Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Educating oneself minus the paranoia

My chemo vein bump. © kittelberg writes

When I was diagnosed with the cancer, my cousin Pam, also a breast cancer warrior, warned me about relying too much on the internet. Her exact words were, "You'll scare the shit out of yourself."

Being a web writer and journalist, I figured I was fine. I know how to investigate, separate the sources from the trolls, I thought to myself.

Even when reading the Canadian Cancer Society discussion board, I'd remember my oncologist telling me that everyone reacts differently to chemo, and that just because one person had a bad experience didn't mean I would.

Then the side effects got fun.

My bump

Maybe you can't even see it in this photo at the top of this post, but I know it's there. The bump. It's on my vein, about 2" down from where my last IV was put in.

Given the insect problems we've recently had in our home, I initially freaked that it was a bite. So I investigated and pushed on it. Ouch! That shit hurt. And the pain, I swear I didn't imagine it, seemed to travel up my arm.

Rather than calling the cancer centre right away, I went online. Bad move.

My brain runs wild

Rather than simply consult the online resources I know are trustworthy, I googled "bump on vein after chemo". Another bad move. I ended up on a bunch of message boards which may or may not be moderated (the Cancer Society board is moderated), and may or may not be troll havens (the Cancer Society board is not).

Actually, whether or not the posters were trolls or not is irrelevant. The problem was, I took their experiences as gospel. If this happened to them, the very same thing must be happening to me, I thought.

Namely, that thing was my veins were collapsing, and with only three treatments to go, I would need a port-a-cath.

What is a port-a-cath

A port-a-cath is implanted in a lot of chemo patients to avoid having to be given an IV. IVs go into smaller veins than ports - chemo is hard on veins, and there is a risk of damaging them when going the IV route.

Though there are certainly benefits to using a port-a-cath - namely not being poked with needles all the time, and risking vein and tissue damage - I wasn't down with the idea of having a foreign object in my body throughout my treatment. Simply put, it gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Back to the message boards. What seemed at the time like the majority of the posters on these pages were talking about how wonderful their port-a-caths were, that a bump meant vein damage, and that a port for us silly IV folks was inevitable.

I ignored the rest of the posters who said they'd had the same thing, it was simply a normal side effect, and they completed chemo with no problems.

Making the right call

Finally, I called the cancer centre and described my bump to a chemo nurse. She paged my oncologist, then called me back and said it was best to come it and have it assessed, rather than trying to figure it out over the phone.

So this morning, I stopped at the chemo unit on my way into work to get my bump checked out.

The nurse told me it was a totally normal side effect, and to let the nurse at my next treatment know to avoid using that vein. Oh, and I should use either a hot or cold compress if it starts to hurt.

Next time, I think I'll save my sanity, skip visiting Dr. Google, and call an expert.

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