Monday 17th September 2007; after leaving the breast clinic, I had 5 minutes to get over to the Chemotherapy Day Case for my Sixth Chemo. I can’t believe that it has come round so quickly, but then again, I do have it every two weeks now. I also can’t believe that soon I will be at the end of my chemo, after today I will have just two more to do, before I can say goodbye to the chemo centre and nurses.
I have now started to hesitate as I approach the double doors leading onto the ward. Lee laughs at me, as he knows why I have the hesitation. “You can’t smell it” he said as he opened the door, ushering for me to go through. He was talking about the disgusting stench of the chemo that I smell now every time I come here. Before entering I feel fine, that fine I feel like I shouldn’t even be here, I don’t feel like I am someone who is going through cancer treatment, but as I walk onto the ward the smell of the chemo is that strong that my stomach churns and a sickness feeling overwhelms me. I walk down the corridor to the reception desk trying to keep my mouth closed, positive that I will be able to taste it too. I take short shallow breaths and try to close off my nostrils so that I don’t let too much of the stench up. Only problem with this, is that it makes me a little light headed and eventually have to open my mouth to take in a deep deep gasp air. I hold onto the reception desk to support myself through the dizziness and then as always, the hot flush rears making me feel more dizzy and unwell. When I have one of these flushes I picture myself like one of them cartoon characters that have steam coming out of their neck collar and ears. Big bursts of steam, like a boiling kettle pushing the steam out because it had reached boiling point. When I think about it like that, I can picture my blood boiling and boiling so there is no wonder that my face and skin go a bright lobster red.
I wonder if it’s just me who thinks they can smell the chemo. Is it a part of my imagination brought on from the knowledge that I hate coming here? Have I made up a smell for something just because it’s a nasty toxin and because of how it makes me feel? I don’t think so; after all the chemo really only makes me feel tired. Oh yes; mustn’t forget the flushes, the dizzy spells and lately the aches and pains that seem to have developed, which Lee is still convinced is down to the radioactive body scan that I’d had. I’m not so convinced, I’m sure it started before then, but I can’t be sure, I didn’t log it, I didn’t write it down, Why? because the chemo has made me so dam tired that I couldn’t be arsed to get my journal, or was it because I fell asleep, then again it could be because I had just downright forgotten too.
Anyways I checked in at the chemo ward reception and then took a seat in the waiting room, I thought we were going to be in for a long wait, but today I was wrong. At last, I am actually having my chemo on time, no delays waiting for bloods to be re-checked and no waiting for the pharmacy to make up my dosage. I was called in straight away, which immediately I started to add up the time to what time Lee and I would be heading back for home. Due to my blacking out episode, my nurse still insists that I have the bed. I don’t mind, I can get more comfortable lying back on it rather than sitting up in a recliner chair.
It’s getting to be a normal thing now that they have to have more than one attempt to get a vein, they were small when I started back in May, but now that the chemo has done the damage, my veins have shrivelled up to virtually nothing. I have heard of occasions when veins have become so bad that they use a vein in your foot which is supposed to be very painful. No thank you very much; I am not having a needle shoved there. While the nurse got everything ready on the trolley and checked everything off, I stood at the sink with both hands stuck under the hot tap. I ran the water that hot that in seconds my veins were popping up all over the place and my hands had now become the same shade of red as my face, due to yet another hot flush. Which Lee kindly pointed out for me! “At lease I’m colour co-ordinated” I laughed. Sitting back down and placing both my hands on the pillow for the nurse to find the best vein I noticed that I had veins I didn’t even know I had. It’s a good thing that hot water. Up to now, I have alternated which hand I have had the chemo in, but now that they are getting that bad, I have decided not to bother and leave it up to the nurse to find what I hope is going to be the one that will play ball. Today it took just 3 attempts. The usual, bag of saline flush, pre-meds of anti-nausea, steroids etc were done and then the bag of Paclitaxol was attached. One hour to go with this and then the bag of Gemcitabine.
When veins become bad, they close up, making it more difficult for the chemo to run in smoothly. The bleeper on the machine was bleeping every 2 minutes. My nurse probably ran a full marathon today with the amount of running back and forth to reset my machine. I had to keep my arm as still as possible as moving my arm around slowed down the drip down to the point that on quite a few occasions it stopped flowing in. It wasn’t long before I started to feel very very sleepy, so I told Lee to go home or to go see his mum until I rang him to say I was nearly done. I was in safe hands and I can imagine that sitting with someone having a 5 hour chemo session can be a very boring task, and that is without the patient falling asleep either. Lee gave me a quick kiss, told me he loved me and said he would be back at 6. I told him I would ring him, he smiled and as he walked out the door he turned round and said “I’ll see you at 6”.
I felt a little more at ease after Lee had gone, it’s not that I didn’t want him with me, it’s just that I feel I can’t relax properly while anyone else is there with me. I feel like I have to make conversation with them all the time, when all I want to do is close my eyes and sleep. I drifted in and out of sleep and the one hour of paclitaxol turned out to be an hour an half. I had a quick ten minute flush of saline and then the gemcitabine was attached. I looked up at the clock; it was now half past 3, adding the 4 hours on for the gemcitabine meant that I wouldn’t get finished until about half past 8. The paclitaxol, had really made me tired, this chemo gives me a real woozy feeling, no sicky feeling, but just woozy, dizzy and tired. The Gemcitabine on top of that makes me even more tired that I get very fidgety because all the steroid that I have had keep telling me to go for a jog.
I don’t go to chemo with my wig anymore. I go with a simple bandana and comfy clothes, usually a tracksuit. If I had my way, I would travel up to the hospital in my Pyjama’s, Dressing Gown and Slippers. Now this outfit is the comfiest there is in the whole wide world and has become my favourite attire. I live in them and sleep in them and my wash basket now only seems to consist of Pyjama’s. It works out better not having the wig on anymore, they get too hot and itchy, especially in the lovely weather that we still seem to be having. Mix warm sunny days with menopausal hot flushes they add up to two things; red shiny face and top on, top off. Everyone here seems to have their heads covered up. It would take just one person to go bald then I would be one happy bunny going commando so to speak. Maybe I should be the one to make the first move, maybe I should, but I don’t. I’m a chicken, which I have no clue why as in here were all in the same boat, all bald, well with the exception of the nurses and one lady who was their having her first chemo. She reminded me of me, wide eye’d and watching every move her nurse made, taking in all that she was told, scared of how the chemo was going to make her feel, but eager to get it started.
I’d fallen into sleep again, and jumped a little as I woke, I had been startled. I looked around very sheepishly to see the look on everyone’s face around me.. Did the other patients hear me? Did the nurses hear me? Bloody hell I heard me and I was asleep, I had snorted that loud from snoring that I had woken myself up, making me jump in the process. No one seemed to be looking in my direction and were merrily going about their own business. When I glanced up to the bag of chemo, my heart sank as it had stopped dripping again; this was disheartening enough without the fact that the bag seemed no emptier than it did 20 minutes ago before I had fallen asleep. I couldn’t understand this, my arm hadn’t moved, it was still in the same position. So why had it stopped dripping now. Did sleep stop it?
My whole arm was freezing from the chemo going in now. I just wanted it to hurry up and finish so I could go home. I can’t believe how a little things can trigger off emotions. My chemo has stopped again... I want to go home. I’m guna be here all night at this rate... Noooo, I want to go home. The more I told myself that I wanted to go home, the more I wanted it. I wanted to go home and the thought that I had to be here and would be here for many hours to come, made me want home more and more. Looking around and watching the faces of the other patients I started to talk to myself. Oh don’t worry, they won’t be sending the white van with the square wheels and give me one of those funny puzzle back to front jackets quite yet. I talked to myself quietly in my head. Oooh now that last sentence sounds like I’ve really los the plot, I think they had better get the white van and jacket on ready and on standby. Anyway what was I talking to myself about, well; ‘How much longer is this chemo going to take now?’ my thought voice asked. I had no answer apart from, ‘A bloody long time’. I have come to the point now that I am fed up of this treatment, I want it over with. I’m tired, weak, very frustrated and fat. Oooh where did the fat come from, I was supposed to be feeling sorry for myself because of being fed up of lying here in the bloody hospital bored out of m brains which is the reason why I am talking to myself. I kept looking up at the chemo bag whishing for it to empty. “If it wasn’t for that cow ‘Dr X’ I wouldn’t be here” I angrily told myself. Why? Why do I start to get angry towards ‘Dr X’ when I start to feel sorry for myself? I am no psychiatrist but I reckon it’s because I won’t allow myself to feel self pity, or maybe by turning it into anger towards her, it gives me more fighting spirit. The thing is, today is my sixth dose of chemo and I have now had enough, so maybe I shouldn’t have gone on the trial and just had the standard 6 doses of FEC. So really, half of this I have brought upon myself. Yes if ‘Dr X’ had listened to me and my cancer had been picked last year, then the chances of needing chemo would have been very slim. But! She didn’t listen to me so I do need the chemo. It was my choice that I opted for the trial that consisted of a harsher, stronger chemo with 2 more dosage than the standard chemo treatment. So thinking of that, who is really to blame?
I drifted off to sleep once again, while still fighting in my mind about who’s to blame, the what for’s and why’s? I was woken by a nice warm feeling on my forehead from Lee giving me a kiss. “I want to go home” I told him and as my eyes started to well up with tears. “Your nearly done now love” he said. I looked up to the chemo bag and saw that he was right, but this didn’t make me feel any better. “I’m tired now, I want it to stop” I said still trying to hold back the tears. Lee bent forward and wrapped his arms around me. “You’re nearly there now, just think, only 2 more after today, in 4 wks you will be walking out of that door for the last time”. He looked straight into my eyes and continued by saying “Karen your stronger than this, don’t let it beat you now after you have come all this way”. He was right again. I quickly wiped the tears away from my eyes, so that no one could see that I was upset. I smiled and nodded. I have to carry on, I have to stay strong and most of all I have to stay positive.
My chemo finished at just gone 9pm, the whole process took 7hrs, so much for it taking 5 hours. Well I did it and got through what I have to say was the hardest chemo yet by far. This tiredness and the amount of time it takes is really getting to me, not to mention that I am more emotional than I have ever been in my life and I think its getting worse by the day. The smell of the chemo seems to be getting worse and wow I really ache all over.
It’s been a long day and like you would expect, it was straight to bed for me when I got home...