Being bionic – the installation and use of a purple titanium port

I thought underwire bras were tricky going through airport security. Now I carry an ID card with a serial number to prove that I have a port. Like I’m travelling armed, a license to carry a piece on the plane. Yeah, OK it’s only the size of a quarter, but it’s a long way from Cheerios and a sippy cup.

It’s a docking station for Kibo, but so much more. As I protect it nightly in bed, I must say on days when it jumps into action, I’m most appreciative of its presence. My chemo day starts with a blood draw in the infusion suite. A half hour before I get there, I rub Embla on – a numbing cream. I probably don’t really need it; I think psychologically it makes the idea of accessing the port a little warmer.

By the way, my port was installed on my right side, a couple inches under my collar bone. It’s right under the skin and is raised, so it’s not flush with my skin. A little tube goes out the top of the port, over my collar bone, just under my skin, and into a vein, a more significant vein than the ones accessed in the arm. The tube goes pretty far into the vein. It’s something I need to learn a bit more about. I’m not completely convinced that it won’t slip, say when I move a kitchen table to the toy room. However, I was told that I could resume all normal activity, but Will was not there, so that particular doctor does not know that I have farm muscles. (I was once accused of having super powers by a little girl who watched me carry Liam in his stroller up the stairs by City Hall in Boston. I looked at her and said, “Of course I do… all mommies do.” I winked at the mother as I continued the climb; I’m fairly certain she didn’t appreciate my I now generally keep that information under my hat.)

The port is tested each time to make sure it’s functioning properly. So once “accessed,” that’s the only little prick. A little saline is flushed through then the nurse pulls back a little bit to check the blood return. While the idea of a port sounds bizarre and a little disconcerting, I went through one week In September that makes me appreciative. I had an IV or blood draw three days in a row from the same spot in the same vein. In my right arm I have a “chubby vein that is irresistible.” That’s a direct quote from a phlebotomist. I needed that week to appreciate this port.

Anyway, first blood is drawn. That is processed immediately to check all functions, in particular to make sure my white blood cell count rebounds so I can safely have another infusion. While the lab processes that, I go upstairs to see my oncologist for a quick physical check. We talk about side effects and how to handle them. Thank God that will hopefully be a short conversation. The port is my major side effect. While sleeping at night, sometimes my awareness of it keeps me awake. Should I sleep more upright? Should it still feel tender?

The magic of it. If you are a scrap booker, this is an easy concept to grasp. The cutting boards scrappers use are made out of self-healing rubber. The board absorbs the cut but then immediately closes up. The very same concept is how entry to a port works. Completely covered by my skin, there is a piece of rubber, about the size of the tip of my little finger that sits on top of the purple titanium base. So that means two things: the needle is held firmly in place with a tight rubbery hug and when it’s done for the day, out the needle comes and the rubber seals immediately. So, out the window with the idea of a gaping port hole, an open invitation to infection. No. This is how it is. That rubber is a scientific wonder that ranks right up there with the magic of Velcro. Which leaves me with the question: as with Velcro, did NASA have a hand in the development of self-healing rubber?

Back to the chemo day… after visiting with the oncologist, I return to the infusion suite for round two. I’ve requested a recliner overlooking the Charles River. The first day we were in a private room with an ordinary, uncomfortable hospital cot. If I’m trekking to MGH’s glass-walled Yawkey building, I want a view. Anyway, my oncology nurse, Beth, gives me three anti-nausea pills then my first infusion begins. It’s just an hour of a hydrating IV. After that, Beth sits next to me and gives me the first med, Adriamycin, via an IV push. It’s pretty concentrated and powerful. She gives me 2ml every couple minutes and it is “watered down” with hydrating fluid. So that med, which happens to be bright red takes about ½ hour. Then I get more hydration before Beth hooks up the second med, Cytoxan, suspended from a traditional IV pole. It’s a drip that takes about an hour. Last time, I took a little nap during this time. Then a little more hydration and we call it a day. Out comes the needle and we go home.

If any of you watch “Brothers and Sisters” you know that Kitty has just started chemo. Two major differences between Kitty and me, well three if you count our weights… I should preface my commentary: I know everyone reacts differently to chemo. I know “chemo” isn’t one medicine; there are many medications under that umbrella and each has its own private list of side effects. I know drama makes good TV. I watched this episode after my first chemo treatment. The following comments are based solely on my own experience.

So... given all of the above... Reacting to the feeling of the chemo entering her body, Kitty gasped and said, “There it is.” There was no moment like that for me. (Hmmm, this could be due to our weight difference now that I think about it...) I actually asked Beth if I would feel anything. She shrugged and shook her head, “No.” And I didn’t. I was eating lunch as Beth went to work on the Adriamycin IV push. I walked into the infusion room with the vision of walking out of the infusion room. Going in and coming out as me. I trusted Beth to do her job then to let me get on with mine. Mentally, I’ve accepted that I have to hand over control on occasion, but I feel more empowered focusing on the moment the control returns to me.

Second, Kitty was treated in LA, deciding against travelling to Boston for treatment. I attribute her nausea to that decision. The two oncologists I “interviewed for the job” (especially my current oncologist who specializes in breast cancer research and treatment) are strongly opposed to their patients feeling nauseated and they are outright against vomiting. Everyone reacts differently; however, the meds to control nausea are amazing. I have a very definite plan to head-off nausea, which includes six different medications if necessary. Thankfully, the first time around the plan worked with four or five. I expect it to work again in the next seven rounds. I’m counting my blessings as one oncologist told me I’m in the group most likely to be ill: I’m young, I don’t drink excessively, and I don’t smoke.

There is one more difference: Kitty didn’t have friends making chicken noodle soup for her. The magic may all be in the chicken noodle soup. I decided that for two days before and two or three days after chemo, my diet is chicken noodle soup. Thank you, excellent soup-ateers, for providing this medicine. :)