A new chapter – picking up the pieces

It really is the start of a new phase and I am indeed back!  It is wonderful to be able to unpack right to the bottom of the suitcase, particularly knowing that I will not be re-packing in a few days.  (All being well and being ultra careful not to tempt fate, of course!)  I am slowly trying to pick up the pieces from last October when life changed. 

Things have of course changed a bit in my 9 months of limbo and treatment.  Friends and colleagues have moved on, new ones arrived, rainy season is here, and there have been lots of changes and developments I need to catch up on at work.  It was strange and emotional walking back towards my desk and I really had to brace myself to cross that physical threshold.   

I am trying to reconnect both professionally and personally, although this is hindered a bit by the fact it is prime holiday season and many folks are away.  I am also trying to ensure that my daily routine prioritises my health and have joined the swimming pool, and make a point of swimming most days.  This has been sabotaged a couple of times by monsoon rains at the wrong time of day, but I keep trying!

I have also finally ditched my headscarf (yes, I’m topless now 😉 ) and although I still feel self-conscious about the skinhead hairdo, I feel better without the scarf so I hope I do not frighten too many people while I wait impatiently for the hair to grow back a bit more.

A surprise has been the revenge of one of my chemo treats – a feast of jazz music for the i-pod, which I just loved when I got it.  Well now it has bitten me while I was unawares – I tried to listen to Jamie Cullum the other night and realise that if I even think of his music it transports me instantly back to those awful groundhog days.  Sorry, Jamie!  I am sure this will fade in time but for the moment, you are off-limits!

I am also trying to do things which I could not while I was in the chemo cave – that’s not difficult really, as in the latter stages of chemo life consisted of sleeping, swimming and trying to eat so I usually only left home to go to the pool.  And, of course, for those awful blood tests which always marked the imminent return to Bangkok for the next punishing dose of chemo.  As my strength returns I am eager to pick up on the things which I could not do and go to places beyond me in those recent months.

Time marches relentlessly forward and I am doing my best to march forward too, with all the changes, fears and uncertainties that have been gifted to me by whole experience.

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Jelly in the mould

It’s been a full couple of days.

Yesterday I had 3 hospital appointments, or 2 appointments and 1 treatment session to be precise.

I turned up at Counter 5 for my first appointment, in the morning.  My stomach was churning as I knew this one involved a blood test.  Blood tests involve needles.  Needles hurt supersensitive chemo skin.

Sure enough, I was directed towards the Lab and the row of seats at the blood letting counter.  When it was my turn, I gestured towards my still bruised right arm and asked as usual if they would be gentle with me.  I have to say, that the Lab staff are exceptionally good at these needle sticks.  Even if I said nothing, I am sure that they would still be very gentle.  The needle lady looked at my poor arm and its battered veins and set up a special blood drawing thing.  She even gave my arm a quick spray of numbing agent before she started her task.

After a wait for results, and a welcome cuppa, it was my turn to see Dr P for my overall check.  The blood had done well and showed that my body is slowly recovering from the onslaught of chemo.  Also importantly, it is recovering from the effects of the steroids which had pushed glucose levels up throughout the chemo.  Kidney and liver functions and cholesterol were also in pretty good shape considering everything,  Dr P was very happy with my general progress and noted my positive outlook and lifestyle changes I had made which she said were reflected in the test results.

So I came out of my appointment really smiling for once!

After a couple of hours, I was back at the hospital and waiting for my transfer to the Cancer Hospital for radiation and an appointment with Dr C, the radiation consultant.

The treatment went smoothly and quickly as usual.  Zap another one finished. and I headed upstairs for the final appointment of the day.

I did not have to wait long before I was called to see Dr C.  He seemed happy with the progress of the radiation and had a look at the blood test results I had brought with me.  He said there was no need for further blood tests – my encouragement and mention of the bruised arm perhaps influenced him 😉 .

He also explained to me that there would be a slight change to the procedure starting from today.  A gel would be applied to the area having radiation from now on.  It did not dawn on me to ask why or anything else about it.  I seem to have this “yeah, whatever” approach to what has to be done.  I have thousands of questions about the treatments, effects, prognosis and procedures, but never seem to have a why question.  Just do what needs to be done.

So when I turned up today for my treatment, the staff told me I would be having this Gel thing applied to the radiation area.  I asked what this was for.  Apparently, it draws the radiation skin-wards so that the surface of the skin area is targeted in the last 10 sessions.  This is when the skin really starts to colour and darken.  My skin is already pretty dry and irritated so I am not looking forward to the sunburn which is surely coming my way.

As I am always flat on my back, pressed into my mould and completely immobile I had no idea what this Gel stuff was like or how it was being applied.  I tried to catch a glimpse of it in the reflection of the big machine above me but could not really see anything.  There were a couple of test beeps to check the angle and before long I was back in the daily routine.  Beep, beep, whirr, click………..

Once the zapping was over, the staff came back to prise me from my mould and release me for the day.  Before I sat up, they asked me if I wanted to see the Gel as they removed it.  It was not quite what I expected.  It was a bit like a computer mouse mat (but larger) and made of a clear kind of gel, in a semi solid state.  It was peeled off the radiation area and taken away, probably for cleaning and preparing for the next jelly session.

Now that today’s session is complete, I have moved into single digits with 9 sessions left.  They will all be jelly sessions and I hope that my skin stands up to the concentrated rays.

It’s clear that the cooking course is moving forward nicely, and I am clearly moving towards the dessert stage.  So, when the final jelly comes out of the mould, I think I might treat myself to an ice cream to go with it!

Chasing the storm

I know this probably sounds a bit corny, but this picture really reflects how I am feeling.  The huge chemo storm clouds are there, but the greatest anger and strength of the storm are passing and the sun is starting to shine through.

The past three days have definitely seen a shift and the slight improvement I felt on Friday is still there.  I am far from running around (still hardly hobbling around!) but my legs are still less leaden and just feel that teensy bit “better”.

I know this is a long haul, and the taxotere effects particularly are going to be with me for some time.  As I write this, my nails are continuing to deteriorate and the neuropathy  (numbness) in my fingers and now in my toes is getting worse rather than better.  I also know that this can take weeks if not months to get better and I could be left with a slight loss of sensation permanently.

But, I feel better so that makes a difference!

There is another reason why these pictures are significant for me.  I took the photographs while traveling last September, only 11 days before I discovered the lump and my view and my world changed.  I know I was oblivious to the presence of the lump when I was focusing on the what was happening around me and I can’t quite remember what it was like.  It feels like a lifetime away.

Progress Preview

A quick one with the headlines:

  • Blood test (including needle) – done 🙂
  • Review with Dr W2 – done 🙂
  • Anaemia – bit better than Thursday (?!) and almost back to the level it was before Chemo 6 – hmmm.
  • Transfusion – not essential, and fit to fly 🙂
  • Chemo 7 (Taxotere 3) – DONE! FINISHED! 🙂 🙂 🙂
  • Side effects – on their way as we speak……………….
  • White cell booster – tomorrow (with needle – 😦 )
  • Chemo treat – decision made, procurement in process, wait for updates
  • Eyebrows – almost gone!!!  More about those disappearing rascals later…………
  • Fingers and fingernails – numb, tender and a not pretty – more about them later too….

Today, Dr W2 was on great form – very positive and happy with the way things are going.  I still have quite a few questions, but was highly encouraged at how positive he was about my progress.  And trust me, he is very direct and frank (for example about my lymph node involement and the need for a heavy Chemo course) so I know he does not believe in platitudes.  Duck billed or otherwise.

So there were are – 87.5% through the Chemo event and only one more chemo left.  If all goes well that will be on April 4.  Then I will be clambering over the wall and leaving the All Exclusive Chemo Club, and much as I am grateful to it, I never ever want to have to come back!