Chapter 7: First chemotherapy

14 APRIL 2010

I’m going I was going to have an early night but I wanted to post an update so that people know I am doing okay after my first session of chemotherapy.

Yesterday’s binge

Once or twice a month, I meet with some of my neighbours from where I moved in January for tea, cake and chat. When we had to move house, one of the reasons I wanted to stay nearby was because of these very good friends I’d made.

I’d rescheduled today’s get-together to yesterday so that I could host it. I made a variation on a lemon meringue pie that I’d been thinking about for months: chocolate and lime.

It was made with a base of Digestive biscuits, butter and the chocolate drips we were given at Sunday’s dinner. The filling consisted of condensed milk, egg yolks and lime juice. The meringue was whipped egg whites with *sigh* LOTS of sugar.

I didn’t have time to chill it before my friends and two new neighbours arrived and so the meringue wasn’t set in the middle. But the pie was yummy and VERY sweet. It was so sweet that we each had a very small piece each. Although I had two pieces.

Frank went into London for a discussion that evening (bloody election) whilst I stayed in, did some programming and then had dinner: left-over pasta from Sunday’s dinner party, a (much too)big portion of the pie and THEN a second bowl of pasta. (I recall that I binged the day before a previous clinic appointment. *sigh*)

I felt UNCOMFORTABLY full and my tummy was so stretched that it hurt to cough. Aye carumba.

The consequences of bingeing

I went to bed late last night and didn’t fall sleep quickly. I think the lack of sleep is why I have been suffering with the cold so much today.

I felt nauseous when I got up this morning. I was worried that I’d stupidly created a situation where I was more likely to throw up during chemo but I decided that making myself sick before-hand was probably not a good idea.

When I weighed myself, I was TWO POUNDS heavier than the day before. I had to use the outer-most hole on my trouser belt. (And my blouse button-hole ripped later on.) :-/

I left the house without eating anything as I couldn’t bear the thought of it.

Waiting

My appointment was for 9am. Frank was expecting morning traffic into Windsor, but we arrived ten minutes early. As advised last week, we parked in the main car park and put a temporary sign on the dashboard to replace with the free-parking pass we’d soon pick up.

We headed upstairs to the chest and oncology department and I presented myself at the reception desk. There was one woman in the waiting room.

As 9am came and went, department staff trickled in. I was facing the door, Frank the desk. I heard the various staff greet each other, joke and laugh. There was an organisational chart on the wall I was facing, with a photo for each person. As each new person arrived, I mentally ticked them off the chart.

At about 9:20am, I was called – just to get weighed. Their calibrated weighing seat put me at 5 lbs higher than my own reading (after deducting 3lbs for clothes).

The nurse ‘re-set’ the chair whilst I removed my jacket, cardigan and shoes. Allowing for my remaining clothes, the next weigh-in matched own reading. (I know that they measure out the chemo drugs according to weight [+ height].) The nurse told me that the doctors hadn’t arrived yet, and that was the reason for the delay.

Three other patients came and some went whilst Frank and I waited. I was a bit miffed to have to wait while staff arrived – and Frank was too, I think – and I didn’t read the book I’d chosen to pass the time, Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card.

After 9:30am, I was called again. The nurse explained that I was going straight through to the chemotherapy suite and that I didn’t have to see a doctor first. And now, writing this, I understand the relevance of the instructions I had been given last week when I was called with my appointment; I was told to say that I was there to “go straight through to chemo”. Instead I’d said “I’m here for chemo”.

Prepping

Frank and I entered a pleasant room with five power-assisted reclining armchairs that also help tip people out. I got a couple of pillows behind my back to that I could sit upright and read.

Each armchair was accompanied by an ordinary chair and a little side table with a box of tissues, an antibiotic hand gel, a box of biscuits or a bowl of individually-wrapped chocolate sweets. There was also a stand next to each chair for drips with a saline bag on one hook and a tube hanging from it.

I mustn’t have blood pressure or injections done on my left arm any more – the side of my surgery – and so they took my blood pressure and blood oxygen reading, then prepped my right hand.

Prepping my hand involved covering it with a clean thin sheet and then a very warm ‘wheat bag’. This is a microwavable bag of stuff that some people – including me – use instead of a hot water bottle. The heat from the bag would make the veins on the back of my hand more pronounced.

I figured that Frank could leave for an hour or so to get lunch once the drips had been started.

Drips

I was attended to by four different staff but spent time with the nurse who administered the drugs. He uncovered my hand and inserted a very fine needle (cannula?) into my now-bulging vein so that the valve would take the bigger needle.

My first drip was an anti-sickness drug. It made me feel a little light head for a few moments.

I’d come armed with a list of questions regarding what exactly I must do if a) I think I am coming down with something or b) if I find the sickness intolerable. I also asked a couple of questions involving avoiding infections that Frank suggested and about new medicines I was taking for acne and would soon be taking for hay-fever.

My nurse patiently and listened and helpfully answered all my questions. Frank made notes as my right writing hand was occupied.

I was chatting a lot with the nurse and he then produced a big needle attached to a huge syringe filled with a very pretty orangey-red liquid. I’d be getting the three chemo drugs, one by one. The needle was inserted into the slot attached to my hand. I realised quite some time later that he was hand-administering the red liquid, pushing a little in at a time.

I asked the nurse where he was from because he had a mixed Asian-English name. He turned out be a third-generation Christian from Pakistan. We chatted about many interesting things but I know it’s not appropriate to post them here. Chatting, however, turned out to be a great distraction. There was a cold sensation in my wrist but it soon passed.

With only a few millimetres of the red liquid left in the syringe, I realised I needed to pee pretty badly, even though I’d gone to the loo when I’d arrived. On saying so, I realised that the nurse expected it.

The red fluid was followed by a small saline drip – Frank said that it was to flush all of the chemotherapy drugs through. I then had chemotherapy drug #2 via a drip, another saline bag and then chemotherapy drug #3.

Goody bag

During my treatment, a woman from the pharmacy department brought me a large bag of medicines to take home together with a sheet explaining what to take when. She also went through each of  them with me.

Only three are must-take: two day’s worth of two anti-sickness drugs (including a steroid) and one for heartburn for taking every day.

The rest of the medicines were provided because it was my first session and no one knows which, if any side-effects I will experience and how severe they will be.

There is something I can take if I get diarrhoea and then something else I can take if instead I get constipated. There’s a mouthwash in case I get mouth ulcers (which turn out to be preventable if I brush or rinse my mouth after eating).

Finally, if the three sets of sickness drugs don’t work and I really suffer from vomiting, I have a fourth anti-sickness drug on hand. And, if that doesn’t do the trick and I am so sick that I cannot keep anything down, there’s a FIFTH anti-sickness drug on hand.

The lady said that some people are alarmed by the large amount of drugs but I think that making them available pre-emptively is such a great idea. I’d read on the BreastCancerCare forums of one woman having to wait seven hours for a night doctor when she were feeling sick and another complaining of heartburn.

I am so grateful that I am being seen at a hospital that has helped removed all my anxiety about being over-powered by side-effects.

That said, I was told today that the treatment clinics are reduced due to cuts in the NHS – they are split between this and the other two hospitals in the same Trust (which is why the senior staff are sometimes late: they have to travel from hospital to hospital). My nurse told me that I might have to wait sometimes whilst my drugs are prepared.

Cold caps

There were three other women in the suit with me having chemotherapy. One wore a head-scarf, one on her last – eight – session had cropped hair. I couldn’t tell if the third was wearing a wig. But not one of them – including me – wore a cold-cap during their therapy.

Frank is a star

I knew that Frank was preparing some stuff on his computer before we left this morning but I thought it was a map of the hospital. And, when I noticed that he brought his laptop with him, I figured it was because he would have something to do while he waited.

Instead, he’d put the unprocessed photos that I hadn’t yet seen from his Baltimore and Washington DC trip last October so that he could show them to to me.

Gosh. Glorious blue skies, great architecture and lots of interesting things. I was very touched that he had prepared this for me and told him so, then and after we got home.

I found that I got distracted a couple of times, just by my thoughts – he noticed it, was patient but didn’t ask me why.

I  was excited because I was feeling fine. I was having chemo and I wasn’t feeling ill. I was slightly delirious, in fact.

Side-effects

Well, what can I say, I don’t feel bad AT ALL.

In document in order, though, I felt a little light-headed with the first drip.

In the last ten minutes of the last drip, my nose started to feel weird. It was as if, half an hour earlier, I’d sniffed something strong, like bleach or spices and the lining of my nose was still smarting but without any lingering smell. This feeling was soon followed by a slight sore throat. The nose sensation didn’t last long.

I wasn’t surprised by either of these. I’d asked Frank a few days before whether chemotherapy drugs target fast-growing cells because that was what cancerous cells are. There’s so much traffic and change in one’s nose, mouth and throat that the cells need to be regularly replenished by, yes, fast-growing cells. And so, of course, they’d be affected by the chemotherapy drugs.

As I stood up and collected all my things (including the “I’m having chemo” alert card to put in my purse, my bag of meds, blood form, next appointment card, side-effect notes), I started to get a headache, fairly mild.

I bought some Aspirin on the way home (I mustn’t take Paracetamol, which I bought for post-surgery, as it lowers my body temp which would mask if I got a slight fever). But my headache was gone once I was home and I was feeling hungry.

I  had a cottage cheese salad followed by a small piece of chocolate and lime meringue pie (even though I promised myself I wouldn’t have any more after last night’s mega binge).

Are you surprised that I felt nauseous afterwards? It was EXACTLY the same kind of nausea I’d had when I woke up that day.

The nausea passed after an hour. My throat was a little sore again.

I started to read the information I’d been given about the side-effects and signs to look out for. I decided to pop out to buy a soft tooth brush and some mouthwash.

It was a cold but a lovely bright afternoon and so I decided to turn the outing into a proper walk  by walking up and back down the long High Street.

I remembered that the oncologist had said that walking was good exercise during chemo, especially since it’d mean being around normal everyday outdoor stuff that my body would have to deal with and keep it running as well as it could.

I walked briskly up the main street and decided to look for the public footpath into Ascot Racecourse. I couldn’t find it and so I will continue to look for it in walks every day. I was out walking for over an hour.

Second meal

I ate again at 8pm: home-made tomato soup with vegetables and lentils. I figured that I wasn’t going to have another meal later and so I ”treated’ myself (ahem) with a handful of the crisps I’d just bought for Frank and real butter (left-over from the pie recipe) on my Crackerbreads.

I ate my soup slowly and felt okay afterwards. I really couldn’t face the pie again and so chopped a banana into a small bowl with various, umm, things and topped it all with a dollop of yoghurt.

I felt nauseous after that too – the same kind as before. Probably because I eat TOO DAMN MUCH when I am not really hungry, but possibly because of the milk-products reacting with the chemo drugs. I’ll try a milk-free breakfast tomorrow.

Tomorrow and beyond

If I don’t post daily updates, it will hopefully because I’m still feeling fine and there’s nothing new to report. Don’t worry that it’ll be because I’m feeling too bad to post.

I am hoping that today sets the tone for the rest of my chemotherapy and that I will be one of those people who experience the minimum of side-effects. If that happens, I will wonder if I am actually from another planet, as I’ve had so very little about my treatment to complain about.

Wordle: https://pootability.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/chapter-7-first-chemotherapy/

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3 thoughts on “Chapter 7: First chemotherapy

  1. Great that your first chemo is done – I hope you are still feeling reasonably ok and the side effects kind to you. Take care. FBG

  2. Hi Paola,

    I’m sorry I missed this the first time round. I had thought your chemo started at the end of April. Will keep in touch better, I promise.

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