Archives for posts with tag: chemo

IMG_3350This time last year, I had just finished the last of six rounds of chemotherapy and was preparing for my first post-chemo Christmas. It’s hard to believe a whole year has gone by, particularly as I still remember the day I was ‘sentenced‘ to eight months of treatment as if it were yesterday.

Since then, I’ve met a lot of people going through chemo and I’ve been surprised at the varying advice given to them by different hospitals, for example the woman whose nails went black and started falling off after chemo because she had never been given a simple tip to help protect them.

With this in mind, I’ve written a list of ten top tips to get through chemo for this month’s post for Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita magazine. Click the link to read the list.

Merry Christmas all!

It turns out the mere mention of the word ‘cannula’ (a thin tube inserted into the vein to administer drugs) is enough to make me cry.

IMG_2358I had gone to the Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester for my MRI scan – a routine check-up on my breasts that’s recommended for women under 40 because it’s more reliable and doesn’t involve harmful radiation.

I have never been one to dread scans or be afraid of them in any way. I sailed through 33 rounds of radiotherapy because it was just a case of going into a room, lying down under a big whirring machine and waiting. No pain, no dark tunnels. So, for my first ever breast MRI on Thursday, I breezed into the radiology department, all smiles and regular heartbeat, expecting to be in and out within an hour or so.

I just had no idea I was going to need a cannula. It was just a pin prick so they could insert some dye half-way through the scan, to allow my boob matter to show up on the images (or something). It was actually the smallest type of cannula available, used for babies, no less. (I say this so that you know just how much of a wimp I am).

But as soon as I heard the word ‘cannula,’ I burst into tears in front of the nurse, because to me, a cannula isn’t just a little needle-like thing. To me, a cannula is synonymous with chemo. Just a whiff of the saline going into my arm was enough to make me want to vomit, bringing with it all the traumatic memories of six months of chemo. The nights in the hospital when it took three different nurses to finally (and painfully) get a cannula into my hand, and the gut-wrenching feeling of those toxic drugs seeping into the veins…

IMG_2361The nurse handed me a bunch of tissues and told me a story about how she can’t go down the catfood aisle in the supermarket because it reminds her of the cat she lost three years ago. This story of association was supposed to make me feel better but, of course, she didn’t know she was talking to Cat Lady Supremo, for whom any tale of dead, unhappy or injured cats is enough to bring on the waterworks. So, naturally, that just made me feel worse.

So I lay there, horizontal, on the MRI machine with my face squashed into a squashy pad looking down at a white space, tears streaming down my face, cannula in arm, strapped to the machine, for about 40 minutes. As we all know, when you cry, your nose runs (especially when you’ve had flu for the last week), and when you’re lying face down, without the use of your arms because they’re strapped to a machine, there’s nothing you can do about it. So I lay and watched a large bogey slowly drip, drip, drip, along with my tears, until it finally hit the machine. I hope it doesn’t interfere with my results.

It really wasn’t a painful experience, and the staff in the hospital were amazing, but sometimes it just takes a trigger to bring back every horrible thing you go through with cancer. I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks and I’ve been quite emotional.

The results won’t be back for a while yet, but hopefully it’ll be another all-clear. And – with any luck – I won’t have to go through all that again for another year.

Well, firstly I’ll start by saying congrats to Obama – I’m pretty sure my over-sized ice-foam baseball hands and feet helped him win. No need to thank me, Mr President.

So, day two of chemo and I’m not feeling too bad so far. I went for a walk to get some fresh air while I still have the use of my limbs (i.e. before the crippling joint pain sets in).

Daily Ailments:

1) My little pinkie feels like it’s been slammed in a doorframe. Unfortunately, I can’t tell whether it’s going black and about to drop off because I already have dark black sparkly nail varnish on it, so I’ll have to wait a week or so to find out whether I lose a finger or not. But what are pinkies good for, anyway? All I can think of is proper tea-drinking etiquette…

2) My face went all red and blotchy before bedtime last night. And I am having hot flushes. I am hoping it’s just an after-effect of the steroids and not – god forbid – the onset of an early menopause.

3) I am back on the daily self-injections… with no sweet treats to self-congratulate… yuck.

Great things about today:

1) My Mad Men Season Five DVD arrived in the post. Thanks, Amazon.co.uk – your timing literally couldn’t be better.

2) The Daily Mail reckons a glass of wine a day can help cure breast cancer. Don’t mind if I do…

3) After ignoring me for a few days, Nurse Molly is back to do her nursing duties and is preventing me from reading magazines by sitting across the pages. Her heart’s in the right place.

The Big Sugar Challenge

DAY FIVE (Tuesday)

(Note that I got a bit ahead of myself yesterday and called it day five when it was in fact day four – needless to say, I’ve gone back and corrected it. Apols).

6am pre-breakfast: A banana and four steroids.

8:30am actual breakfast: Bacon sandwich on grain bread with grilled tomatoes and a cup of tea. (Yum, thanks Dad, the most creative sandwich maker I know. Who needs ketchup anyway?)

Hospital lunch: Tuna sandwich on brown bread with salad, a fruit salad and a cup of tea. Four more steroids and a large dose of chemo… Bleurrgh!

Snacks: A few handfuls of pistachios, assorted nuts and raisins. Two more cups of tea (or was it three?)

Dinner: Spinach and ricotta tortellini with pine nuts, tomato and basil, broccoli and a dollop of Philadelphia for good measure. A glass of sugar-free cloudy apple juice (which I had said was not allowed but Mum reeeeally wanted me to drink it before it goes off…) Another cup of tea.

Snacks: Two savoury biscuits with cheddar cheese and butter.

Notes: Woke up at 6am today wanting a Cadbury’s Creme Egg like never before. Good job it’s November.

Tomorrow is round four of chemotherapy and I am to start a different type of drug for the final three cycles of my treatment. My chemo regimen is known as FEC-T (or Fecked, as I affectionately call it). The four letters stand for four different liquid drugs that get fed into my veins each time I go to the day spa (or hospital, as it is more commonly known): Fluorouracil, Epirubicin (the dark red one that makes my pee a lovely shade of Tizer for 24 hours), Cyclophosphamide and then Taxotere, or Docetaxel.

I have proudly finished the FEC and tomorrow I start the T. Because of the problems I’ve had with my low blood count, the oncologist gave me a course of steroids that I began taking this morning to boost my white blood cells, so fingers crossed it works. Unfortunately, I now feel completely drugged up and groggy and weak after taking 16mg of steroids.

Because of the change of chemo drug, I can expect a few different side effects as of tomorrow. The main side effects are the same – sickness, extreme fatigue, vulnerability to infection, etc, but there are a few new ones such as dry, sore hands and feet and possible nail blackening (these were possible with my old chemo drugs but more likely with the new ones, apparently).

Hair loss remains a very common side effect of Taxotere so my locks won’t be growing back any time soon. The funny thing is, I still have a little hair on my head and it grows a tiny bit at the start of each treatment before breaking off again in the third week. My nails are growing super-fast, and my arm hair, eyebrows and eyelashes are exactly as they were pre-treatment. I would love to be able to understand why I lose all my hair in some places and not in others. (By the way, I’m certainly not complaining – my eyebrows and lashes in particular are welcome to stay as long as they like!)

I literally spent the first two weeks of my last chemo cycle gorging myself with food. I have always had an enormous appetite but I was eating even more than normal and not doing any exercise and started to feel really sloth-like. I was relieved, then, when I lost my appetite a little in the final week up to now. I also started doing daily walks with my Mum, so any weight I put on from stuffing myself I subsequently worked off by dodging muddy puddles and spiky bushes in the Yorkshire countryside. I am now eating like a normal person but I suspect once the steroids kick in I’ll resume eating for four.

I managed to survive another three weeks without getting an infection and finished off with an amazing weekend with my friends in London. It was refreshing to get away from being cooped up in bed and even more refreshing to have brunch and afternoon tea and gorge myself on delicious cakes before my appetite goes awry again tomorrow. I now feel absolutely exhausted though – partly the effect of the heavy dose of steroids I took this morning, but no doubt they will make me a total insomniac by tonight.

The Challenge

Unfortunately, I have a bit of an obstacle coming up. I promised a friend I’d go to an event in London on Day 8 after my next chemo, by which time I should be recovered enough for a quick trip, assuming chemo goes ahead tomorrow. It was only after I’d booked the train that I realised I’ll still require the daily immune-system-boosting injections at that point and thus I’ve left myself with no choice but to learn how to self-inject. Injecting a small needle into one’s stomach should be fairly straightforward, but the thing is, I’m completely incapable of inflicting pain on myself.

I tried to wax my own legs once. It was neither a pleasant nor a pretty experience. I am such a wimp that I ended up peeling it slowly off (which is a million times more painful, as we all know) before attempting to scrape off the rest of the sticky wax with a plastic scraper device. Needless to say, I made a huge mess and left myself with a sticky residue that then made my clothes stick to my legs. And of course, I ended up having to shave my legs anyway.

So, wish me luck with the self-injection experience!

Finally, thanks to Niki for the beautiful pink roses in aid of Candy Pink and her breast cancer-fighting efforts, and to Aunty Heather, who sent me an entire chocolate cake filled with some sort of delectable praline centre from Betty’s! I will make sure I help myself to an enormous slice of cake every time I successfully manage to self-inject!

In your FACE, insomnia! I slept for 7 hours after the warning of a steroid-induced sleepless night.

Amazingly, the magic pills brought my blood count right back up so Brandi and I were able to have the chemo today. I am fairly convinced they got my test tubes mixed up with someone else’s since the levels went up from 0.5 yesterday to 5.3 today. It doesn’t take a medical genius to see that’s a pretty big change but I’ve got to trust my doctor!

After another full day in hospital I am utterly exhausted (and not at all hyper, like I apparently should be after the steroids) and ready for a long sleep. But not before I have a massive bowl of pasta and pine nuts – the steroids do at least make me ravenous, though that’s nothing unusual.

Unfortunately, the boiler has broken at home and we have no heating or hot water. My Dad spent 5 hours trying to get through to British Gas yesterday but typically on the first day of cold weather when the entire country switches on their boilers for the first time in six months, they were a tad busy. Fortunately the gas man is coming around tonight and the cat has already availed herself of the electric radiator in my room.

As you can see, the weather forecast is entirely favourable towards me spending a week in bed, so that I shall do! I am feeling pretty shocking and definitely ready for a loooong sleep.

So, it’s three down, three to go!! I won’t consider myself officially half way through chemo until I’ve got through the next few days of general yuckiness, but nevertheless please have a drink on my behalf to celebrate the almost-half-way mark! Woo hoo!

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