Last Friday, Anna’s article “The Implant That Helps Fight Cancer” appeared at The Atlantic. The copyeditor did a fantastic job. Here are the five parts that were cut from the article manuscript before it was published.
A small thing, really, an object the diameter of a quarter inserted inside her body to make chemo treatments and blood draws closer to run-of-the-mill. Something seemingly abnormal to make her life as a cancer patient more normal.
Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Rhonda Pickett remembers the pre-port days of cancer care: “Trying to find venous access on cancer patients who have had their veins violated by the best of stickers is not fun. And being on the receiving end is not fun either.” No matter how experienced the nurse, compromised small veins meant a dreaded, often painful, experience for everyone involved. She also pointed out that some chemotherapy drugs cause burning, scarring, or discoloration over time, permanent markers of the illness and its treatment, even if the patient fully recovers from the cancer.
Rhonda Pickett calls the port “a godsend for both the patient and the nurse.” My mother’s nurses, too, heralded the device as a relief for themselves as well as for their patients. These days, everyone I know who undergoes chemo gets a port.
The details of a medical port may vary from one manufacturer to the next. The choice of which brand or type to use often comes down to the physician’s or hospital’s preference.
Once, when I was with my mother for her chemo treatment, the nurse swabbed the skin over the port with alcohol, then prepared the needle. My mother scrunched up her face tightly and drew in her breath as the needle approached. The nurse paused and asked, “Did I hurt you?” My mother looked up, her face relaxing. I said, “She likes to dramatize in case there’s pain. It helps her feel better to tense up.” My mother smiled and agreed that the wince was really setup for the greater relief. My mother said that the needle stick was never too bad—because of her port. She could imagine and had experienced worse, and she knew that this one small object made her life a little better than it would have been otherwise.