Just like a trip to the dentist, it turns out the anticipation of chemo is worse (for me anyway) than the reality. After coasting through Christmas, trying to be as normal as possible for Freddie and for family, the dreaded day arrived on the 28th. I kept busy in the morning going to get my hair cut shorter ready for the cold cap (I’ll fill you in on the horrors of hair in my next blog), then rushed off to the hospital in time for my 1.30 appointment. Then we nervously waited... with my imagination going into overdrive about the horrors to come. As is the way with the lovely NHS I had a good 20 minute wait to really catasrophise about the worst case scenario before we were called through to the chemo suite.
As I’m using a cold cap to try and preserve my hair I got put in a quiet corner and didn’t have to sit in the main room where most of the patients get their meds. I’d been dreading being put there, where you have to sit in a semi-circle, much like in an old folks home. In the nicest possible way seeing people further down the line looking much sicker than I feel right now would have been like the worst kind of mirror reflecting things to come. Part of my plan to get through this is to block out all the bad stories and just focus on what is happening to me – and doing my best to pretend it isn’t really happening to me at all! Denial, always the best form of defence.
As it was, my chair faced a TV screen in the corner which was tuned to music radio mercilessly churning out all the Christmas favourites. Sitting there surrounded by drips and medical equipment with a heat pad on my wrist to ‘open up the vein’, I couldn’t have felt less festive. Up to this point no one had really told us very much about what was happening and it was the only point at which my bottom lip began to wobble and the tears threatened to come. I think you’re probably allowed to cry in such a situation but chemo is so matter of fact for most people on the suite I felt a little foolish to start blubbing away in the corner.
The dreaded cold cap
As soon as the familiar face of my lovely chemo nurse appeared though I felt ok, we’d met the previous week and she’s super upbeat and chipper. She got the whole process started which began with the cold cap. It’s basically a hat made up of rubber tubing through which they pump liquid that’s been cooled to minus 5 degrees. My rough understanding of the science behind it is that the cooling effect stops the chemo reaching the hair follicles, therefore, in some cases helping to preserve them and stop the hair falling out. In around 50% of people it will preserve 50% of your hair. A close fit is key, and annoyingly I’m between sizes. With a bit of ingenuity and a will to try anything we decided to try putting a swim cap on top of the under layer to make it fit more closely where it was loose. Getting it onto the cap proved tricky with Steve nearly (accidentally) punching lovely chemo nurse in the face in the process. We laughed. That kind of delirious laughter you experience while awake all night with a newborn trying to change a nappy by tag team. Turns out chemo can be funny. So on top of the tubing and my DIY swim cap addition went a neoprene hat a bit like a rugby player’s scrum cap. It’s not a good look, but it’s important the chin strap is tight so I spent the rest of the session talking like I was being strangled. Which I effectively was. I’d heard the cold during the first 15 minutes could be unbearable but I’d taken painkillers and found it ok. It goes on 30 minutes before treatment, through the hour or so of treatment then for 90 minutes after. We’ll see in the next couple of weeks how well it worked for me.
The ‘naughty’ drugs
So head freezing sorted, and after a drip to flush out my veins I was good to go for the chemo drugs. They come in hilariously huge syringes, a bit like something you’d expect to give to a horse. Two that were bright red - ‘this is the naughty one, it looks a bit like Tizer’ said my nurse - and then a third which was a different chemo drug that was clear and less scary looking. Then after a vicious game of monopoly between Steve and I on the iPad (I won) we were sent on our way with a bag full of drugs and a ‘good luck’ from the nurses.
Then it was back to waiting. I’d read the leaflet about the possible side effects of my first chemo regimen – which is called EC. But like some sort of horror flick lucky dip, you just don’t know which of them you’re going to get. If there was to be sickness we were told it would probably come on that night. Now I was pretty confident I would swerve the dreaded vomiting and nausea. I have the constitution of an ox – I didn’t suffer from a peep of morning sickness and you could stick me on a boat on the highest of seas and I wouldn’t go even a little bit green. And my prediction was thankfully correct. So far, so Mystic Meg. The anti-sickness drugs and steroids I had to take for the first couple of days probably helped too.
From what I’d been told there would be a rough five or six days before I’d start to feel better. By day three, apart from a bit of heartburn and wonky sleep I felt totally normal. So much so that I began to question whether the right drugs had been put in. I did mention it to my nurse - she assured me the drugs would still work. Then just in time for New Year’s Eve I began to feel a little rougher. My mouth felt pretty weird and my brain felt like a sponge that someone was squeezing the water out of. I was suddenly very, very tired. The kind of tired where you can’t even get the muscles in your face to maintain a normal expression. I felt a bit like my face was sagging like the cartoon character Droopy!
New Year’s Day continued in a similar vein. It felt like the worst hangover ever. Like the one after ‘A Night of a Thousand Jaeger-Bombs’ but without the fun bit to precede it. But after those two groggy days I woke up feeling pretty normal again and so it continues. The heavy cold I’ve had since before Christmas (excellent timing) has actually been bothering me more than the chemo side-effects. So, I hope it’s onwards and upwards from here to chemo round two on the 18th of January. I feel like I’ve escaped so far relatively unscathed.
Rachael – 1 Chemo – nil
In your face cancer.
N.B. I wrote this yesterday but couldn't post it due to a technical glitch on the website. A few short hours after finishing this #smugpostchemoblog cancer hit back and I ended up in A&E until 1am with an ear infection so severe I couldn't speak to the receptionist to check myself in. Luckily the wait was so long the painkillers brought my temperature down to a reasonable level and I swerved an overnight stay in hospital. So lets call it 1-1 on aggregate. I'm still ready for the next battle.