50. Several years ago, I had little hope of ever reaching this milestone age, but here I am. The frequent trips to the doctors, the countless hospital stays, and the endless radiation treatments and other therapies to make me healthy helped to get me here. The miracle drug that reprogrammed my immune system to fight off the nasty cancer cells helped me get here. And the love and support of family, friends, and even strangers, helped me get here. So, it should come as no surprise that I wanted to do something monumental to acknowledge this big number. I wanted to give myself a gift. A trip? Some new bling? Skydiving? Nope. Instead, I celebrated 50 by having my port removed.
The purpose of the port — a small, plastic device implanted in my chest — was to deliver into my body the treatments which were intended to ward off the nasty cancer cells that didn’t seem to want to go away. For years, this port was a part of me not only physically, but also as a constant companion. I could feel it with a slight touch, and, every time I did, I was flooded with all sorts of conflicting emotions — fear and comfort; anger and joy; sadness and gratitude. Like a loyal friend, the port was there for me when I needed it the most.
When the port was implanted nearly seven years ago, I needed it to fill my body with immunotherapy drugs. My veins were too weak to withstand constant poking, so the port was a life saver in more ways than one. In 2021, my doctors made the difficult decision to discontinue my treatment; my body could no longer tolerate the drug and the side effects affected my quality of life. My prognosis was good, but my doctors felt it was necessary to keep the port in “just in case.” Finally, not wanting to continue living in the land of “what ifs,” I decided it needed to go. I spent my 40s living in a cancer bubble and, while I am just now processing the grief of losing those years, I want to embrace this new healthy decade. To do so, I knew I had to let the port go.
I was fascinated by the procedure to remove the port. Before the incision, an x-ray was taken to see the exact location of the object; the image is projected onto a large screen, and I could see it buried in my chest. I stared at it as the doctor made the incision, and as he began to dislodge the port, I felt some tears roll down my eyes. Shortly thereafter, the doctor exclaimed, “It’s out!” At that very moment, I smiled, cried, and felt a sense of relief I never knew existed. At the end of the procedure, another x-ray was taken to confirm the port’s removal. I followed the screen as I was wheeled out of the room — the port was gone.
I thought about writing a thank you note to myself because the moment the port left my body I realized that was perhaps the best gift I could give myself. I feel lighter; I feel healthy; and I feel closure. Of course, I still live with uncertainty and fear of the unknown, but for some reason, this gift allows me a newfound sense of freedom. While there will always be a physical scar, and I have many, this one is the gift I gave myself when I turned 50.