Thursday 14th March officially marks the start of what will become my new routine, it’s day 1 of my first chemotherapy cycle.
A Perfect Pathetic Fallacy
I wake up to hear the rain lashing down and the wind whipping its way around our house. I can almost feel the roof tiles straining as the wind tries to force its way in, probing and piercing any tiny hole it can find. I wonder if it’s an ominous sign, but then I decide that the weather is probably a fitting reflection of how I am feeling. Inside of me a storm is raging, yet I am doing my best to appear calm.
What Is The Appropriate Facebook Status?
I head downstairs. I’m unsure of what I should be doing with myself. My phone starts pinging with messages, friends and family wishing me luck. I feel grateful for their support. I haven’t really spoken about my cancer diagnosis on my personal Facebook page. I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was. How do you announce “I’ve got cancer” on your personal status? Instead, I chose the coward’s approach and I chose to announce it on my Island Living 365 Facebook page, blog and Instagram. It felt safer somehow. Plus, I know that a lot of family and friends follow my social media and it seems an easier way of keeping everyone updated. I also don’t want to talk about it too much on my personal Facebook page, it’s where I go to when I am seeking normality. Don’t get me wrong, I have sent messages to friends informing me of my cancer diagnosis. One to a friendship WhatsApp group that is still named ‘Moonwalk’. The Moonwalk we did in memory of our friend who died from breast cancer. I’m not sure how I feel about the name. It acts as a constant reminder that I may not beat this cancer, but then I don’t want the name changed either, that would be wrong.
How Does One Dress For Chemo?
I decide to announce on my personal Facebook page that I start chemo today and leave a link to my blog, just in case I have missed someone off. It seems crass but the easiest thing to do as well. I didn’t have anything to worry about as I’m rewarded with messages of support and love on my post and into my DMs. I feel like I can do this now. After breakfast I head upstairs to get ready. I suddenly realise that I don’t know what to wear to chemo. How ridiculous that I am now preoccupied with what I should dress like. I decide that I want to dress well, power dress my way through this chemo. This translates into me dressing like I’m going in for a day at the office. I wear my leopard print skirt with go faster stripes down the side, and a smart white shirt, silver bee necklace, and brown ankle boots. I’m all about the details today. I take the time to wash my hair and I enlist Mr C to help me curl it (he is available to hire 😉 ). I then realise that I will probably need to be a bit warmer and I end up ruining the perfectly put together look with a tatty cardigan. At least the cat-eye flick of my eyeliner is looking on point. It has only taken me all of my adult life to finally nail the perfect eyeliner flick.
We arrive at the hospital with 45 minutes to spare. I’m clutching a box of shortbread biscuits and a card that I want to give to my nurse who has been supporting me through this. However, now we can’t find anywhere to park. The car park is full and there is a snake of cars queueing to get in. In the end, Mr C is forced to drop me off at the hospital entrance as he goes off in search of somewhere to park. I decide to go and find the office of my lovely nurse but the hospital is a maze of corridors and I find myself getting lost. Eventually I locate her office and leave the biscuits and card with the receptionist. Mr C arrives just in time and we head up to the oncologist’s department.
Booking Into The Cocktail Bar
On arrival there is one other woman sat in the reception area. She is probably in her late 60s and is clearly here for her cocktail too. She flashes me a warm smile as I hover by the reception desk, unsure what to do. “It’s okay” she reassures me, “Just press the bell, they won’t mind”. In the end I ring the bell and I inform the lady that I am here for my first lot of chemo. She is obviously not fazed by this, whereas I find the words trip out nervously. My first round of chemo. This was somewhere I never expected to find myself. First of all I am taken in to see my specialist cancer doctor. We talk through what to expect and I fire questions at him. After three months of chemo and, if the radiotherapy doesn’t need to happen, when can I have my op? Then, how long will I have to wait before I have further chemo after my op? He tells me that I need to accept that this is going to be a long process and that the rest of the year will be out. I want to cry in frustration. He tells me to focus on it like a football game – in my head I am thinking about how much I dislike football – I need to take one day/match at a time, I can’t look too far forward. But, this is me all over. I’m always looking forward, planning holidays, challenges; I always need something to aim for. Then it dawns on me. For now, cancer is my life. I will live it; breathe it. This is the biggest challenge of my life and I need to do everything possible to overcome this challenge. I might not want cancer to define me, but it is going to be a huge part of me for now. For what feels like the hundredth time that day, I mutter piss off Phyllis in my head.
What I can Expect
I am then taken away by the Charge Nurse who talks me through the side effects of the possible chemo treatment I will be having. Some of them I wasn’t expecting and I feel rather alarmed: getting cold will make my voice box rattle and it will feel like someone is putting their hands around my neck and squeezing my throat. It will feel like I’m being strangled. I shudder. Then there is the pins and needles, sickness, hair thinning or loss, inability to touch anything that isn’t room temperature, fuzzy brain, constipation, diarrhoea, only being able to drink warm or tepid drinks, loss of sensation in the tips of your fingers, the list goes on; in my head I’m struggling to concentrate. However, I reassure myself that I can deal with all of them and it will be worth it.
We are shown into the ward. They are bays of three with curtains round should you require privacy. I estimate that there are about 12 treatment bays. The ward is heaving and, for some reason, I’m surprised. I’m not sure why. We all know that cancer is only too common. I’m settled into my chair and I’m told that I will need to keep warm so that I don’t get any of the voice box side effects. The only problem is that I can feel the hospital air-con blasting down the back of my neck. I pull up my cardigan around my neck and my lovely and amazing Charge Nurse helps me get comfortable. He gives me a heat pad to help keep my arm warm and then he starts setting me up for the chemo.
A Human Pin Cushion
Mr C has to look away as he can’t stand seeing me being prodded like a pin cushion and he has a phobia of needles. Just looking at one makes him feel like he is going to faint. The other nurses delight in the fact that a 6ft 6” bear of a man is a total wuss when it comes to needles and they threaten to take some of his blood. The needle goes in and I’m hooked up so that the anti-sickness drugs can start doing their work. It takes about 20 minutes. When it hits my veins I think I can taste something, so I start sucking on some sweets. We are provided with a bowl of sweets and there is also a vast selection of teas and coffee. Closing my eyes, I could almost be somewhere nice.
I then have my blood pressure and temperature taken. I come up as being 37.7 and the nurse raises it with another nurse, thankfully they aren’t too concerned and I am given the go ahead to continue. Finally, the good stuff starts to hit the system. The chemo is now beginning to seep around my body, destroying everything it encounters. My arm starts to tingle and I start to feel a bit peculiar. I tell myself that I’m just panicking and start distracting myself with some of the magazines I have brought along.
The Charge Nurse then appears at my side with all the chemo drugs that I will need to take at home for the next two weeks. There are mountains of them and I’m taken aback by how many there are. But, every pill means that I am a step closer to being bowel cancer free. They talk me through them and my brain feels cloudy. I’m struggling to concentrate but luckily Mr C is listening carefully and remembering everything for me.
I Love A Goodie Bag!
Next, I am given a goodie bag. It’s a lovely tote bag filled with useful items that I may find handy when I am going through chemo. Such a kind gesture and I nearly cry at this simple act of kindness. The bag is filled with parking cards, a blanket, a thermometer, lip balm and other useful bits.
Finally, I am done. I am now pumped to the brim with chemo and I’m free to go. I wave everyone a cheery goodbye and I tell them that I will see them in three weeks. Mr C goes to bring the car to the hospital door because it’s blowing a gale-force wind outside. However, even the short 10-second dash to the car affects my voice box and I immediately feel like someone is strangling me. I leap into the car panicking, clutching at my throat. I can’t breathe. Mr C tells me to calm down and reminds me to breathe through my nose. After several minutes the symptoms subside and I feel calmer again. It’s not a feeling I ever want to repeat.
We make it home and I don’t feel too bad. In fact, I feel wired. I wonder if there were some steroids in the chemo mix. Later that night I wake up at 1am and I unable to get back to sleep. In the gloom of the bedside lamp I lay awake and listen to the wind, I cry silently to myself. I then start looking for distractions and leap onto Google. I’m horrified to read the news of Christchurch: 49 people dead, including children. My heart breaks for them. It’s a stark reminder that there is always something worse going on. Those innocent adults and children went to their place of worship; somewhere that should be safe. They did not expect that their lives would be cut abruptly short. I shut down Google and decide that I need to see this Phyllis as a blessing. At least I went to the doctors and they found it; yes, I have a chance to save my life.
Day 1, cycle one, done. I’m one day closer to beating Phyllis.