Necessary Evil: The Port-o-cath, Part II

Back in October I blogged about the needle port implanted in my chest, called a “port-o-cath” (I notice the post has since disappeared so I’ll re-paste it below) describing it as one of the evilest necessary evils of my cancer treatment.  As time goes on, it has become even more evident that it truly is necessary: The veins in my arm are already damaged and weakened by the needles I’ve repeatedly been given, and without the port-o-cath as an access point, I wouldn’t be able to go on receiving Herceptin intravenously every three weeks.

Necessary as it is though, I maintain that it is a vile and grotesque thing to behold. And it is so very visible an implant, sticking out under the skin as it does, that it’s hard to avoid beholding it. 

Yet I have somehow grown kind of used to it.  I’ve even developed the habit of idly rubbing the artificial vein under the skin on my collarbone, where it loops over on its way to my jugular vein.  That’s a pretty disgusting habit I know, but so is biting your nails when you think about it.

Anyway, the other day someone who was waiting to have her own port-o-cath implanted asked me about mine and as I showed it to her and explained how it worked, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to others to see it.  So, be forewarned, there are graphic images of the port-o-cath below…

 

a bit blurry, but you get the idea

a bit blurry, but you get the idea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

here it is in action

here it is in action

 

 

  

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Necessary Evil: The Port-o-cath, Part I (originally posted in October)

There is a thing called a “port-o-cath” that is truly one of the evilest necessary evils of my cancer treatment. 

My port-o-cath is about the size of a stack of nickels – say 5 of them – implanted under the skin on my chest.  Attached to it (also under the skin) is an artificial vein which is threaded up and into my jugular vein — and if you are not cringing yet, you are of those steel-stomached types who might consider a career in medicine or meat-packing.

The purpose of this thing is to act as an access point for the many needles that my medical team is required to stick me with for IV chemo and Herceptin treatments.  Because I had lymph nodes removed on my left side, I’m now at risk of getting lyphedema, so my left arm is forevermore off-limits to needles, blood pressure cuffs and hopefully any kind of injury or impact.  As many injections as possible go directly into the lump on my chest & not my right arm, and I know this is a good thing, preventing me from ending up with bruised and damaged veins.

But while I am grateful that I’m not covered in track marks (bald junkie not being the hottest look of the season) I haven’t yet made peace with this needle port thing. 

A foreign object that pushes up under the skin of my chest like a broken rib or a seriously misplaced coat button is just not something I can get used to, but there it is, and there it will stay for many months.  However, one day it will go, and when it does it will be another small victory – another reclamation of the relatively ravaged & disputed territory I call My Body.

 

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6 Comments

Filed under Living with Breast Cancer

6 responses to “Necessary Evil: The Port-o-cath, Part II

  1. Inez

    I also have a Port-o-cath and find myself stroking the line into my jugular. I have a love hate relation with it though. I love the fact that it is under the skin and allows me to swim or do whatever I want, but treatments leave me feeling like the donkey in the Pin the tail game. My last treatment, 3 nurses tried accessing it, before deciding it had “flipped” and sending me to readilogy for a scan to prove they were right. Surgeon was able to access it, but it took him 3 tries, but now he is confident he can access in one try now.

    We are now going to access it on blood work day, to avaoid the delays experienced last treatment (treatment start 3 hours late becaude of poor needling technique (doctor’s comment) not mine).

    ~Inez

  2. leannecoppen

    Inez — What an ordeal!!! I totally share your love-hate feelings: I love that they aren’t digging in my veins and leaving me back and blue, but I hate everything else about it.
    l.

  3. Bonnie Cary

    My partner of 30 years has breast cancer and before they even began treatment, they began strying to shiove this port down our throats. I understand the need for a port to deliver chomo etc. I do not understand why the first thing they do after removing one breast is to disfigure the other.

    The other thing we do not understand is why they say they put them an inch or two below the clavicle, and they are usually placed much further down Now in our case there was plenty of flesh in which to form a pocket for the damn thing, but it is still fairly low-directly against the wishes we conveyed to the surgeon.

    We also inquired about putting in an arm port but this also fell on deaf ears. I am not a squeamish person, but this port makes me either throw up, pass out, shake or just plain have a fit. I always go to treatments but I have to turn away when they give me time, and I am the only support and/or caregiver at home.

    Just to add, my partner hates it as well. We want it out and to try an arm port.
    and I just wish people in the medical fields would listen, and try to make a terrible time a little better.

    Bonnie

  4. l.

    I share your port-rage Bonnie! But i hope it is at least making your partner’s life a little easier. I’m not sure why, but i’ve been told that the chest port is easier/better than the arm… Maybe others out there can comment?
    I only have to keep mine for another 8 months or so, which sounds like a really long time except that I know someone who has had hers for 12 years!!
    Good luck to you and your partner!!
    l.

  5. Bonnie Cary

    Well, my partner now has had the arm port for three months and it works perfectly They are able to draw blood and use it for treatment with absolutely no problems whatsoever. It is not even visible on the inside of the upper arm. We both love it and would recommend it to anyone It is a Bard low profile open ended port and was put in this time by an interventional radiologist rather than a vascular surgeon. I do not know why they are not offered as an option, at the very least unless they just get used to offering just one kind and one doctor doing them.

    There are absolutely no limitations with it, she cannot feel it whatsoever, and I feel at the very least it should be offered as an option.

    Bonnie

  6. Sylvie

    I had a port-o-cath inserted in my upper arm last week and received first cycle of chemo which went well. I stayed in hospital overnight and then went home. Tried to stretch my arm and got awful shooting and burning pains all the way down the arm. Has anyone else experienced this? I still have sutures and realise it is early days but was shocked. Now I feel like a bird with its wings clipped, left arm out of action due to axillary clearance and right arm out of action due to port-o-cath.

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