There I was thinking I had this chemo lark nailed. One round down and I felt like an old pro. I thought I’d escaped pretty well on the side effects front – a couple of days of feeling a bit rubbish but nothing I couldn’t handle. That ear infection I mentioned last time (caused by a really evil cold)…now that was another thing. The worst pain I can remember and I’ve had quite a few scrapes, bumps and bashes in my time. A second round of antibiotics seems to have sorted the infection, though unfortunately I’ve been left temporarily deaf in one ear because of a perforated ear drum. “Pardon?” is becoming my most overused ‘word du jour’.
Ready to go
Still, by Wednesday, the cold had cleared, the ear felt better and off I skipped to the hospital ready for round two. Watch out tumour…chemo’s coming to get you. We had to wait quite a while before we went through to the chemo suite but once seated Steve and I were in jovial mood – getting ready for another intense game of Monopoly. We just had to wait for my blood results to come back and we were good to go.
The ward sister decided to get me all set up to go before the results were in, so the cannula was duly inserted and my hair was soaked with water spray and covered in conditioner ready for the cold cap to go on. No sooner had she put the conditioner bottle back down on the table, another nurse beckoned her over to the computer and we heard a loud “Oh No!”, just as the consultant appeared with his best apologetic face on. Then he spoke the crushing words, “I’m sorry, it looks like we won’t be going ahead today”. My blood results were back and I’d failed spectacularly like the dumbest student in the class.
How chemotherapy works
Here’s the science bit for the uninitiated…chemotherapy kills off nasty cancer cells. That’s the great thing about it. Sadly chemo isn’t fussy about the cells it targets so it goes after some of the good ones too. That’s the bad thing and what causes all the horrible side effects anywhere cells divide and multiply quickly – hair, mouth, stomach, nails and so forth. In a three-week chemo cycle, your white blood cells that help your immune system fight off illness go on a bit of a rollercoaster ride. They start off at the top of the big dipper (all happy and hands in the air screaming), by week two they’ve plunged to the bottom of the drop (eyes tightly shut, gripping on with white knuckles) and in an ideal world by the end of week 3 they’re back up the other side (a bit worn out from the all the excitement but ready for the next loop). Unfortunately, my white blood cells were still loitering around the bottom of the dip, slow to get up the other side, most likely because they’ve been so busy fighting off this cold and ear infection to pay attention to where they were meant to be going.
No, no no…
As what was happening began to sink in, I tuned out of what the consultant was saying and just kept thinking, ‘I don’t care if the results are on the low side…I’m having chemo today if it kills me!’ Then tuned back in to him saying that if I had chemo with my current blood results it actually could kill me. Mmmm…ok, perhaps not.
When your immune system is shot through the chemo, a normally piffling infection can turn into a big rip-roaring illness that can result in something called neutropenic sepsis. It’s not to be messed with. My dad was effectively killed by his final round of chemotherapy. He ended up in hospital with a pneumonia and with a white blood cell count of zero he had no chance of fighting it off. So given the choice I agreed it was best not to go there.
I was devastated. It takes a lot of energy to work yourself up to a round of chemo. I’d also planned out the weeks ahead for work based of what would be my ‘good’ weeks. That was all out of sync now. I was due to finish chemo right before my lovely friend’s wedding in May and was planning to celebrate the end of that stage of treatment while there. Now I’d still be going until the following week. Not to mention the cannula that was already in my hand – what a waste of a good vein! And the fact my hair was now soaking wet and covered in conditioner which meant I’d have to wash it twice in two days (you’re only meant to do it once a week) and brush it again while wet, pulling out more loose hairs unnecessarily. So I unashamedly cried like a baby in front of the consultant, chemo nurses and other patients and left after a wasted afternoon with my tail between my legs sniveling into a tissue.
Stupid cold, stupid ear infection, stupid chemo, stupid cancer.
I came home and threw some stuff around and shouted a bit – like our little boy having a tantrum – until I felt better. Now I have to pick myself up again and go back on Monday hoping the cells have sorted their shit out.
The upside is I get to feel normal on my birthday this Saturday and we brought forward a trip to Llangoed Hall – our beautiful wedding hotel in Wales – where everything always seems so much brighter. I’ll be able to taste and enjoy the Champagne and the fabulous food as the chemo won’t be attacking my taste buds.
Dark clouds. Silver linings.