We welcome an update from friend Rosie who has come to the end of her chemo treatment for breast cancer; surgery next. Cancer, especially breast cancer, is as random as it is insidious. A nasty bloody thing that strikes without warning, and is completely agnostic it seems to me, as to lifestyle, background, age or fitness. Sooner we get this licked the better. Anyway, well done girl and good luck.
ALF : Cycle 7 & 8
Forgive the delay : With Cycle 7 occurring in the 'no-man's land' between Christmas and New Year and Cycle 8 being so much more exciting plus a flurry of meetings with the "team"... a major 'Ta-dah' moment worth waiting for : After 5 months and 2 weeks, I have finished 8 cycles of chemotherapy. What seemed an eternity back in August last year as I sat quivering in the padded Chemo Chair of Doom, has finally become a reality. Cannot quite believe it. Whilst half of me is obviously dancing up and down with glee, the other half feels strangely discombobulated… but I can’t quite put my finger on why?
Of course I am ecstatic that I can kiss goodbye to the multitude of drugs that have been flooding my system on a 3-weekly basis : over 10 different flavours at the last count. From the high-powered cancer-busting chemo itself to steroids; anti-sickness to self-administered injections to encourage white cell growth; numerous pain relief and not forgetting every laxative known to man…. I could write a thesis on laxatives…
Even better, no more chemo equals infinitely less side effects, although to be honest I think I have been reasonably lucky in this department - it was like a bad hangover that lasted for a week or so after each session. Actually, I guess that’s exactly what it is - but replacing lovely wine with poisonous chemicals - or to put it another way, the hangover without the preceding fun. Thanks to the anti-emetics I was never sick, but did feel queasy, headachey, tired, fuzzy and emotional and have I mentioned laxatives...? Luckily escaped the ravages of mouth ulcers, weight gain and permanent insomnia, but did fall foul of losing my sense of taste, spectacular skin rashes on my hands and feet and a nasty brush with Shingles.
I certainly won't miss the steroids given to prevent allergic reactions and nausea that have such an interesting effect : each chemo session was accompanied by a constantly scarlet face and a manic ‘steroid-high’ followed by a dramatic crash into the depths of despair and weeping for 24 hours non-stop - only to awaken the next day feeling OK again. “Stroppy Saturday” has long been a regular fixture in the household after "Chemo Wednesday" and close family quickly learned to run for cover accordingly.
The scariest side effect of all has to be the hair loss... everywhere. On a good day I can cope with being bald and looking like Bruce Willis "in da house". On a bad day I just feel plain revolting and deeply unwomanly, freaking out when I look in the mirror and see Gollum staring back at me (Good morning, my Precious…..) The no nasal hair is a bit of bummer as well. Come back, all is forgiven! Everyday it looks like I have a bigger coke problem than Daniella Westbrook - sniff, sniff! To me, nasal hair is now as precious as Saffron…
Unfortunately, not all the side effects with chemo stop with the final treatment. Naively, before starting chemo I thought it was all about vomiting and hair loss, but alas this is not the case. As previously mentioned, I am really struggling with chemo brain. I used to be a reasonably intelligent, efficient, multitasking individual with an awesome memory (though I do say so myself). I am now so forgetful it’s not funny. I have zero concentration and multitasking is a thing of the past. It is confusing, inconvenient and bloody frustrating, but at least a well-known fact and not to be confused with early onset dementia or brain secondaries. All I can do is wait for my little grey cells to start behaving again. I am also struggling with eyesight, severe fatigue and fitness levels… so I guess this goes some way to explaining the “I’ve Finished Chemo, But I Still Feel Rubbish Scenario…”
As for the rest of the way..? Having been plotting my escape from the Oncology Unit ever since my arrival over 5 months ago, I was completely taken aback by the deep rush of emotion when I was officially allowed to leave. Instead of the imagined triumphal sprint down the corridor shouting "byeee ... and thanks for all the drugs", Mark had to practically prise my finger tips from the door frame trying to exit to the car park... I am probably suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but there is no doubt the protective bubble of the Oncology Unit whilst enduring chemo focuses the mind to the exclusion of everything else. The nurses are amazing (I had to hug them all - twice), you are looked after so beautifully and supported by a group of women going through exactly the same horrific nightmare. It's only when you leave that you realise you're on your own again and actually have to face up to the question of "has it worked?" Annoyingly ALF is still very much a "presence" and although the powers-that-be have warned me not to get too fixated on this, I am hoping it is a ghostly one and as dead as the proverbial door nail. I won't know the definitive answer until after surgery, but I hope to have a clue on Monday after spending most of the day in the MRI... Watch this space.
As ever, I leave you with the good : chemo is officially over.... Onwards and upwards.
The better : my head hair continues to grow... very slowly, 50 shades of grey and I won't be plaiting it any time soon... but still making a comeback!
The best : logistically, things are moving forward at warp factor 9.... Surgery booked for Monday 22nd February. ALF will finally be excised..... Next update from the OR and beyond.