Diary of a chemo girl

I’m still so deliciously happy at properly getting rid of the cancer.

Yesterday I had more chemo as it was back to the business of keeping it beaten. Today I’m feeling oh so incredibly sick. I still have a few more months of treatment to go but at least I’m now officially half way through!

To celebrate here’s a blow by blow account of what I go through every three weeks. There’s much more to it than having a bunch of nasty drugs…

Tuesday 19th June – Preparing for chemo

9am: Wash my hair in tepid water so that it’s ready for the frozen hat on chemo day. Depressingly loads of it comes out.

10am: Start drinking.

Sadly it’s only non-alcoholic. I need to make sure I’m not dehydrated. Apparently it’s good to drink milk. What’s better than milk? Chocolate milk.

11am: Hypnotherapy at hospital. Once again I go to my imaginary tropical island and somehow it appears to work. The bad but bearable leg pain that I constantly get seems to go.

Lunchtime: Rest at Maggie’s Centre. It’s a beautifully modern building in the grounds of the hospital. Run by a charity, it’s for people dealing with cancer. I curl up on the big sofa in the living room.

2pm: Get a taxi to a different hospital in another part of London. We drive past BBC TV centre. I really want to stop the cab and go to work. I could be starting a late shift rather than another round of medical appointments.

2.30pm: At the chemo unit I get given a pink laminated card and wait for blood tests. It’s like a speedy boarding pass and means I can jump the queue. The tests will determine if I’m well enough for the horrible treatment.

The man taking the blood tells me I have chemo veins. They’ve gone into hiding but he manages to hit one first time. I accidentally watch as he wiggles the needle and then plunges it deeper into my arm to make the blood pour out. It’s pretty gruesome but I don’t actually feel anything.

3pm: Appointment with my lovely consultant, the Professor. As I wrote in my last post, he gives me all sorts of brilliant news, a big hug and sends me on my way.

4pm: My friend, Chantal the flower girl gives me a lift home in her big flower van.

On the way to my flat she has to make an emergency delivery.

5pm: Ring the hospital. Happily the results of the blood tests are good so chemo will go ahead. Rest on my own sofa.

10pm: Start the steroids. I have to take ten of these tiny tablets. They stop me from being sick but they make me feel wired.

Midnight: Still awake. The steroids also make me eat peanut butter on toast and ice cream.

Wednesday 20th June – Chemo day

7am: More steroids. Another ten tablets and I’m wide awake despite only having about three hours sleep

10am: Back at the hospital, this is where I have to sit. All day. I share the room with five others.

10.30am: I cover my hair in conditioner and the chilly hat goes on. My hair has to freeze before the chemo can begins. It hurts like hell.

A nurse puts a needle into a vein on my left hand. I’m attached to a drip that will deliver the anti-cancer drugs. First though I’m given even more steroids and other clear liquids to stop nausea, pain and any allergic reactions.

These make my face feel funny, like I’ve drunk too much vodka. As the dizzying drugs race around my body, I start to get a puffy face.

11.20am: The chemo finally starts. It’s so toxic that my nurse use gloves to handle the clear plastic pouches. I have two types of chemo, this first one takes a few hours to slip into my veins.

I have to wear two wrist bands. White to say who I am. Red to make it clear that I have a drug allergy. That’ll be the drug that almost killed me after surgery.

11.30am: Listen to my chemo mix tape and attempt to sleep in my chair under a white hospital blanket. I feel so tired and cold.

2pm: A friend comes over for a chemo coffee. She brings a big bag of sweets. I’ve eaten so much cake, chocolate and sweets since I started this treatment. Opps!

2.30pm: I get the second type of chemo; this is the most dangerous one. It makes your hair fall out among other awful things.

3pm: Sleep. As I drift off I try to dream of Daniel Craig and his army of James Bond cancer killers. But instead I keep thinking of the fantastic things I’m going to do when all this is over.

4pm: The last drugs pouch is empty and all the evil of chemo cocktail is now in my body. I’m unhooked from the drip. My hair is frozen to the cold cap so it has to stay on for a bit to allow it to warm up.

4.30pm: I have to go for a chest x-ray. Walking just a few metres makes me breathless so The Professor wants to make sure it’s nothing serious.

5pm: The flower girl picks me up and I start the long journey back to the house where I grew up. My hair is still defrosting. You don’t have to look too hard to see one of my bald patches.

I don’t feel too bad considering but the side effects of the chemo are like a time bomb and you never know when they’ll go off.

8.30pm: Still feeling kinda normal as I arrive at my parents’ home in the countryside.

I know that I may not lose my hair.

But I don’t quite believe it so again I’ve packed Barbarella just in case.

Wigging out

 

Waiting for chemo round two to start and to get my new look

This is where I expected to say something along the lines of… I got my NHS wig today. Hahaha it so was hideous, I’ve been transformed into a 1980′s soap opera super-star. Get a load of the pictures below.

But there are no photos as I didn’t get my wig.

This morning I woke up to find a halo of hair on my pilliow. It looked horrendous.

But I was told at hospital later it’s likely that it’s not falling out, it’s just thinning. Maybe I’ll get to keep most of it after all.

So I spent 6 hours wearing the special freezing hat to cool my scalp and attempt to save my hair.

Again it was excuriating. My forehead felt like it had frostbite to start with. At least this time it was a bit of a better colour.

The NHS wig man came in with a selection of wigs for me to try on. He proudly took one of them out of its box and it didn’t look too bad.

He agreed with the nurses that I don’t need a wig, certainly not yet anyway. They’ve all been left at hospital. I’ll be able to try them on during my next chemo session in three weeks.

They’re locked inside a cupboard on the ward. If I suddenly lose my hair then I can quickly go to hospital for some emergency hair.

Despite the icy headwear, I actually quite enjoyed this round of chemotherapy. At times it was even fun although I’m not sure I’m supposed to say that.

What made it different? Was it the hypnotherapy? Maybe that was part of the reason. It was certainly less painful.

I think though it probably had more to do with the great company. Okay and the cake they brought me. Also we were able to watch a film. Sorry James Bond but while you were busy killing any cancer cells, we were watching Batman take out his enemies.

The evil chemo cocktail slipped easily into my veins. You have various pouches of clear liquid. I was surprised each time that the machine started beeping to say the current bag was empty.

The chemo is light sensitive and it has to be hidden in what I think looks rather like a ‘modesty’ bag.

I reckon it wants to be covered up as it’s so bashful that it could well be saving my life.

After feeling good all day, the side effects from the contents of that bright bag haven’t yet kicked in. That will take a few days.

This time I’m even more prepared. I have my hypnotherapy trances to practise and stronger painkillers. Hopefully it won’t be so awful.

Look into my eyes

“Don’t worry I won’t make you bark like a dog.”

Now those are the kind of reassuring words you want to hear when you’re about to be hypnotised.

I get my next evil chemo cocktail tomorrow. After round one I now know just how bad it’s going to be. To help me cope with the chronic pain I’m trying hypnotherapy. Prescription drugs and daytime TV are not really doing the trick.

I went to hospital for the hypnotherapy. It felt like we were in the basement next to the boiler room. I lay on an examination table covered by rough blue paper to protect me from the previous person’s germs.

The woman who was about to put me under wore academic looking glasses and a conservative suit. She explained that this was nothing like stage hypnotism and that she was medically trained.

Part of me was disappointed that it wasn’t Kenny Craig, the character from Little Britain with too much guy-liner, telling me to look into his eyes.

I was lulled into a trance and told to think of a special location, real or imagined. The first place that came to mind was my old flat in Kiev which looked out onto a row of Soviet-era tower blocks.

Nope, I need somewhere much more exotic so I thought of my perfect desert island.

Apparently the hypnotherapy will help to stop the chemo pain by getting my brain to tell my body to chillax. Or something like that. Whatever happened on that tropical island, it felt lovely. I’ll have a couple more sessions but so far it seems like the pain has eased.

What’s even better is that this is free. It’s what I like to call a cancer bonus. It’s rubbish going through all this but you do get some nice stuff to make it just a little bit easier.

Last week I took part in a pampering session. A charity called Look Good Feel Better holds workshops to help women deal with the changes in appearance caused by the cancer treatment.

I was feeling tired and emotional when I arrived. Insomnia caused by the chemo means that I cry very easily these days.

A group of us sat around a long table. We each had a mirror so I was able to watch the tears rolling down my face. Beauticians gave us all a big bag of expensive make-up and advice on how to do things like draw on eye brows that have fallen out.

By the end of the session, my mood had lifted and I looked like I was ready to party. It was a shame that I was so exhausted and had to go straight home.

With my make- up taken care of, I need to concentrate on my hair.

Since I last updated my blog it has properly started to fall out. If I run my fingers through it, whole handfuls of hair come out. I found it very upsetting yesterday but then I’d only had two hours sleep that night. Today I’m not so worried. I realise that it’s just part of the process of getting well again.

I think it will take a few days for it all to drop out. It’s a good job that I should get to choose my NHS wig tomorrow.  It’s another cancer bonus I’d rather not be getting but I’m quite excited to see what I’ll be wearing for the next few months.

Because of this I’m not dreading chemo number two quite so much. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some pictures so you can see my new look for summer!