Feeling flush(ed)

October 21, 2009 

It's been six weeks since my last visit to Columbia Basin Hematology and Oncology at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center. This means it was time to get my port flushed.

The port - my brand is called the PowerPort - is in my chest and is where the chemotherapy drugs went in. The chemo drugs I was given were pretty caustic, so putting them straight into my arm or wrist might well have done a lot of damage to my veins. The port is fairly standard for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and also is convenient for drawing blood and putting in dye for CT scans.

When I got my NED ("no evidence of disease") in late April, I asked my chemo nurse how long I will keep the port (putting it in wasn't a lot of fun), and she said one to two years is standard. However, I would want to make sure I got it flushed every six weeks or so. This involves going in and getting a needle that looks a bit like a fishhook stuck into it and having a saline solution pushed in and out. This keeps everything good and clean and less likely to get infected. She mentioned that six weeks is a good time frame to hit, though a little longer won't hurt. Waiting six months could make things kind of nasty.

Getting it flushed also gives me an excuse to drop by the cancer center and say hi to all the folks there who helped save my life. Today, I chatted with a few of the nurses, getting their takes on everything from roller derby to actress Suzanne Sommer's controversial new book that advocates eschewing chemotherapy.

Nurses really like the port because it makes their jobs a lot easier than trying to track down a vein (especially mine, which are particularly "deep"). When I show up for a CT scan, the nurses light up when I point out the port.

My port went in nearly 11 months ago, the day before my first chemo treatment. It was a fairly simple procedure, taking about 45 minutes, but it was pretty sore and at first I rather resented the idea of having something implanted in my chest. The Pink Floyd song Welcome to the Machine (from the great Wish You Were Here album) has run through my head more than once. I still carry a scar where it went into my chest, and I can feel the tiny tube that runs from the port up to my neck, where it goes into an artery. The first time I noticed that was a little freaky, I will admit.

Probably the worst time I've had with the port was the first month, especially when I could feel an itch beneath the port, where I obviously couldn't scratch. A close second has been the dozen or so times my 5-year-old daughter has jumped on my chest with both knees and nailed the port. That felt like there was a fair-sized rock under my skin.

I also have a bit of fun with the port. I invite people to run their finger over it, which invariably causes a good case of the willies.

I think I shall miss my port when it's finally removed. It was an important part of saving my life by helping to eradicate the lymphoma that had invaded my body. Thus, it is a well-placed badge of honor as well as a security blanket of sorts.

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