Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food, Health, Humor, Humour, Taxotere, Women's Health

Saturday Night at the Hospital

I was always planning on a Saturday night in front of the TV watching the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Jonathan Ross. I just wasn’t planning on watching it all at the hospital.

I had been getting the tiniest of nosebleeds on Friday night and Saturday and decided late Saturday afternoon to ring the chemotherapy hotline as I knew it could be a symptom of a low blood platelet count and I wanted to make sure I was ok.

Unfortunately, the nurse advised me that I needed a blood test and would have to go to the hospital to get it. My chemotherapy drug, Taxotere, can have a massive effect on the bone marrow and lead to reduced blood platelets, which could mean my blood failing to clot. I spoke to the oncologist, who also said patients usually start with a small nosebleed and then get a much bigger one later, so it was best for me to get it checked out. Since I have also had a little itchy rash on my neck for the past few days and this is another symptom of low platelet levels, I knew I should get it checked.

Unfortunately, I would require a platelet transfusion if my levels were low. Normal levels are between 150 and 400, according to a quick Internet search, and a platelet transfusion – which is different from a normal blood transfusion – would require an overnight stay at the hospital.

And so it was that I quickly packed an overnight bag and we set off last night towards the Christie in Manchester. We could have gone to A&E at a nearby hospital in Huddersfield, but I didn’t fancy waiting in a noisy room with the usual Saturday night crowd of drunken teenagers requiring stomach pumping and domestic violence victims. This turned out to be a very wise decision.

At the hospital I was given a very painful blood test – painful because my veins are no longer working properly and refused to give blood, and as a consequence I now have a huge bruise. So much for no more injections for 10 days!

We then waited for an hour while watching Strictly Come Dancing in a private room before getting my result. The result came back just before 9pm and the good news was that my platelet levels were ok (190) and I wouldn’t need a transfusion – PHEW! The oncologist was satisfied, but unfortunately he wanted me to wait to see a doctor before I could leave, and this meant waiting for an on-call doctor who had to see all the emergency cases before she could see me.

Two and a half hours later, the on-call doctor arrived. She was much younger than myself and ran through a series of tests and questions on pretty much everything I could imagine. Finally, at 11:30pm, I was given the all-clear and could go home. The whole trip took six hours. Although we missed dinner, I know I should count myself very lucky that I got to sit watching X Factor and Jonathan Ross in a comfortable private room instead of sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a possibly blood-drenched A&E room at the local public hospital.

So, just a typical Saturday night…

The silver lining was that the clocks went back last night so when we arrived home at 00:30, it was actually only 23:30 and we could all have an extra hour in bed. And, to make up for the missed dinner last night, I just had a large sirloin steak for Sunday lunch and – as an extra special treat – a small glass of red. I’m sure the red meat and wine will help boost my platelet levels, right?

Standard
Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Health, Humor, Humour, Taxotere

Cancer Is Colourful

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that cancer is colourful. So far I’ve had green pee, red pee, blue boobs, multi-coloured fingernails… And now I have a green tongue! It has been a lovely shade of lime green for three days and goes just perfectly with my eyes and my t-shirt. The latest must-have fashion accessory, everyone should have a green tongue. (On a serious note, it’s a another side effect of the chemo so I shall be visiting my doctor tomorrow).

Aside from colourful, cancer is also painful. Well, I should really say chemo is painful, because I don’t actually have cancer any more. The pain kicked in about 48 hours after the last chemo session and has lasted the several days since then. So, while it hasn’t given me the terrible nausea I had with FEC, the Taxotere drug has given me the worst all-over body pain I’ve ever experienced. It is an intense, all-over body ache, not like the pleasant and satisfying soreness you get after a heavy gym session, but more like the bone-chilling ache you’d get if you ran two back-to-back marathons at the age of 99. I can feel my bones hurting from inside, and everything is stiff as if I’ve been bedridden for years. My knees felt like they’d buckle when I stood up to brush my teeth and I have to hold onto the banister to come up the stairs. It’s weird to feel like I’m crippled when I’m 30 and perfectly fit and healthy. (Well, apart from the cancer, that is).

Still, at least I feel like the chemo drugs are doing their job. Hopefully the pain is a sign they’re working. It’s been horrible being cooped up in bed for the past five days and it’s like going back to square one with the chemo because whereas I used to know how long the excessive tiredness would last, I don’t know quite how long the pain will last, and the oncologist said it might take me longer to recover this time. Fortunately I have been able to sleep pretty soundly and have had plenty of good books to read. And painkillers. Lots of painkillers.

Speaking of things being colourful, it was only when I stood up long enough to look out the window today that I noticed autumn was here, and it’s absolutely beautiful. There’s nothing quite like the beauty of red, green and yellow leaves. I even managed my first five-minute walk this afternoon to try and stop my joints completely clamming up and failing to function forevermore, and the crisp, cold, sunny autumn air did me good. Hopefully just a few more days of pain and I’ll be back on track.

Standard
Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food, Health, Humor, Humour

Chemotherapy: Round Four

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.

Standard
Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food

A Change of Chemo

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!

Standard