There are still many gaps to fill in. The last part of the story was posted on December 4 (More surgery) and brought us to the point on 23 October, where the nurse came to take me for my first chemo session…….. Again, if you are not prepared for gory detail then this is one to skip.
I was so scared but I knew that it had to be done and I was wheeled off without protesting to the oncology room on the same floor. I do recognise that things have moved incredibly quickly, after all it was only 18 days since the major surgery, exactly 3 weeks since the diagnosis and already my first chemo was to be administered.
I think it’s fair to say that I was afraid of everything. I was frightened of the chemotherapy process. I was frightened of using the port. I was frightened of adverse reactions to the chemotherapy medications. And of course I was frightened of the side-effects.
But the staff were lovely. They were totally professional and very calm as they prepared me. I jumped though as they pressed the port area, it was so tender. I had no idea how they would insert the needle into the area. They called the surgeon to have a quick look and see if it was possible to use it so soon after it had been inserted. The surgeon felt that the area was too tender, and that for the first time the chemo should be administered intravenously. I have to confess that I was actually relieved by that.
A vein was quickly identified, and an intravenous line was inserted. Phew! The nurse sat with me, next to her shiny trolley full of potions and syringes, and went through the process with me. First they would run saline through to make sure that the IV was working and give some time for me to settle.
Then she worked her way through a set of different sized syringes, all of which contained medications to counteract the side effects of the chemo. One of these in particular had a really strange side-effect of its own. The nurse explained to me that I would have an itching sensation for a few moments – she wasn’t joking. It felt as if I had been invaded by an army of marching, biting red ants and I wasn’t sure whether to wriggle, giggle or blush. I think I ended up doing all three to the amusement of the nurses. Next came more saline to make sure these meds were all washed through and then began the preparations for the first chemo dose. I knew that I would have two different types of chemo medications, each chosen according to the specific characteristics of my spaceship tumour. At this point the nurse gave me an information sheet which described in detail the medication which I was to get, its likely side-effects, it is purpose and rather gruesomely the fact that it was a bright red colour. Marvellous! As if having chemotherapy isn’t already something which feels very toxic – the red colour suggests danger as well as toxicity. One of the side effects of this one was the fact that it will turn your urine pink! Is this some kind of branding approach? Pink ribbon, pink urine?
The bright red fluid was duly hooked up to the IV line and a mechanical, pumping noise ensured I knew it was being fed into my bloodstream. The rhythmic noise felt like a whispering chant to destroy any cancer cells, I guess it was my way of handling it.
After half an hour or so, a beeping told us that the red med was finishing and the nurse fed the last of it through before hooking up more saline.
She then sat with me and went through the next information sheet about the second chemo med. Similar side effects – hair loss, vomiting, nausea, suppressed immune system. Great, bring it on and let’s keep moving forward because there’s no way back!
The second chemo medication was clear and innocent looking, but just as toxic, though without the pink pee after effect apparently.
The whole process took around two hours and I found it impossible to concentrate on anything except what was happening to me. I could not listen to music or watch TV or read the book which I had brought. All I could do was lie and listen and wait until it was finished.
Finally after listening to the pumping of the medication systematically going through my veins the second chemo was also finished and the whole procedure came to an end with a final rinse of saline and removal of the IV line as well as advice about which foods to eat and avoid.
I was taken back to the ward feeling rather stunned. My head felt strange, something I can only describe as kind of buzzy. I felt disengaged from the reality round about me. Most of all I felt an enormous relief that this first dreaded treatment was finished and that I had got through it.
I was then discharged, my second hospital identity bracelet was snipped from my wrists. Again I was given a bagful of medicines, an appointment sheet for Dr W2 and I signed some forms, collected some cold packs and again found myself in the night air and returning to our studio apartment.
This time in my little bag of medicines there were some very important drugs – the side effect management drugs which would see me through the coming days, the ones which would become affectionately known as the Groundhog days.