One of the things I thought would be helpful for my readers is an overview of the pros and cons of getting a port inserted to have your chemotherapy treatments delivered, versus a manually administered new IV needle for each chemo treatment.
WARNING: If you’re freaked out by needles, you might not want to read this. Okay, you’ve been forewarned.
I elected not to have a port for chemotherapy but now, 8 years later I often think it might have been a better idea to have one put in. As I go about my life post breast cancer, I have to have blood drawn several times a year. There’s my annual GP check-up bloodwork, two draws a year for my oncology visit and other times based on procedures that I might need to have. This year alone, I’ve already had to have 3 additional needle draws which bring us to 6 and it’s only October. And because of the way my veins responded to chemo, with a good bit of scarring, a lot of nurses can’t find a good vein to draw blood from when I need to get bloodwork done and it’s one of my most dreaded experiences now.
My chemo regimen was Adriamycin/Cytoxan for 4 treatments followed by Taxol for 12 weekly treatments, for a total of 16 infusions. Also, since my lumpectomy was on my left breast and the surgeon had removed 3 lymph nodes from that side of my body the nurses and doctors told me that I should never allow any needles in that arm for the rest of my life which means that any time I need to give blood, draw blood or get an infusion, I have to use my right arm. That didn’t seem like a very big concern at the time.
But during chemotherapy, some of the veins in my right arm got scar tissue, which is very common with chemo, and once the veins were scarred, the nurses couldn’t get a needle into them for future treatments. Since I was having 16 treatments, it became more and more of a guessing game over the course of my chemotherapy if the nurses would be able to find a good vein for future infusions, so each time I went to chemo I started to get really anxious and nervous about whether or not the nurses would be able to get the needle in.
My oncology center nurses were fantastic at the whole needle thing and did all they could to help me through chemo with as little pain and as much comfort as possible, for which I will be forever grateful. Towards the end of the course of treatment, they would put warm towels on my arms to keep my veins soft and more amenable to the IV. They’d also remind me to hydrate and drink lots of water prior to every chemo session and I was able to get through my entire chemotherapy regimen without any major problems, via IV needles.
But now, 8 years post chemotherapy, my scarred veins cause problems for me. Whenever I have to have blood drawn, I need to explain to the nurse that they can only use my right arm, and there’s scarring in it, so they can only get a needle in certain areas, and 9 times out of 10, they can’t get a needle in no matter how many times they try. So, I’m sitting there nervous about getting a needle anyway, and then they try 3 different spots in my arm and still can’t get the needle in and by that time I’m about ready to pass out and they call in the big guns and someone finally figures out that they need to go through my veins in my hand and it’s finally in but after all this, everyone, including myself, is really anxious and nervous and I usually need a glass of water or orange juice because I’m practically ready to pass out. Which is a problem because most of the time when I’m getting a blood draw now it’s after mandatory fasting so if I have the orange juice it messes up the whole fasting thing.
I would suggest that if you’re going to get more than 4 chemotherapy infusions, you might seriously want to consider getting a port. A port is a small quarter sized disc made of either plastic or metal that is inserted under your skin below your clavicle bone on your chest and isn’t really visible (there’s a slight bump, but it’s not too obvious). The port is inserted during a short outpatient procedure. The oncologist nurse will then insert the needle for the chemotherapy into the port and your arm veins don’t have to be touched. I understand from friends who had a port that there’s still a bit of a pinch when it’s inserted but you’ll save your arms from getting scarring which will be of benefit in the future for whenever you need to have future blood work done. Once all your cycles of chemotherapy are done, the port is removed during another short outpatient procedure.
Another thing to remember is that if you still do need to get bloodwork done, a diagnostic lab usually has nurses who are very good at drawing blood, as it’s pretty much what they do all day long, so they’re experts in blood work. And, the oncology center nurses are also very good at it. But if you go to a regular GP or office where their area of expertise is NOT drawing blood, they may have problems finding a vein that will work, so let them know in advance and if they’re nervous about it, just ask them to write you a prescription to a diagnostic lab (which is what I had to do after my recent annual because the nurses in the office couldn’t find a vein they could get a needle into.)
So that’s the pros of getting a port. The cons are that as noted above the port must be inserted in an outpatient procedure and removed in yet another outpatient procedure after all your treatments are completed. The port can get infected, can show under clothes and still hurts a bit when the needle is inserted. So there are good things and bad things about them, but for the long haul, in my opinion, it would have been better if I’d had one inserted, especially now that I’m hitting a time in my life when I can imagine I’ll have to have more needles and procedures as I get older.
There, now, isn’t that just the most fun and upbeat thing you’ve learned all day? Ack. I hate needles so apologize for this weirdo post about them but I hope I can convince you to get a port so that you can avoid having issues with needles after you’re done with chemotherapy. After all, once you’re done with your breast cancer treatment, the last thing you’re going to want is to be reminded of it each time you have to get bloodwork done.