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What does Chemotherapy Look Like | Tina Case Bay Area Photographer

May 13, 2013  •  4 Comments

The brutal reality of cancer is that the scars it leaves are not just on the patients but the invisible kind that the loved ones feel the most deeply and poignantly each day.    Not a day goes by that I don't think of those closest to me who have battled some form of cancer. Many have gone through round after brutal round of chemotherapy or radiation, or both.

I wanted to show what chemotherapy looks like.  To take the mystery out of it for those of you who have never seen it up close and personal.  It's not something to be uncomfortable about.  It's the stark reality that this is part of many people's lives.  It's part of their routine to get the beast out, to manage their illness and carry on.

I asked my dear friend if I could document her most recent treatment.  Both she and her nurses said yes.  So here are some photos to show you what it looks like.

First, there is the chemotherapy port that is embedded under the skin.  The port is a small device that is implanted under the skin to allow access to the bloodstream.  It can also be used to draw blood.  In this case it is used to infuse chemotherapy drugs.  Ports are used rather than an IV because chemotherapy typically involves so many treatments over the course of many months that it is easier than inserting an IV each time.

Chemotherapy port, Tina Case Photography On the day of the chemo treatment several bags of chemo drugs are dripped over the course of several hours to dispense that week's treatment.  The nurses are at the heart of each treatment, their demeanor is so important to each patient and each round of chemo.

chemo therapy, Tina Case Photography

Many chemo patients have what is called 'Chemo-Brain' after their treatments.  The drugs often have major side effects including cognitive changes to the memory for brief periods of time.

Chemotherapy, Tina Case Photography With the port line a needle is inserted to infuse the drugs into the line which goes directly to a vein.  These drugs are so powerful they kill not only the cancer cells but some of the good cells also.  The effects of chemotherapy a numerous, including sensitivity to metal objects.  My brother had to wear gloves to touch his metal thermos which held warm water.  He also had sensitivity to cold.  

Chemotherapy, Tina Case Photography The bags of drugs are held in place in a vertical position dripping the fluids at regular intervals over several hours. what does chemotherapy look like, tina case photographyWhat does chemotherapy look like

Nurses are so critical to the care and treatment of cancer patients.  I have encountered some of the most caring people who are so dedicated to their job. The monitor alerts when the treatments are complete, Tina Case Photography

An infusion pump monitors the rate that the drugs are infused into the bloodstream via the chemotherapy port.  

Chemotherapy, tina case photography At the end of the chemo treatment often a syringe is used to dispense remaining drugs then the lines are capped off and taped up.  Sometimes patients walk away with a portable pouch that continues to dispense drugs when they are home.

During the hours-long process my friend and I chat the whole time.  The time goes by fast.  I grab some soup for her to eat and she nibbles on other snacks that settle her stomach.  Sometimes she has a hard candy to chew on to get the initial awful taste out that is experienced at the onset of the infusion.  But she is completely alert.  Other people in the infusion room doze off.  Some have friends and family there, others come alone. The nurses are kind and gentle.  They are all angels who give the deepest care to all of these people. 

  • Sadly CANCER has touched my life up close and personal.  My husband had prostate cancer - he is now a 3-year survivor.  The worry that it might recur in another part of the body is never far from our minds.  
  • My wonderful oldest brother passed away from pancreatic cancer.  He was at the height of his career as a neurogeneticist on the cusp of breakthrough stem-cell research when he died 5 months after his diagnosis.  
  • My cousin died of breast cancer leaving behind two sons and husband.
  • My friend's baby was diagnosed with Pleuropulmonary blastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer, when she was less than a year old. Thankfully her most recent scan was clear.  
  • Rally, our Black Labrador Retriever, is a reminder of who cancer hits.  Rally's owner worked with my husband.  Rally came to work with Kevin, sitting under his desk and greeting everyone who stopped by.  When Kevin passed away 2 years ago we adopted Rally.  Kevin wasn't married, did not have children, Rally was his beloved companion.  Today Rally is constantly by my side whenever I work, eat, or sleep.  The night my brother passed away and before we learned of it, Rally was crying in his sleep.  He has never done that before nor since that night.

Today I am a volunteer photographer for Shoots for  Cure as well as the Pancreatic Cancer Organization.  We have a long way to go.  But small steps result in thousands of miles to find a cure in this journey.

If anyone is reading this because someone you love has cancer these scenes are familiar.  To those wondering what you can do for a loved one with cancer, bring them meals, visit them, - and help the caregiver as much as you help the patient.  You can be a wonderful gift with your time and caring.  In many ways I gain so much from the experience.  These folks are always an inspiration to me, showing incredible valor, humanity and gratitude as they walk in their journey with cancer.



Thank you for posting this, it needs to be spread far and wide. Many people have no idea what a cancer patient goes through. All they see are the results, good or bad.
so touching...
thank you for this Tina.
Diane Borrison(non-registered)
Thank you Tina. I always admire your work but this piece has special meaning to me.
Pam Arivett(non-registered)
Tina, I knew you were a very nice person, but never knew how really wonderful you are. God Bless You for all your work and time spent helping others. Thank you for being you.
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