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I’ve been port-ified / Chemo side effects [+Video]

It’s been just about six days since I received my first chemo treatment, and so far the side effects have been tolerable, especially considering all of the possible side effects from ABVD chemotherapy treatment. More on that further down the post.

Yesterday morning I had a port installed on the right side of my chest. The video below shows a brief before and after of the day’s events. I would have recorded/uploaded much more, but the Flip camera I’ve been using to record these videos died (don’t worry, I’ve acquired a borrowed Flip for the time being).

Also, you may want to think twice about watching this particular video if you can’t handle seeing fresh wounds and/or bare male chests.

If you’re unable to see the video embedded below, click here to watch it on YouTube.

To be clear, the way the port works is by creating an permanent access point into the veins by way of a catheter (see image below). Now any time that I need to have something injected intravenously — including chemo — they can just use the port. No more random injection holes on my arms and hands!

How the PowerPort works

As for the side effects, the only “major” one I have experienced so far is having an extremely sore mouth, to which I allude in the video. Having a sore mouth and/or sores in the mouth is a very common side effect of chemo, but that doesn’t make it any less bearable. Libby and I are doing our best to keep the pain in check with cough drops, salt-water rinses, tea-drinking, etc. — it doesn’t totally wipe me out, but it has come close a few times (I probably cursed once or twice — Sorry, mom!). I’m hoping that the sore mouth is cyclical, that is, that it subsides in the next day or two and I only have to put up with it a few days every chemo cycle. But for now, we just wait and see what happens, I guess.

I’ve also been dealing with constipation; it’s another common side effect but is a bit more “manageable” than having a sore mouth. One of the more peculiar side effects comes from the drug Vinblastine — numbness/tingling in the hands and/or feet. For me, this has manifested itself in just the tips of my thumbs being numb for the past couple of days. Strange stuff.

Speaking of chemo side effects, I am reminded of a passage from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.1 Author Siddhartha Mukherjee writes the following in a section describing the history of chemotherapy treatment:

But having tasted the success of high-dose chemotherapy, many oncologists could not scale back their optimism: What if even VAMP had not been intensive enough? What if a chemotherapy regimen could be muscled up further, pushed closer to the brink of tolerability?2

Mukherjee goes on to describe Donald Pinkel‘s then-controversial efforts to do just that — push chemotherapy closer to the brink of intolerability for the patient in order to rid the body of cancer. I find it interesting that the history of chemotherapy is defined by seeing just how much patients are able to tolerate in terms of side effects.

Let’s just say that I’m glad doctors and researchers have made significant advances in chemotherapy treatment in the last 50 years. I don’t even want to imagine having to endure one of the early chemo cocktails.

Okay, I’m done. Thanks for your continued love, prayers, and support. Let’s keep on doin’ this.

UPDATE: We’re working on a feature-length documentary about my cancer journey and recovery, titled Let’s Do This: Facing Hodgkin Lymphoma. Read about the documentary here and “like” the page on Facebook to stay up-to-date on the film’s progress.

  1. I actually picked this Pulitzer Prize-winning book up last year at a Borders Books firesale out of sheer curiosity. I had no idea its contents would come in handy only a short while later. 

  2. Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. New York: Scribner, 2011. 166-167. 

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  • Claudia

    I just had my Chemo port installed today…Chemo starting on January 9, 2013. I have to do 6 cycles, 3 weeks apart. Scared out of my mind, but calm on the surface!!!!
    Hope you are doing well, and you are feeling much better today.

    • Claudia, do you have Hodgkin lymphoma? Are you being treated with ABVD chemo or some other regimen? Are there any questions I can answer for you?

  • Mark

    Hi Jake, your blog has been a godsend and inspiration for me. Thank you so much for doing this. I was DX’ed with NHL a few weeks ago, 39 years old. Started my R-CHOP chemo yesterday. Feel like I have a huge hangover today but other than that it’s not too bad. I know your cancer is a bit different than mine but I should have a great prognosis as well. My oncologist told me if you were forced to pick a cancer to have you’d pick lymphoma. I’d rather not have any cancer!