The Chemoversary

Today marks another Landmark Day.  A Big Landmark Day in fact, almost as big as the Cancerversary.  Two years ago today marked the start of 8 cycles, and five months of life dominated by chemotherapy.

From the time I knew that I might have cancer, the biggest fear I had apart from the obvious “oh-my-God-I-am-going-to-be-dead-by-Christmas” fear was about having chemo.

I knew very little about cancer and even less about chemo.  I knew chemo equated with baldness and I knew it made you very sick.  I had no knowledge about how chemo fought cancer nor whether it was successful.  I only knew I was terrified of it.

When I was diagnosed, I asked Dr W abut chemo.  He told me that there had been great advances in chemo and that as well as refinements in the chemo drugs themselves, the side effects could be well managed with different medications.  Furthermore, I had read somewhere (in other words, somewhere on the internet) that not everyone lost their hair during chemo.  Being rather good at denial I latched onto these points and decided that I would not be hugely affected by chemo and that I would one of the lucky ones and not lose my hair.  I am not sure that it is possible to focus on denial from a point of logic, but in effect, that is what I did!

However, that did not keep the terror at bay.  I approached chemo with abject fear and dread.  I was already in hospital following surgery for port insertion, Twang Arm fiddling and Blood Pressure complications and Dr W2 was keen to get the chemo underway without delay.  The day of Chemo 1 was 23 October – exactly a month from the day I discovered the lump in the first place.

This is my account of the first chemo from the early days of the blog….

23 October

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 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.

***********

 

That was the start of life being dominated by chemo, living life in 3 week increments around the chemo cycles, avoiding infection, trying to eat carefully and nutritiously (in fact just trying to eat), monitoring temperature and other health signs, commuting between Bangkok and Yangon with mask and often wheelchair.  It was long and arduous, but it did not last for ever, even though it felt as if it would at the time.  Looking back, I realise how little I knew of recurrence and metastasis and was focused on getting through the cycles set in front of me.

It is hard to believe that a whole 2 years has passed since that day.  Living with NED is a precarious blessing – one which I value and appreciate daily.

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21 thoughts on “The Chemoversary

  1. 2007 was pretty much written off to cancer in the Tooty household when my wife was diagnosed. Following chemo she had to undergo radiotherapy, which is a darned sight less ‘a walk in the park’ than we’d expected. We would spend ages in busy city traffic on our way to the hospital every night, and would often sit behind one of the hundreds of Skoda Octavias that are so popular with taxi drivers in this part of the world. Now I can’t see one of their distinctive tail lights without be reminded of that time. She made it through by the way, and never regretted a moment of the treatment. I think one day might buy one of those Skoda Octavias: Somehow it seems right.

    • Thanks for your comment – oh my goodnes I know what you mean about the strangest things which trigger the memories of those times. I still can’t listen to Jamie Cullen which was one of my “chemo treats”. Love the music but am transported instantly back to the chemo days if I hear even a few bars. Bleurgh.

      I am very glad to hear your wife is in good health now and got through al the treatment, I know it is a rough ride. What colour of SKoda will you get then? 😉

  2. A graphic account of something my partner Sarah chose not to go through. She is also enjoying the ‘precarious blessing of NED.
    Totally with you there on the ‘Jamie Cullen effect’. While waiting for hours outside the Rapid Diagnosis clinic, I passed the time reading a mildly amusing autobiography by Griff Rhys Jones. Got about half way through, before finding Sarah had been diagnosed. After that could only even bear to hold the poor book for long enough to put it in the recycling bin.

    • So glad Sarah is also NEDly, there’s always room for NED in any marriage or relationship! Poor Griff Rhys Jones ending up in the bin – I still have Jamie Cullen on my playlist – I am far too stingy a Scot to delete it and I still live in the hope that I can bear to listen to him again one day!

  3. Philippa, congratulations on your anniversary. I admire your ability to relive the day by reposting your original thoughts. I never feel brave enough to do that. Too hard to read or remember, I suppose. I’m glad you’re able to look back after two years, realize how far you’ve come and that NED is with you.

    • Thanks for your comment and support Stacey 🙂 It’s funny how different things work for each of us. For me I find it helps me to see that I am in a very different place now, as you say, and how far I have come. Big hugs 🙂 xox

  4. Feisty describes what you have done with your article, and while I’m not connected to the big C in any way, I can feel what you and others must have gone through by your brave portrayal here.

    At first I was afraid to read. What if this is “God’s way of introducing me to something I don’t want to think about but should because it was coming my way?” These and a dozen other thoughts ran through my mind as I was reading. Then, I stopped the concern for “me” and focused on you, your apparent anxiety, and the daily concerns one must have while undergoing such treatments. It gave me the courage to read on.

    You showed how someone facing fear can not only live in the moment but use the moment to bring understanding and compassion to others. I am glad my Canadian friend (WordsWeNeverSaid) introduced us. I feel enriched in having made your acquaintance.

    • Thank you so much for your comment – I am also glad that WordsWeNeverSaid introduced us. I totally get what you are saying about not reading in case it “tempts fate”!

      I am the biggest scaredy cat, I can honestly say. But I turn into an obedient puppy at the hospital and follow wherever I am taken. But I dread it and hate it. But the big lesson for me is that these things are “doable”. Not easy, but certainly doable.

      I am also really happy to connect with you through yourr blog and engage more and more with the more creative side, one which I have a dream to work more on.

      Thanks and I will be following your blog regularly 🙂

  5. I remember those three-week rounds. I almost had two-week rounds of dose-dense chemo, but was glad I didn’t qualify. Three weeks come around pretty fast; two weeks are too close for comfort, plus they require that painful shot of Neulasta. No thank you. And thanks for posting your saga. We can all learn from it.
    XOXO,
    Jan

    • Thanks Jan. I don’t think we can ever forget them. A friend of mine had dose dense and she was amazing. I had the Neulasta for the 4 Taxotere cycles. Bleurgh! It hurt but so did the Taxotere so I wasn’t sure which one was causing the pain!

      It has helped me enormously to document, but also to look back. I also keep in my mind that for so many chemo is not a course of so many cycles, but a way of life.

      Thanks for your support
      🙂
      P

    • Thanks for your comment – and it is good to connect with you thanks to WordsWeNeverSaid 🙂
      I will visit your blog regularly 🙂
      P 🙂

  6. Oh I cannot wait to meet NED! I hear that NED is just dreamy! I also know well that tell tale buzz that occurs in your head after chemo treatment. I have been receiving chemo now for the last year and 8 months and I can honestly tell you that I am sick and tired of being sick and tired…The chemo, oh the chemo…
    I am so glad that you are here today to share your journey with us and that NED continues to bless you with its presence (presents even).
    Much love and health!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, L – I wish NED would spread himself around a bit more, there is plenty of him for everyone surely! I for one am extremely happy to share….

      Thanks for the critical reminder, that chemo is not a “course” for many, but a way of life. My six months of chemo was nothing in comparison. Sick and tired, I so hear you. Physically and emotionally it must be utterly wearing. I am glad you commented here and put things in perspective.

      NED for everyone and NED for ever – that would be my wish….

      Much love and health to you too
      xox
      P

  7. P-
    We have almost identical chemoversaries. My five year was on October 25… wow. Wanted to wish your blog a happy birthday. Wanted to say I am happy to be in your circle of blog buddies and wanted to send love half way round the world!

    xoxo
    AnneMarie

    • Thanks AnneMarie – gosh, only 2 days (and three years) apart. Thank you so much for your wishes, and I too am very thankful for our friendship 🙂 Sending you sunny hugs from Yangon, across the seas xox

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