These three things make all the difference with your chemo port

Have you ever thought about your second favorite flavor of chewing gum? Or if you have enough plastic wrap in the pantry? If not, now is the time.

Why do I need chewing gum before chemo?

Popping a stick into your mouth before the lab nurse flushes out your port (it happens each visit) will spare you the salty, metallic, make-you-want-to-gag taste of the solution they use.

Why not your most favorite flavor, you may be wondering? Because after these treatments are done, I still want it to be your favorite flavor, and it won’t be if you associate it with this gross mouth feel that happens every time they cleanse the port. I would never set foot in the treatment center without a pack of Extra Spearmint gum in my go-bag.

Why do I need plastic wrap?

Ok this one sounds weird, I know, but it works. The port is an amazing little device. It allows the nurses to conduct blood draws and give fluids via the port, implanted just beneath your skin (mine was on my upper chest). While it is far less intrusive than having to access your arm veins each time, that doesn’t mean that it’s pain-free. Enter EMLA cream.

EMLA is a topical anesthetic that you can apply over your port at least one hour before your chemo appointment. It effectively numbs the area, making needle insertion easier to tolerate. In my case, I hardly even felt it when I’d applied the cream. That one time I didn’t, however? Bad news bears.

I received mine as a prescription from my breast surgeon’s office, but I believe there are over the counter options available as well.

So back to the plastic wrap. After you’ve applied a liberal amount of the cream over your port site, apply a small amount of plastic wrap on the area for these two reasons:

  1. It will help the cream stay in place so it can do its ouch-free job for you, and;
  2. It will keep your clothes clean. It’s kind of tricky to get it to stay on, so I would usually put my sports bra on first, then apply the EMLA cream and lastly a layer of plastic wrap. From there, the sports bra was snug enough to keep everything in place.

To make yourself feel at ease (as much as one can in this situation), here are a few other things that can help.

First, make nice with the nurse. A little bit of sincere small talk can go a long way. Mine was hilarious.

She’d always have these upbeat throwback tunes playing near the chair, and kept a ginormous jar of seasonal candy nearby, along with all sorts of tongue-in-cheek memes taped to the wall. I liked the heck out of her. She was also super crafty and had all her patients write their names on little heart tiles that she covered in a thrift-store table she was upcycling for the waiting room.

Take a look around, pick a topic, and strike up a conversation with them. They are doing important, heart-wrenching work, and these special people enjoy a little upbeat chatter as much as the next person. If you happen to get your local Nurse Ratched (I did once, and I was so freaked out by her demeanor that I literally started to cry – quietly, but still), don’t be afraid to turn on the tears if you can. In my case, she went from scary to soft rather quickly, and I was just so grateful she’d found her humanity before she came at me with a needle.

Second, pop that stick of gum in your mouth and savor the rush of its flavor on your tastebuds. Think about your favorite happy place (for me that’s the beach – Miramar, Florida, to be exact).

Third, take a deep breath.

And just like that, it’ll be over and done with – you can do this!

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