The Chemotherapy Diaries
Saturday was chemotherapy session number 5. More importantly, I baked the nurses a Blueberry Cheesecake that seemed to go down well, but I didn’t hear how it tasted as I left before they went to lunch. I wish I had asked for a slice as the bake looked better than my trial one earlier in the week, but I would have been taking it from one of the nurse’s mouths, which wouldn’t feel good. They deserve it more than I (and I can always make more cheesecakes)!
I showed up to chemotherapy in quite a chirpy mood this week. I am feeling optimistic about the 3-month scan for some strange reason. Not necessarily because I think it will bring good news, but it will be the first look at the tumour since November, and I want to understand where we are at with the treatment. Anna and I have provisionally booked our wedding venue for September 16th, so I now live in perpetual fear of having a procedure arranged in the weeks before or having to do mop up chemo around the event. Of course, I talk of ‘fear’ here sarcastically – getting to the stage where it is operable is the ultimate goal of treatment and would be an incredible feat. But the deposit for the venue is also £1000… how valuable is my life? Hmm, I guess I could lose £1000 to better guarantee it. Perhaps.
The nurses seemed in good form too. I was chatting away with the team about baking, chemotherapy and working Saturdays. It is usually a sign of a good chemotherapy day when the needle is inserted into my port in my chest doesn’t hurt too much. It didn’t. “Short scratch coming,” the nurse said, and it was just that. The Monday after Christmas’s chemotherapy session felt like the nurse had stabbed me with a dagger, and I got shooting pains up my neck and back. When the district nurse came to my house to disconnect it on the Wednesday afterwards, she had shown me that the end of the needle had been bent, so she may have inserted it into the very fringe of the port. It made sense why it hurt so much. But this wasn’t one of those days.
I learnt something interesting during the delivery of chemotherapy bag no 1, AKA good cop. Around halfway through it, they link up another bag of clear fluid to be delivered simultaneously as the chemotherapy drugs. I always thought this was more sugar water to ensure your body is remaining hydrated and/or to keep the chemotherapy drugs somewhat manageable on your body. The nurse informed me that it was actually a mixture of nutrients that helped the chemotherapy stick to cancer cells. It is delivered through the remainder of bag 1 and then bag 2, AKA bad cop. It made me feel better, and I imagined the little nutrients high-fiving the chemo drugs as they flew through my veins to find those cancer cells together. Unfortunately, the good vibes didn’t last; bag 2 was in a bad mood this week.
Before starting bag 2, the nurse did their usual charm offensive to try and get me to take the injection before starting the treatment. It is supposed to help lessen the negative symptoms of god-awful bag 2. There is a catch, though. Once you accept the injection, you have to have it every session before bag 2. It also means that it has to be administered over an hour and a half period. I’ve managed to work the delivery time down to 30 minutes, and although it might be 30 minutes of overheating, discomfort and nausea, it gets me home damn quicker. I know which I prefer. No, thank you, injection.
During bag no 2, I usually sit forward in the chair with my eyes closed and put on some music to distract me. It’s only 30 minutes of hell; I’ve been on dates that have lasted longer and put me under more discomfort (full disclosure, this is entirely facetious). It’s nothing. Luckily, I sat without headphones on Saturday just as a woman came in for her treatment on the chair next to me. The nurse asked her to step onto the scales, which is part of the standard introductory treatment demands. She stood on, and the nurse emphatically said, “Amazing! You’ve put on 3kgs,” the woman then threw her hands up to her face and smiled in delight. “Only on a chemotherapy ward can someone announce that a woman has put on weight to the room, and it result in a Cheshire Cat smile on their face,” I thought to myself, temporarily forgetting how horrible I felt.
Fast forward about 45 minutes, and I was ready to leave. Anna and my mum were running a bit late due to traffic, so I wasn’t in a hurry. I got my things together and asked the nurses if I could get the bottom of my baking tray back. She did me one better and washed it for me – what a delight! I grabbed a coffee from the catering assistant who was making her way through the ward and packed up my bags. Another treatment day down. I felt a bit nauseous, my body was sweating and muscles cramping, but it was over. I started to make my way down the hall to the stairs, before descending to the main lobby to wait for the car.
As I was leaving the chemotherapy ward, a woman was being recorded by a nurse ringing a bell in the stairwell. This is a tradition when you have beaten cancer for those who don’t know. You ring a bell in the ward, and the nurses and patients cheer. I was unaware of this custom until I saw a video on Twitter of a woman doing it in a hospital in the US. This custom apparently is also followed in the UK, as I learnt in that moment. I didn’t want to walk in front of the camera and ruin her shot or utter a clumsy “congratulations” in the background of her precious moment, so I just side-eyed her and smiled. She was crying to herself. I heard whooping from back in the ward. It was hard not to imagine me in her shoes, feeling that same glee, letting out the pain and suffering of the last 6, 12, 18, however many months. It gave me hope.
Downstairs, I headed to the M&S cafe and grabbed another coffee. Sat in the waiting room drinking this coffee, I started to feel some pain in my abdomen. The feeling quickly changed, and I knew I needed a toilet pronto. Just as I stood up and started darting my eyes around the room for a bathroom, I saw Anna pull up in our car with my mum in the passenger seat. They waved at me, but I messaged them, saying I had an emergency. Diarrhoea at treatment is new for me, and believe me, I wasn’t happy about it. The Christie is an hours drive from my parent’s house – not ideal conditions for someone suffering from this ailment.
After spending 20 minutes in the toilet, I had to make my way back up to the chemotherapy ward to get some of the diarrhoea tablets that I had rejected at the start of the session. “I don’t get it too often, so I have loads of them at home. Don’t worry about it,” I’d said. Now here I was again, tail between my legs. “I was wrong. I’ve got bad diarrhoea. It’s an hour journey back to my parent’s house – would you mind if I got a box of the medication?” 2 of the patients could hear every word I was saying and were staring at me. You stop giving much of a fuck when you deal with this stuff so frequently, to put it politely. The nurse quickly clicked onto the system, got the drugs released and had them to me in 3 minutes. This is why I always bake for them; they’re utterly fantastic.
It took 5 of the 8 diarrhoea pills allowed in a 24 hour period to sort the situation out and get me home. We did have to stop at a motorway service at some point. It isn’t a lot of fun dealing with such situations in the services, and it really was a low point. I had my chemotherapy bottle in my pocket and linked to my chest, my head in my hands and my bum on a grotty toilet. Luckily, I was laughing about it to myself. It was all quite funny, really. I feel like I have a mental cadence where I sit in a situation and evaluate whether it is rock-bottom or not. It shouldn’t have been considering what happened to me recently (such as the diagnosis itself), but this situation really felt like a contender. Only another 30 minutes until home. Doable. I got up, left the cubicle, washed my hands, and went back to the car. Nearly there.
Finally home, but it had taken its toll. I was sitting on my bed upstairs, shaking a lot and struggling to keep my eyes open. I think it was a combination of losing a lot of fluid and my body dealing with the effects of the chemotherapy drugs. Luckily, a couple of electrolyte drinks and some support from lovely Anna and I managed to pull things back. Just in time for a few friends to come over and cheer me up. Robbie, Norah and Drew, 3 good friends of mine, spent a few hours at the house chatting away and taking my mind off the situation. It was wonderful. They came over again on Sunday afternoon to walk Lucy with me.
Now, I feel a bit dodgy, but it isn’t proving to be as bad as initially. I have a few blog post ideas bouncing around my head, which always cheers me up, and I have signed up to Run 40 for Feb, a money-raising campaign for Pancreatic Cancer UK. I’m going to be doing it throughout Feb, sometimes having to walk probably, but I’ll get it done. If you’d like to donate, the link to the page is here. I am currently sitting on a healthy £0 as I have not shared it with anyone, but hopefully, that’ll change soon. I’m going to donate some money myself, too, as I really do respect their work. Their dedicated nurse team are fantastic and so supportive. For now, I’m going to leave you with a song that nicely represents the mood of the article. I hope you have a great start to your week!