Cancer Blog - Episode 27 : A Tale of Two Piggies

Remember Peter the Picc line? That utter waste of time IV line that was supposed to be a fuss free way of getting chemo and other stuff into me without the need for canulars? The one that then never got used, got infected, gave me 6 unnecessary, painful visits to the hospital and then had to be removed? Utter knobber. Well, the alternative is a Port, or Portacath to give it it’s proper title. It’s an odd little device which is essentially a silicone or rubber (don’t know, don’t care) valve, which sits just under your skin, usually just under your collarbone, which has a sub-dermal catheter attached to it, which leads into a large artery, where it dumps the chemo into a large sturdy vein, better able to cope with all of its crap. The valve bit shows as a slight bump under your skin, and the chemo, or whatever, is injected directly into it with some special fancy-arse needle or other.


The fact that it is all under your skin means there is less risk of infection, there are no dangly bits of tubing hanging off you, you don’t have to go and get it re-dressed and flushed every week, and you can have a bath or shower whenever you want without having to wear a giant arm condom. Oh, and it can stay there as long as you need it. For years if you want. Sounds fab yes?As I’m a major fan of baths and a not-at-all fan of arm condoms, obviously I opted for the Port as my next IV fashion option. Who wouldn't, right?


Picc vs Port

I was wondering why on earth anyone bothered with Picc lines, when Ports seemed so much better, and it turns out they are a fair bit more complicated to install. A trained nurse can insert a Picc line, but a Port needs to be done by a radiology surgeon, with sedation and local anaesthetic, so is clearly a skilled procedure and also a lot more expensive, therefore. I’d imagine that when the money people at the NHS compare nurse’s hourly rates vs surgeon’s hourly rates, the Picc line comes out streets ahead. Despite the fact that the fuckers need cleaning out every week and are a complete pain in the arse a lot of the time. Ports aren’t perfect though, they can get blocked and cause problems, but they are a lot more sturdy and reliable than Piccs. And when you’ve got cancer and your life suddenly becomes a broken carriage on a runaway rollercoaster, sturdy and reliable are very attractive things.

So fabulous did the port seem that both Darcey and I decided we’d get one in the BOGOF deal of the century, where we actually Bought None Got Two Free On NHS, But BNGTFONHS is a really shit acronym.


Pinky & Perky

Darce already had her port date confirmed weeks ago, but for reasons we haven't yet uncovered, hers was scheduled for after she’d already had 3 rounds of chemo with a normal canular. Which seemed a bit bonkers, but clearly she has veins of steel and could manage 3 chemos without needing one. Anyway, as luck would have it, both of our ports were scheduled just a few days apart, albeit in different parts of the country. We decided to name them Pinky and Perky. I got Pinky because of my radiotherapy sunburn, and Darcey got Perky because she is.


I’m now going to attempt to tell both tales at once, in a Sliding Door alternate reality stylee, which I’ve never done before and have no idea how to do, so I’m just going to keep typing and see what comes out. Apologies if you get horribly confused. Team Pinky (me) is in dark pink (unoriginally obvious). Team Perky (Darcey) is in navy (because I like navy and it’s my blog so I get to choose).


Pre-Ops


Some time in April, Darcey was told she’d need a port, and was given a scrap of paper with the words“Port Procedure” and a date scribbled on it.


I discussed my port with my chemo nurses, as they were removing my Picc line. We talked about the procedure, the benefits and risks, and I was given a printed leaflet to take away and read. A couple of days later, I received an appointment letter through the post, and was told that I would receive a call from the Radiology team a few days before my procedure, and would need to have a blood test and a Covid test, which would all be arranged for me. I relaxed back into my regal chair of smugness and waited for Team Pinky to do their thing.


Meanwhile, it was a few days before the procedure, and Darcey was getting a bit panicky about the lack of info from Team Perky, and not even sure if she wanted a port, seeing as she had nailed 3 lots of chemo and her veins were holding up well. She gave her Cancer Nurse a call and was told to talk it through with the anaesthetist on the day. It wasn't the finest customer care. I offered support by spouting all the port info that I had, but much as she loves me, she kind of needed to hear it from a professional, rather than a mate with a dodgy internet connection, a Google fetish and an O level in Biology.


A few days before my procedure, I had a call from the Radiology nurses (I was sat in my car at the top of a hill, as BT still havent fixed my fucking phone line or intenet, just in case you were wondering). She talked me through the operation, checked I had been given an appointment for my blood test and Covid swab, which I had, and made sure I understood that I needed to fast from 6.am on the morning itself (I understood, but that doesnt mean I was happy about it). She told me to go to the chemo ward as I normally would, where they would collect me, do the procedure and take me back to chemo for obs and aftercare.