Needles or a Port
Actually, the question should be needles in the arm or needles in a port? The major difference being that a single stick (assuming that the nurse knows what she is doing) does the trick with a port while sometimes it takes multiple painful attempts to get a vein. Needle sticks and blood draws are an integral part of chemotherapy and none of us like it. There are people who are almost phobic about needles, and they have a particularly bad time, but it is never fun. And sometimes it really hurts. Although I seem to have reasonably good veins, when a nurse has had to use one on the back of my hand, it hurts a lot. And then I feel like a wimp for complaining, so I don't--but I surely feel sorry for myself (there it is, not proud of it, but true).
As most of you know, some oncologists recommend ports for all of their patients and some wait to see if there is a developing problem using arm and hand veins. If someone needs chemotherapy for many months or has especially "bad" (whatever that means, it seems to me that veins are just fine as long as they are doing their regular job of transporting blood) veins or the chemo nurses conclude that it is too tough to get venous access, a port is the solution. I have known many women who had a port and almost all of them resisted the idea--especially if they were acccustomed to the other system. Once in, however, virtually everyone appreciates the ease of the port and the reduction of sticks and pain. Certainly it is not pleasant to have a foreign object implanted in your upper chest, and certainly it is one more constant reminder of cancer...but it can make life a lot easier. And, once chemo, is done, it can be removed. I do know one woman who is five years post chemotherapy and has refused to have her port removed. At this point, she is highly superstitious about it and fears that removal would mean a diagnosis of a recurrence and the need for more chemo.
This is an essay from The New York Times about this issue. Per usual I give you the beginning and then a link:
Needles or Port? A Cancer Patient Decides
By SUSAN GUBAR
The first question many cancer patients are asked at a doctor's office or an infusion center is "Do you have a port?" I shake my head no, but add the words "not yet." To port or not to port: That is the question facing me when I arrive on the hospital hall dedicated to clinical trials.
"They are tiny and rollers," the nurse says as his fingertips trace the veins on my arms. My part in a trial has begun, but the only "good" vein in the crook of my left arm looks alarmingly bruised, as do both of my wrists. Since my diagnosis with ovarian cancer, many nurses have sorrowed over the fact that I am "a hard stick."
Chemotherapy has made my small veins even more fragile and difficult to access, but for years I have resolutely refused a port: a catheter connected to a disk (about one inch in diameter), both of which are surgically implanted in the chest. Blood can easily be drawn or saline, antibiotics, chemicals, minerals and blood transfused through a port. Some women I know pledge allegiance to it as a sort of good-luck charm.
And should you wish to read more about this choice, this is from Cancer Net: