Chemotherapy

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Chemo what is Chemo? I had no idea. Later speaking to friends they were unsure if you sat in a room and inhaled it. Everyone seems to know the word but not many know what it entails.

I quickly read online the origins of Chemotherapy. First discovered in World War I they realised Mustard Gas used in chemical warfare had a compound in it that rapidly damaged growing white blood cells. I wasn’t convinced that Chemo was the right route to go down. What would this potent chemical do to healthy tissues in my body. So many side effects it might kill the cancer but what else was it killing? How long would it stay in my body? Would it ever truly leave? After all if you have had chemo you will never be eligible to give blood. That should make alarm bells ring. But what alternatives did I have? Apparently I had little time to research and make a well informed decision. Information was all over the place it was taking too long to research. The doctors told me NOT to look online as I would just scare myself. And just to read the Macmillan Cancer leaflets.

First Chemo

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I arrived at the Chemo ward and remember the smell of chemicals. We sat in the waiting room where you can eat all the sugary biscuits you want!!! So ridiculous when glucose helps fuel cancer cells. A nice nurse takes me and Mum into a room to tell me about the process and the list of side effects. It took over an hour of chat. The first three chemos (FEC) would take around 5 hours each to be inserted into me. The last 3 the T part Docetaxel would have the most side effects and make me feel terrible. ‘Forget about that for now’ he said lets get through the first three.

I decided to give the cold cap a go. They take a while getting that on my head. I had to take my first steroids and anti sickness drugs and let them get into my system. Then they will insert a cannula and the red solution will be inserted. Each time it needs to be changed it will start beeping. One sound you never forget in chemo all those beeps!

FEC is made up from three different solutions Fluorouracil (5FU), Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide

The line was in and they attached the drip. This was the first time I had ever been hooked up to a machine. I remember watching the red solution being injected into the end of the drip and slowly make its way up the tiny tube heading to my veins. This is it I thought. Chemo will soon be all over my body, I really did have Cancer! Here I was at 35 going through a struggle I would never have imagined. After an hour I was feeling slightly sick. They gave me some more anti sickness and kept checking on the line. If it leaks it causes blisters and can lead to amputation!! It’s amazing how resilient your insides must be.

It was so nice having Mum, Dad and Kevin with me. They all sat with me when other people only had one person with them if that. I was very thankful. I got the special comfy chair with the reclining foot rest!! The food trolly arrived you could buy crisps, biscuits and some horrible sandwiches. Screaming healthy eating!! Mum decided to walk into Camberwell to try and find me something slightly more healthy.

Seven hours later and I was all done. I had to sit for an hour to see how I was feeling and let the tablets kick in. I had to take more steroids at 8pm and they said it would be unlikely I would be able to sleep. I was feeling tired and not myself. Drained and sickly. I was excited as my brother and his wife Steph were over from LA and meeting us in Brixton. I was feeling too sick to go out for a coffee so we all headed back to my flat.

By 6.30pm I was ready to sleep. Mum slept next to me after every Chemo for a couple of nights as we had no idea what the side effects would be. I was feeling very very achy and got no sleep until 4am when the steroids must have worn off and finally let me sleep for a few hours. The next few nights it was very hard to sleep. Once you have nothing to occupy your mind you feel all the aches and pains. I can’t explain how chemo makes you feel inside. It get’s into every single bone and you ache and ache and ache. The flu is a walk in the park in comparison.

The picture above is the first day after Chemo. I managed to go into the center of London and stayed out all day till 9.30pm. I had to take steroids and various anti sickness drugs every four hours for the next four days. Kevin came to meet us in the pub. I was so happy to see him. He is the only one who knows exactly what I went through, throughout all my treatment he was constantly by my side.

My tastes were changing I hated the taste of tea and coffee. My mouth tasted like I had a constant array of dirty metal coins in there. Yuck! Wine tasted disgusting. Eating pineapple was meant to help soothe your mouth. It was a nice 2 minute relief.

I had Chemo every Friday in the hopes that I was well enough to work again come Monday. Luckily I could work from home and take the odd nap when I needed. I had big deadlines with my client BOYD so needed to be well.

Three weeks later

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The image above was taken the day after Chemo number two. The week previous my hair was coming out so fast, that we shaved it.

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Sat outside at our after the hospital chill out pub, I was very aware of my baldness as I had only just shaved it all of. Kevin made it all seem so natural, as though it was no big deal to anyone that may stare. He instantly made me feel at ease.

Three is the magic number

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Third Chemo, i’m half way through – yeah!. The nurses were dying to get a picc line inserted into my arm. Something I tried to resist. Not only would it be hard playing netball with something stuck into my arm, but it would be a 24 hour reminder when I wasn’t at the hospital of what I was going through. Taking a shower would be a pain in the butt trying not to get the picc line wet. I’m sure the nurses only wanted me to get one as it made their lives so much easier. There was a risk of the chemo leaking through my veins but I was optimistic. Of course on the third chemo they just couldn’t get a line in. Funny that. I told them to keep trying but 8 attempts later and they said they couldn’t try anymore as my veins had given up.

More about the picc line in the next section so I will skip through the finer details and back to chemo. The line was in and I could now sit through another 5 hours of chemo.

Number four the start of Docetaxel

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Docetaxel was tough. Chemo itself takes less time. You get less solution going into your body but it hits you quicker. This time I needed to self inject myself for a few days after to keep help my White Blood cells regenerate. The aching was unbelievable and my mouth was very sore and tasted really bad, worse than ever. No foods seem appealing. This time I stayed in bed a lot longer. I even needed help walking to the bathroom. I had zero energy to even read a book or watch the tv. After a few days I would struggle to go out for a few hours but often I had to come home.

Chemo was still on a Friday and I was lucky it was never delayed. The week before every chemo you have to go to hospital to get your bloods checked to make sure you had enough healthy cells for your body to cope with wiping them out again.

Of course my work deadlines were growing and often I wondered how I would get through, but I managed. I tired to do everything as normal with my picc line, even going to work meetings. Kevin bought me a Nike arm sleeve so I could wear that over the picc line and hide it from the umpires whilst I played netball, as I am sure they wouldn’t have allowed me to play. They must have thought something was up when I would throw off my beenie when it got too hot and I’m sure their insurance didn’t cover me. My netball games were pretty rubbish. I could only really manage to play the week before the next chemo so every two weeks and I hardly lasted after the second quarter as I just had no energy to run. I am so glad I did continue with it though as I think it helped to speed up my recovery.

Number five

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A trip to the Natural History Museum, but I needed a rest.

Final Chemo 14th December 2012

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Finally the last Chemo. It was a relief to get it over with. My parents decided to put me straight in their car after treatment and make the six hour drive back to their house so I would be home for Christmas. We knew if we left it a few days after the treatment I would feel too ill to sit in a car. So off we drove, me in the back covered with my duvet. I’m so glad we did that as for the next three weeks I hardly got out of bed. Boy was it bad this time round. But it was a countdown I knew that these feelings would be over soon enough.

I had no energy to even get out of bed and couldn’t manage trips to the bathroom without holding onto my parents. I just lay and slept I couldn’t stand any noise or to read or watch tv.

The sickness, the aching inside my body and bones I just can’t even describe. I was thankful though that I had made it this far and I hadn’t physically been sick once! That was something to be proud of!

I always wore a hat in bed my head got so cold. Christmas Day I managed to sit on the sofa in my Pj’s but on New Year’s Eve I was in bed asleep by 10pm. But I was on the mend. Soon I had to get back to London for more surgery to remove the rest of my Lymph Nodes……..