There’s something a little mystical about getting your port removed. The port is a small mechanism inserted under the skin of your chest, meant to make chemo infusions easier, which it certainly did for me. I’m very glad I got it, and thanks again to everyone who told me to do so, including my doctor sisters. My oncologist asked me at our last meeting, after congratulating me on finishing the last infusion, whether I’d like to get it out. She phrased it that way because sometimes cancer patients don’t want it out. There’s no real hurry to get it removed; it can sit there patiently for decades. The surgeon who took mine out told me that the longest she’d had was someone who’d had theirs in for nineteen years. The tissue had really built up around it, so it took a while to remove.
Mine was only there a year and a half, and it was a quick twenty-minute procedure to remove it. (Though of course, the entire process took more like three hours, what with admitting paperwork, review of the procedure, prep, discharge instructions, etc.). They use twilight anesthesia, which is a combination of painkillers and sedation that doesn’t knock you out completely, but makes you completely comfortable during the procedure. When they were putting the port in, I fell asleep; for removal, I stayed awake and chatted amiably with the surgeon and med student observing. Various medical people congratulated me on getting it out, and asked what I’d do to celebrate. Maybe I’ll get some pie for board game potluck this Saturday. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, all the pies. That sounds nice. I love pie.
It’s good to have it out. People hold onto their ports because they’re afraid the cancer will come back, and they’ll need it again. I can understand that, and if I had more likelihood of recurrence, I might’ve left it in. It’s fairly unobtrusive; my sister told me she’d had patients who forgot it was there. But I was always aware of mine — the visible little scar on the chest, the bumps under the skin, the tube running up to the vein in my neck. I run my fingers across my neck now, and the tube is gone. It feels weird, but good.
Also a little sore, but that should pass quickly. I have all kinds of things that I would like to do right now that require use of my arm and chest muscles, and I am having to work hard to restrain myself for a few days. The tropicals need to come inside, but Kevin can do that; they’re too heavy for me to carry right now. He can dig the holes for the poppies too. I want to do for myself, to get back to my normal life — I am so eager to be done with cancer treatment. Almost there; just a little bit more. So much of my self-image is wrapped up in being competent, self-sufficient, someone who takes care of others. It is a meditation, letting myself lean on other people, letting them take care of me.
Taking the port out feels like — a pledge of faith. Saying to myself that I will trust the doctors who think they got it all, who think the cancer probably won’t come back. There’s always the risk, of course, but if I need chemo again, it’s not a problem for them to reinsert the port in the same place. And the procedure itself is minimally difficult — a tiny pinch for the IV needle (necessary to give you the twilight anesthesia), a few little pinches and stinging sensations when they’re administering local numbing medication (lidocaine, I think) to the surgery site. Not fun, of course, and I was feeling anxious and stressed enough that I had Kevin come with me for the surgery, but really, I hurt myself worse stubbing my toe. So there’s very little reason to keep the port in, if you think you probably won’t need it again. And they say I probably won’t, so — out it went. Thank you, port, but also, good riddance.
As a side note, when they put the port in, they used steri-strips to cover the incision, and then covered that with gauze, held down with tape. The tape started itching within an hour, and got worse and worse over time. I was out of town, at a conference, so couldn’t easily deal with it — I can’t remember what I tried, but by the second day, I think I’d given up and was just using my bra to hold the gauze on, because the skin the tape touched had blistered. This time around, I warned them, and they tried using paper tape, but within an hour, it was itching again.
Tape adhesive reactions are apparently quite common, so I am passing along that taking the tape off is immediately relieving — the reaction subsides very quickly. And if you happen to have Tegarderm transparent film dressing (which I had because the nurses at the chemo ward had given me some for holding numbing cream against my skin), you might try that — I took off the tape, refolded the gauze to be a bit smaller (but still cover the steri-strips), and applied the transparent film dressing over it to hold it on, and that worked great — the itchiness immediately subsided, and it’s been fine since. I kind of love these dressings, and now keep them in stock for the family. (From reading Amazon reviews, it seems like people often use them for keeping expensive glucose monitors and pain patches securely attached and protected from water in the shower / tub.)