How does having a port affect my daily life?

Baird Cancer Treatment Port

Many conditions, such as cancer treatment, long-term IV medication or kidney dialysis, require frequent or constant access to your veins. Repeated needle sticks in the same area can be hard on you and hard on your veins. That’s why we specialize in placing vein access ports, so that doctors don’t have to stick you with a needle or restart an IV line every time you need treatment. That makes care easier — and your life easier.

Once you have a port, you may wonder how it will affect your day to day activities. We spoke with Richard Williams, RN, BSN, OCN at Baird Vascular Institute, who said to think of it as you would any medical procedure, “For the first few days, avoid any heavy lifting or strenuous activities.” Williams continued, “There are folks who like to hunt, or play tennis, or even have a job like a hairdresser where their arms move up and down frequently, for those folks we tell them they need to give the site a chance to heal, to let the skin start coming together and heal.”

Williams added, “We do ask people about their lifestyle and take that into consideration when placing the port. We can put the port on a different side if needed. All these things are discussed with the patient because we know they’re going to have this port for awhile.”

You can even travel with a port. Williams added, “If you do go through an airport scanner, it shouldn’t go off because there’s not metal in the port, but you can pull out a card that we’ll give you and show the agent what the ‘bump’ is in your scan.”

If you’d like to learn more about port and the procedure, we have a whole series of YouTube videos on the topic.

We’ll work with you and your health care team to choose the best long-term IV access option for your situation. Give us a call at (804) 828-2600 to discuss your options.

 

Why a port is a good idea

VCU Health Baird Port

From needle sticks and blood draws, from injections to IVs, everybody has had their shots. Usually, a pinch is all there is to it. But many conditions, such as cancer treatment, long-term IV medication or kidney dialysis, require frequent or constant access to your veins. Repeated needle sticks in the same area can be hard on you and hard on your veins. That’s why we specialize in placing vein access ports, so that doctors don’t have to stick you with a needle or restart an IV line every time you need treatment.

We talked to VCU Baird Institute’s Dr. Shep Morano about why someone might need a port.

“A port is a safe, reliable and low maintenance way to access a patient’s bloodstream,” said Dr. Morano. “Sometimes a port is recommended for patients who have used up all their peripheral veins, or doctors or nurses are having difficulty accessing their veins.”

Placing a semi-permanent catheter such as a “port-a-cath,” chemotherapy port or IV access port into a large vein in the upper arm or neck can make treatment easier for patients undergoing treatments that require frequent or constant vein access.

  • Chemotherapy or anti-cancer drug infusions
  • Hemodialysis
  • Long-term intravenous antibiotic treatment
  • Long-term intravenous feeding
  • Repeated drawing of blood samples

These ports can remain in place for several weeks or months and can help patients in many ways:

  • Fewer needle sticks to draw blood
  • Multiple IV lines accessible at one site
  • Lowered risk by reduced leakage, which is particularly important with chemotherapy agents that can cause tissue or muscle damage if they leak

Dr. Morano added, “The benefits of added safety, patient comfort, infection control, and ease of access make ports a great option for someone who needs long term central venous access.”

There are several types of long-term IV ports, the most well-known is the Port-a-cath. Unlike most other types of catheters, a port-a-cath is implanted completely underneath the skin. This type of port allows you to bathe and swim without the risk of infection. Port-a-caths can remain in place for months or even years.

A peripherally inserted central catheters or PICC line is inserted into one of the large veins in the arm near the elbow. PICC lines are generally used for shorter periods (one to six weeks) and are easier to remove.

These types of catheters, such as a Central line, tunneled venous catheters or Hickman catheters, are inserted into a large vein under the collarbone or in the neck and leave the body through a separate exit point, usually the upper chest. A “cuff” secures the line, providing protection from infection and holding the catheter in place as your body heals around it.

We work with you and your health care team to choose the best long-term IV access option for your situation.

 

 

Useful Apps for Cancer Patients

Baird Apps Cancer

Modern technology can be an amazing tool to help with our daily lives. Today, even cancer patients can find a variety of useful apps to assist in their treatment and recovery by monitoring symptoms, storing data, providing information and support. Of course, nothing can or should take the place of your physician and care team’s advice, but here are a few apps that may help keep and organize your data and assist in other ways as you navigate the course of your illness.

Cancer.net Mobile

Developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), this app provides easy-to-use tools to help you plan and manage care – from diagnosis through treatment and beyond, and is provided by Cancer.Net. It includes the latest oncologist-approved cancer information.

Pocket Cancer Care Guide

Provided by the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the Pocket Cancer Care Guide is an app that allows you to quickly and easily build lists of practical questions used to guide conversations between you and your doctors and nurses. Users can browse hundreds of questions in categories relevant to stages of your cancer diagnosis, build lists of questions to use when talking to your doctor or nurse, link doctor appointments to your lists and automatically add it to your calendar and record and playback your doctor’s or nurse’s answers. There’s also a glossary of medical terms for reference.

My Cancer Coach

This app, by Genomic Health, Inc., is a free mobile app developed in partnership with BreastCancer.org, Men’s Health Network, and Fight Colorectal Cancer. The app provides specific information about personalized cancer treatments to help manage your cancer’s progression. It’s like having ‘Cancer 101’ in your pocket. Questions about your stage of cancer? Should you get surgery? Is radiation necessary? Do you need chemotherapy? Is your cancer metastatic? My Cancer Coach provides easy-to-understand treatment information for breast, prostate, and colon cancer patients and their caregivers.

Create To Heal

This app is brought to you by The Women Wings Foundation Create to Heal (TM) program. It is designed to gently take you from your head into your heart, where the healing process begins. Because stress is the number one contributor to all major diseases, including cancer, the goal of this app is to provide patients with relief from stress through the use of beautiful imagery, sounds and words.

The Create to Heal (TM) guided meditations, music and art have been tested in several hospitals and cancer centers over a period of 5 years, with hundreds of cancer patients, survivors and their families. This app gives patients the tools to continue their creative therapy and stress reduction at home, at work, wherever they are. The app offers 10 music tracks, 4 guided meditations, 36 pieces of art, and 60+ inspirational messages.

My Medical

My Medical is a comprehensive record-keeping app for your personal medical information. The app offers autocompletion and autosuggestion for a wealth of medical jargon, including prescription drug names; vaccinations; common afflictions; life support options; laboratory units; and much more.

In addition, there are areas for emergency contacts, health insurance, doctors’ contact information, and other data that are not strictly part of a traditional personal health record (PHR) are all available. It will put doctor’s appointments and upcoming lab tests on your calendar. You can even set reminder alarms directly from the app, without ever going into your calendar. Finally, the app offers an area for files to be attached to your record. For example, you can add a picture of the pill next to a medication, or a copy of your insurance card alongside a provider’s contact information.

iHealth Log

iHealth Log helps individuals with chronic health issues manage their disease.  All medications and dosages are easily maintained along with important prescription details including a photograph of the medication and physician and pharmacy information.  The diary tracks daily medications and measurements which are critical to disease management.  iHealth Log makes it easy to email lists of medications to schools, summer camps and health care providers and it has reporting capabilities to plot measurement data and send this data via email to the physician.

Practicing mindfulness during cancer treatment

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Mindfulness is a common buzzword floating around many online sites these days. What is mindfulness, and what does it do?

Mindfulness is defined as:

“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

By the textbook definition, mindfulness sounds a great deal like meditation, a technique used for centuries to clear the mind, de-stress the body and improve focus and concentration. But mindfulness takes meditation a step further and asks the practitioner to incorporate mindfulness throughout the day, rather than mediate for a few moments at the beginning or ending of each day. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present, where you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance – without judging them good or bad.

According to the website Cancer Forward, “there are many studies about mindfulness and its benefits for cancer patients. They show positive improved psychological functioning, reduction of stress symptoms, enhanced coping and wellbeing in cancer outpatients. This adds up to a greater sense of peace, ease, and resiliency while living with cancer. The stillness that comes with mindfulness meditation fosters deep, physical relaxation and an opening of the heart.”

Anyone can practice mindfulness. It takes no special equipment, training or locations. All it takes is a willingness to learn and turn inward to acknowledge feelings and the present day. Many websites feature detailed ideas on how to get started, or ask a healthcare practitioner for direction.

By practicing this technique, it allows the mind to better cope with the day-to-day stresses, anxiety and negativity that creeps into the day.

Thoughtful Gift Ideas for Cancer Patients

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Many of us struggle when it comes time to buy a birthday, Christmas, or other gift for a loved one who is dealing with a life changing illness. We know their strength is limited, and they may not be able to enjoy many of the activities they once did. So what kinds of gifts are not only thoughtful, but practical as well?

We found a great list of ideas, and some things you might not have known, from a company called “Just Don’t Send Flowers.” Their blog lists a great deal of information specific to cancer patients and what types of gifts would be appropriate. Here’s a sampling:

Many common smells and odors that once may have been pleasant can suddenly become nauseating to the patient. Fragrance free lotions, soaps and candles are nice gift alternatives.

Cancer is hard on the skin, so it’s important to take care of the skin using natural ingredients without perfumes or chemicals.  Use all natural products, especially those that are paraben and sulfate free.

The use of an eye mask, earplugs and comfortable loungewear can help when the patient may need to sleep during the day.

There are natural anti-nausea and comforting items available without chemicals. For ages, ginger and peppermint have been used to help alleviate queasiness.  Cooling towels, pillows and ice packs also help to quell the effects of nausea.

Many patients report that the loss of hair contributes to feeling cold, especially as they sleep. Although head covering is purely a personal choice, it is nice to have a soft and breathable chemo beanie for sleep or wearing to warm up.

A more practical choice to a basket could be a nice tote bag or duffle bag to carry the patient’s clothes home from the hospital or rehab or maybe to tote all of their items to chemo treatment. Blankets, scarves, throws and neck pillows make the day in the chemo chair a little easier, too.

And if it’s a child with cancer, remember – they’re still kids.  They love what all kids love. Stuffed animals, activity books, ear buds, monogrammed backpacks. Make sure you send happy, vibrant colors as if it is their birthday. That makes everyone feel good.

Inspirational jewelry is a great choice. Something simple, elegant and beautiful can look great all the time and be a constant reminder to the patient that you are thinking of them.

The company offers a variety of gift packages for cancer patients on their website.

An Etsy seller also features a gift pack specifically for cancer patients with all natural products.

“These products have been packaged together to provide comfort to a family member or loved-one enduring the harshness of chemotherapy treatments and includes a moisturizing jar of Unscented Shea Creme, metal tin of Lip Balm, tin of Cuticle Balm and a petite bar of Unscented Castile Goat’s Milk Bath Soap.”

A Huffington Post article by a physician diagnosed with cancer outlines thoughtful ideas for cancer patients that are not only gifts, but also other ways to help a friend of loved one dealing with cancer.

Remembering what was said earlier about heightened sensitivities, Roswell Park Cancer Institute has put together a list of gifts to avoid which is not only helpful, but has some information on gifts that you may not realize trigger negative reactions.

Often the best gift you can give a friend going through cancer treatment is the gift of your support and time. Going to extra step to research and buy a great, useful gift will help bring a smile to their face.

Navigating holiday travel with cancer

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In June, we wrote a blog post about traveling while undergoing cancer treatment. That post covered many of the logistical considerations someone with cancer may need to consider, such as proximity of your destination to a treatment center, paperwork you may need to breeze through screenings, any needed vaccinations and the importance of planning ahead.

With the busy holiday season right around the corner, many people, including those dealing with cancer treatments, are making plans to travel to spend time with family members both near and far. Take a few minutes to read through the earlier post, but also remember that the holidays bring additional considerations for those cancer patients traveling to visit friends and family.

Consider the weather. If you’re traveling to a destination with a climate that is either much warmer or much colder than you’re used to, remember to bring appropriate clothing. Various forms of cancer treatments may affect your body temperature, so plan ahead with clothing well suited to the climate you’re visiting. Plan to bring clothing you can layer, so you can add or remove as needed.

Holiday hustle and bustle. For many, the holidays are a time to catch up with family members you haven’t seen for a year – including children of all ages. Let your host know that you may need an area where you can have some downtime, to relax, rest, nap or simply take a break from the flurry of activity.

Remember holiday closures. Don’t forget that many drugstores or other medical supply stores have limited hours and closures during Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Plan ahead and make sure you have all your prescriptions or other supplies you will need to get you through your trip.

Avoid over-indulgence. All of us are guilty of a little over indulgence during the holiday season. Those undergoing cancer treatments are no different, but be certain to take extra precaution not to mix prescriptions with food or drinks that will cause adverse affects or make you feel even worse. If you’re allowed to have alcohol, be careful not to drink too much. Try to maintain a diet similar to what you’re currently following for best results.

Avoid family drama. For some families, “lively” debates are as much a part of their holiday gatherings as the turkey. For someone undergoing cancer treatment, it might be a good time to utilize that quiet space if family tensions start to run a little high. Avoiding any unnecessary stress is always a good idea, so excuse yourself from the drama until it subsides.

Enjoy the holidays with your friends and family, but remember to take care of your emotional and medical needs during that time as well.

5 things your infusion center nurse wants you to know

 

baird-infusion-center

As a cancer patient, your physician may have prescribed infusion treatment, meaning a visit to the infusion center is in your near future. We spoke with Julia Lewis, RN, BSN, OCN, an infusion center nurse, about some tips that the nursing staff wants you to know. Here is her advice.

  1. Wear loose comfortable clothing, because you’re going to be at the infusion center for awhile. Wear either a V-neck or button down shirt, or a shirt you don’t mind the neck being stretched down a bit to access to the port. Turtlenecks are a big hassle for both the patient and the staff and you’ll usually have to undress, so even on the coldest days – leave the turtlenecks at home. In addition, men may want to consider shaving the chest hair around the port site to make tape removal less painful.
  2. On the day of your infusion center visit, don’t put heavy lotion on the area over the port site, it makes the nursing staff have to scrub harder and the opsite more difficult to stick to the skin.
  3. We have some folks who still experience a lot of pain each time their port is accessed, but those are rare. When the port is first placed, just know it’s still tender and swollen, but it will get better. If you’re afraid of the pain when the port is accessed, there is a cream called Emla that can be put over the port itself on the skin. Put a little dab on the port site and cover with plastic and wait about an hour. It is a prescription only, so you’ll have to ask your physician to write a prescription, and you should know that it’s expensive, but an option if pain is an issue for you. Another more cost effective option is to ask the infusion center if they have a product called Pain-Ease spray, which is a cold spray that the nurse uses to numb the site and then place the stick. If the infusion center has this, it will save patients a lot of cost.
  4. Depending on the treatment, give yourself 2-3 hours for your visit. Bring your favorite book, or electronic device. Some infusion centers have magazines and books; some have a television at each center, but not all. Most infusion centers will offer snacks and drinks, but not cafeteria service. However, you can feel free to bring your own snacks or food– just be mindful of particularly smelly foods that can affect those suffering already from nausea.
  5. While on the topic of medical etiquette, there are a few things your nursing staff would like you to know. We don’t always get to say this to the patients who visit our center, but here are a few things to keep in mind. First, it’s OK to have your cell phone if you need to make a quick call or need to let someone know where you are, but don’t use your infusion center time to catch up with every family member or friend you have – while on speaker phone. Be quiet, discrete and considerate of others. Also strong perfumes – cancer patients are sensitive to strong smells, and sometimes the perfume affects the nurses as well. Leave the perfume and cologne behind on infusion center day.

Finally, we want you to know that we do care about you. We become attached to our patients, and I have several that are very close to my heart. We celebrate their improving health, and mourn like family when their health takes a turn for the worse. We are there for you through this journey, cheering you on each step of the way.