body temperature returned to normal. With a dozen small tugs, the stitches were done and the cover was lifted off my face.

The incision was covered with a clear skin-like bandage to be worn for three days. Next thing I knew, I was up and out and waiting for some paperwork before getting back in my car on a one-way, never to-return trip back home. 

As I told myself traveling back: no sacrifice, no victory. 

Dr. Z

 

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