Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Information on Ports

Just as I was preparing to have a port (or port-a-cath) inserted on April 2, one of the other cancer bloggers I read regularly wrote about having her port removed. She even has a photo of what hers looks like, and commentary by a surgeon about the process of inserting and removing ports. If you feel completely in the dark about the whole procedure (as I was), her post is worth reading. That appointment was canceled as we revisited my whole treatment plan, and now I am scheduled to have the port inserted this Friday, April 20. And the best part of the new appointment is that my favorite surgeon, Dr. M, will be doing the insertion.

As I mentioned, my fellow blogger spends some of her post quoting from "Orac" a blogging surgeon/scientist, who writes about ports, and I'm going to borrow from her approach and include some of his information as well.

Orac begins, "In cancer, the goal is different [than in dialysis]. It's shorter term, and the tools used are less permanent. The goal is to give the patient durable vascular access that allows chemotherapy to be given, usually over a few months. Some chemotherapeutic agents are very harsh on the veins, and because of that it's highly useful to place a catheter in a large central vein with high flow. . . . "

Then he describes the port itself: "Finally, there are totally implanted ports (like the Port-a-Cath), where the entire assembly is implanted under the skin, and the port is accessed through a resealable diaphragm using a special needle inserted through the skin. These can be left in place for months or even years and tend to be the first choice for chemotherapy. Unless a patient is thin enough that it's possible to see the outline of the metal part of the port sticking up under the skin, they're basically invisible."

Here's his description of why a patient would want the port inserted: "If you're a cancer patient who needs a prolonged course of chemotherapy, your port is your friend. Your blood can be drawn through it (and you will need frequent blood draws). You can get your chemotherapy through it without painful needlesticks and burning out of veins. As I said before, injecting chemotherapy in to peripheral veins can be quite painful for some drugs, and a port will eliminate that problem. These two things alone can go a long way in improving a cancer patient's quality of life. It is true that ports aren't without their complications. They can become infected and require urgent removal. They can clot, necessitating treatment with clot busting drugs. Sometimes they can cause a clot in the large blood vessel in which they are placed, leading to arm swelling and even facial edema, not to mention urgent removal of the port. There can be rare misadventures where the port catheter breaks and goes flowing off in the bloodstream, requiring angiography to fish it out. However, on the whole, ports do far more good than harm, and, before radiologists started doing these procedures (which they are doing more and more) general surgeons were the ones who put most of them in."

And finally, speaking as a surgeon, he comments that "It's easy for a surgeon to forget that the insertion and removal of a port represent two major milestones in the course of a patient's cancer treatment. The insertion of a port often represents, even more than the scars from surgery, a daily reminder of the patient's disease, and the insertion of that port represents a long-term alteration of the body necessitated by her disease. It's a constant reminder that life is not normal, a cold, metallic foreign body implanted in her body. Every time a woman feels that quarter-sized metal port under the skin, it's telling her that her life is not what it was; she is not the same as she was; she is not "normal." Even though the implanted port may not even be noticeable even if she wears a wide-necked shirt, other than the small scar left from its implantation, the patient knows its there."

Before I read Orac's post, I didn't know that radiologists were sometimes inserting ports, so when they called me to schedule this new appointment, I said I wanted a surgeon, and I wanted Dr. M. (The chemo nurse, with 25 years of experience, had mentioned that he puts in "superb" ports!) It will be good to have a familiar face before the procedure, and to update him on my state overall. This procedure is done under "conscious awake" sedation, not general anesthesia.

The plan for Friday is to have blood drawn and tested first thing at 10:00 a.m., and to hope that all of my blood numbers are high enough for chemo and then the port insertion. I'm scheduled to have just the Gemzar infused (not the cisplatin), and then, my appointment for the port is at 12:30. The kids are on school vacation this week, and my good friend Sandy is going to accompany me to the appointments while Patty keeps track of the kids.

Today I was going to go into Boston to teach, but just couldn't muster the energy, so my classes are being covered again. Next week is the last week of classes, so things are wrapping up, and I have lots of papers to grade still. I'm glad the semester is ending, as being a full-time faculty member and a full-time cancer patient has been very challenging over these months.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you have all the information and pre-port knowledge that you need to get your head wrapped around your upcoming procedure and be ready for it in more ways than one.
As with anything..there are those pros and cons. I am hoping that it allows you to fight this cancer fiercely but with less wear and tear on your system and on your veins.
About your teaching post...the year is almost done...you are a fabulous teacher. Of course it must be draining to be a full time teacher and be fighting cancer full time also...wow....what a lot on your plate! You are doing a fabulous job of the juggling.Don't feel guilty about putting the teaching aside ...at least during those times when your energy is depleted. It is necessary.
Keep in mind...your teaching will always be there....but you must focus on yourself now and what you need ...so that your cancer will NOT be there !! You must be your own priority now, dear friend!
Hang in there!!
I am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers...as always.