Archives for posts with tag: fec-t

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!

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Many of you have asked me whether my chemotherapy is working, which is a very good question.

Sometimes chemo is given to people before they have surgery, to reduce the size of the tumour and operate once it has shrunk. The doctors do scans routinely to see whether or not the tumour is shrinking, so it’s possible to see whether the chemo is doing its job.

In my case, my tumour was relatively small and my surgeon hero successfully removed the whole nasty thing in June. He also took some of the surrounding tissue and tested it for cancer cells, and this came back beautifully clear (which is why I declared myself footloose and cancer-free in early July). It was the best possible outcome and I got it.

My chemotherapy and radiotherapy, therefore, are entirely preventative. I am technically as cancer-free as the rest of you, but because I am young, I need to be blasted to bits with the strongest drugs and radiation just to make sure that if there is even one minuscule, evil little ‘C’ cell still hanging out somewhere inside me, it gets absolutely obliterated and never, ever, EVER has the chance to grow and multiply and make friends with other little nasty ‘C’s to form a tumour again.

Because my chemo and radiotherapy are only preventative, there is no need to do any tests or scans to see if it’s ‘working,’ according to my oncologist. Giving me scans to check for anything at the moment would expose me unnecessarily to further radiation, so there will be no scans for the foreseeable (although I may have to have one before radiotherapy, to decide where the radiation will be given).

So, the answer to the title question is “we hope so!”  It’s basically a case of trusting the statistics and assuming that subjecting my body to all this short-term poison is doing me some long-term good… Here’s hoping!

In other news, I still have a very croaky, husky voice and a horrible cough and cold (along with half the nation) and am on the antibiotics and going for another blood test tomorrow (when will the needles stop?!) But the good news is my hair still seems to be growing nicely in random patches and there has even been a vague glimpse of some sideburns. I never thought I’d be so happy to see those big, dark sideburns again!

Four down, two to go. Almost two thirds of the way there! Elated doesn’t begin to cover it.

Today was by far the worst chemo session yet. The good news was that the steroids worked and the treatment was allowed to go ahead.

The bad news was that I felt so sick I very nearly puked all over myself in my chair and had to whip my wig off at top speed lest I vom all over the lovely Joana. (That’s another advantage of being bald/wearing wigs – you don’t need anyone to hold your hair back when you’re sick.) Fortunately, I managed not to spew and the new anti-sickness drugs eventually kicked in.

The biggest piece of bad news, however, was that I would have to wear special ice packs on my hands and feet for the duration of the chemo session to stop my nails from rising from the nail beds and falling off! (Grim doesn’t begin to cover my thoughts about this).

Words cannot describe how awful this was, but I’ll certainly have a go. I can only say it was like having your hands and feet pushed into a bucket of ice and not being allowed to move them for 1 1/2 hours as the ice is constantly topped up with freshly frozen cubes and you slowly lose all feeling in your extremities. I already have a low threshold for cold, despite being raised like a hardy northern sheep, and found the whole experience so deeply painful and uncomfortable that I almost didn’t notice the nasty drugs going into my arm.

As if that wasn’t enough, on the way home, after stopping to buy crisps to quench my sudden salt craving, we missed by the very skin of our teeth what would have been a crippling if not fatal head-on car crash. My already shot nerves were rather shaken by this point, and I pretty much shut down when the very aggressive driver of the other car tried to get out and start a fight with us. (Fortunately my father wisely drove straight on, concluding there were more important things to worry about.)

As soon as the crisps had gone down, I immediately craved vanilla ice cream and made us stop at Longley’s specialist ice-cream shop in Holmfirth, heart of Last of the Summer Wine country, for those of you who know what I’m talking about. We were just innocently eating our ice creams when we came across another car crash (the product of a very bright, sunny, cold winter’s day in Yorkshire) and had to stop in front of the police vans. Fortunately we were not involved in this particular collision and made it home safe soon after.

All in a day’s work then. All in a day’s work.

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!

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