I’m now at the stage where I can look back at the previous cycles of chemotherapy and breathe a huge sigh of relief that I’ve almost made it through this first lot of treatment.
The different cycles of chemo
Cycle one hit me like a sledgehammer, and for a while there I was knocked sideways. I questioned everything: whether I had the strength to fight it, whether my marriage would survive and whether my children would be scarred for life having been exposed to cancer at such a young age.
The side effects
Gradually I emerged from the fog and cycle 2 was a more positive experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never easy, chemotherapy is a roller coaster. You are pumping your body full of poison in the hope that it will kill off your cancer and not you. Some of the side effects for the combination of chemo I was on (CAPOX) were: throat spasms (I had this for the first couple of cycles but it eased), it feels like someone is putting their hands around your throat and strangling you (avoiding cold drinks and the cold will help prevent this), vein pain (so very painful), nosebleeds, bleeding gums, rash, diarrhoea (I spent too much time in the toilet during cycle 3 and 4), peripheral neuropathy (bane of my life), soreness and redness of palms and soles of feet (just my feet, luckily), feeling sick (yep), loss of appetite (sadly not 😉 ), sore mouth, fatigue (oh, yes), skin change (spotty forehead), hair thinning (yes, but I’m lucky because I had an out of control bird nest before I started), headaches (just a few) and infertility.
Long-term side effects
This type of chemo treatment can also cause changes to your lungs and affect the way your heart works. That’s right, chemo can damage your lungs and heart. If you are lucky enough to survive chemo you may find that you still have to live with some of the side effects of chemo for the rest of your life. Chemotherapy is never a piece of cake. It really is bloody hard, and it can feel like a long slog. However, cancer patients, like myself, will put up with the multitude of side effects because we all want to get better. We all want to be cancer free. During cycle 2 I had some very good days and I started running again. However, cycle 3 saw me becoming poorly from sepsis; now I find myself nearing the end of cycle 4.
Cycle 4 has been a whirlwind. I feel like my health is still recovering from cycle 3 and I’ve struggled with fatigue, diarrhoea, sore feet and peripheral neuropathy. However, it could have been a lot worse and I’m grateful that it has been a fairly kind cycle. This cycle has also been another one where it has felt like I’ve spent more days in the hospital than out. I had my CT scan, MRI scan, meeting with oncologist and meeting with my surgeon.
The scans were not pleasant but far easier to cope with compared to last time. They reminded me of how far I have come in 3 months. When I had my first CT scan all those months ago, I remember struggling to hold back the tears and frantically spending my time praying as I swung through the doughnut hole. I did have some flashbacks, but I kept it together this time. I found the MRI scan harder. No-one wants to be confined in a tiny tunnel for 45 minutes, especially when you aren’t allowed to move or talk.
However, those scans were all worth it because they gave us some good news. The chemo is working. Phyllis has shrunk a little and even better is that some of the lymph nodes have gone completely and the rest have shrunk. Plus, it looks like the cancer hasn’t spread. This is amazing and such a relief. The oncologist was very happy; the surgeon was really, really happy as he had previously thought I would need radiotherapy. He said whatever it is I am doing, I need to keep doing it. So, I will continue to not drink coffee but still eat all the cake 😉 as well as plodding very slowly.
So what does this mean for my future treatment? The good news is, as I mentioned earlier, I won’t need radiotherapy. I was hoping I wouldn’t need this as it would have meant about 6 weeks on the mainland without the girls. It now means that when this cycle finishes I have a couple of weeks off before I go in for my first op. They will be removing Phyllis but I am also very lucky because I will be the recipient of some pioneering surgery. If the surgery goes to plan I will only have an ileostomy for 9 days. That would be amazing because you can end up having an ileostomy for 6 months or permanently.
The next step
Obviously, the operation is a serious one and I am literally sh*tting it, but this will be the major turning point in my treatment. Phyllis and the lymph nodes will be sent off and the results will determine whether I need more chemo post-op. It will also tell us more about the type of tumour I have. I understand that it will be tested for Lynch Syndrome which will alert us as to whether the girls need to be monitored in the future. As the recovery from the op is likely to be a lengthy one, I’ve been told to get away now. So, we have booked a last-minute holiday where I will be following doctors’ orders and taking it easy.
There is still a long way to go but I feel like I’m making progress. I’m so grateful that the chemo seems to be working and I feel very lucky because I won’t need radiotherapy. I am only too aware that there are people who won’t be as lucky as me. I am now allowing myself to look to the future a little and I have lots of exciting plans.
I might be scared but I’m ready to crack on. I can do this; I have a life I want to get back to.
Thanks to everyone who kindly donated to my Cancer Research Race for Life. If you would like to sponsor me you can do so here. I have now completed the Race for Life and so far we have raised £4,140. That’s amazing! Together we are making an incredible difference. Thank you xxxx