Chemo #1

I walked into the hospital with a sense of dread. This was my third round of chemo. I wasn’t worried but I just didn’t want to be there. I shouldn’t have to do this again.

There was a big queue to get checked-in. People were crowded around the reception. The hospital reeked of cinnamon, for me this is the sickening smell of chemo. I felt like I was going to collapse from the stress of it all. I wanted to shout, I’m going to faint if I have to stand any longer. Don’t you know I have cancer? But then so did everyone else so I kept quiet.

It was just a small wobble and I had my friend Tamsin with me for support. We drank cappuccinos and talked about happy things, anything other than cancer. Tamsin had brought me some lovely presents including a notebook to write my new List for Living.

The staff on the chemo ward were pretty much the same. Last time I was there I had my own hair. Despite wearing my Raquel wig for chemo#1 some of them still recognised me.

“Hey how you doing? You look well,” one of the nurses in a dark blue uniform said to me with a smile. I wanted to reply that I was only visiting, that I’d popped in to say hello.

“I’m back again for more.”

“Oh…..” Her smile disappeared.

Not much had changed at the chemo cocktail bar. The patient patrons were still mostly pensioners but at least there were some new high-tech reclining chairs.

Setting up the medical equipment, my nurse found it hard to get a vein. The chemo is delivered through an IV drip via an orange tube. My veins are rubbish and seem to run away at the sight of a needle. As my arm was gouged by the nurse, I looked away and towards Tamsin. She offered to pinch my other arm to take my mind off it. Now that’s what friends are for!

The chemo is so toxic that a collection of other things are pumped into you first to prepare your body. I was warned that one of them would make me sleepy. It actually made me feel drunk, properly end of the night and need to go home drunk. And I hadn’t even started on the evil chemo cocktail.

I pressed the recline button and settled back into my chair. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

It was time to visualise James Bond shooting the crap out of my tumour. It seems that I’m not the only one. A woman called Nicky sent me a message to say that when she had chemo she imagined Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street running around her veins killing the cancer with a rolling pin!

I slept almost all the way through the chemo. Now that’s my kind of a cancer kicking work-out.

I was woken by a loud man on the other side of the room who was visiting an older lady. I felt dizzy and disorientated as I came round. I watched the loud man talk to the nurses and other people’s visitors. He alternated between patronising and sleazy. What an idiot. If you’re visiting a cancer ward, then please shhhh, don’t shout. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of someone who’s under the influence.

As soon as the drugs were done, my friend and I made a swift exit.

Like before, I’m recovering at my parents’ house. Last night I slept in my childhood bedroom – the same place that I retreated to after all the previous cancer treatment. It’s very sad to be back in my old bed again because of chemo. But at the same time I have amazing parents who look after me. Not everyone gets that kind of support when they’re ill.

And very importantly I’m lucky to still be alive. I first had the disease when I was in my late twenties, since then I’ve been living under a cancery shadow. There are many times when really it should have killed me. Despite doing this all again I feel so very fortunate. I still have options.

Earlier I walked around the frosty garden a few times. When I’m recovering from treatment I always try to do some exercise. Compared to when I first did this after my massive operation last year, I now have masses more energy. I even jogged the final lap. Just because I could.

Most of the day has been far less energetic. It’s passed in a tired and dizzy haze. There’s a certain type of Ukrainian vodka that makes me feel like this and so I’m pretending to myself that this is just a hangover.

However this is a happy hangover. Getting a third cancer diagnosis was a huge shock but now I feel empowered. I’m back on the chemo cocktails and blasting that tiny tumour.

20 thoughts on “Chemo #1

  1. Sending love from a gal who’s never met you. Was so saddened by your post last week – but now so happy that you’re well-supported and raking in the love from so many wonderful people. Especially your parents and this awesome Tamsin! Fight the good fight, sister.

  2. Hi Helen I am sorry you are dealing with cancer again. I had lung and kidney cancer when I was 3 years old. Now at 45 have the worse breast cancer which I am trying to beat. I never knew it was there until I felt a pain. After 40 years getting it back now i should be greatfull but I was missed diagnosed by a locum g p. then got told that the cancer has spread to my lung so chemo was just to lengthen my life.
    After the pet scan happened, seems that all the previous info was rubbish as it had not spread and the cancer was still only in the breast. Still really bad at worst grade cancer but all of a sudden I have have a chance. My positive mind set to any outcome good or bad has meant I have had no rejections or complication so far and next week I start weekly chemo for 3 and a bit months and than radiation. The moral is just believe in your strength stuff anything else. I was never going to have chemo or any treatment if it had spread, time has come a long way.
    I will pray for you and hope you get well soon

  3. Helen that’s a nice pic of you in the blog, you look very whistful and at peace with yourself. Sweet dreams brave lady.

  4. When I watched the latest James Bond movie, I thought of you and your visualization. It is much more important job for J. B. to obliterate your cancer cells, that to save the world. :) Keep on thinking positive thoughts – there is saying here: “Our thoughts determine our lives.” :)

  5. Good for you, Helen.

    I like to think of the chemo as being PacMan, munching away at the little colon cancer cells as he races around in my veins.

  6. Susan says it so much better than I can: ‘Just believe in your strength, stuff anything else.’ That’s the best advice I’ve heard in a long time, it’s kind of universal. Saw you the other day in TVC, you were looking fab! xxx

  7. Helen, we haven’t met but I can so much relate to your thoughts, feelings and reactions. During my journey three years ago, of a very aggressive lymphoma, (on diagnosis, given 5 days to live) the lady across the bed from me in hospital, gave me a couple of very valuable lessons, changing my whole outlook of ‘the big C’. Lesson #1 I should make it (the chemo) my friend, not to look at it as the enemy. Imagine it as liquid gold flowing through my veins, this is the very thing (possibly the only thing) that will save my life, so accept it and welcome it. Lesson #2, when I start to feel ‘Why me?’, change it to ‘Why Not Me?’. Why should it be someone else and not me? Who do I think i am? Why am I more important than the person next to me! This surely grounded me and humbled me. These two lessons made a lot of sense, they helped me, empowered me somehow differently to all the other usual comments I received over and over. These profound statements come from this lady who was back in hospital, wait for it….. her fifth relapse! What strength! She was my hero. As unfair as it is that fate has ‘dumped’ on us this ‘unwelcomed life partner’, this is our cross, we deal with it the best we can, as you are Helen. I read ‘evil chemo’ and ‘stupid cancer’ in your blog, I hope the above gives you a slightly different slant on the ‘same but different’. I’m not a writer but I was asked to write an article about my journey for a magazine, happy to email it to you if you wish. All the very best, my prayers are with you, mary

  8. Fight the fight, Helen! You are indeed from a very special family. Best wishes, Noelx

  9. My thoughts are with you. I too am a survivor. It is so good to hear a truthful version of what it is like to live with cancer. Thank you. (“)_(“)

  10. Hi Helen, thinking of you even more now you have James Bond working for you again. I hope this dreadful weather is not keeping you from your dates with him. that’s a great photo of you above BTW. Always in my thoughts, stay strong.

  11. You are now firmly on my prayer list for strength, health, beating the s… out of the tumour, and all my love.

  12. I have just listened to your interview on Radio 4’s Broadcasting house. I was mis-diagnosed with cancer of the aesophegus and for two little months had tio face for two to three little months what you have been facing for years.I dealt badly with it in that it has affected my life since negatively, my family relationships and my emotional well-being.I want to thank you for putting me firmly in my place and reminding me that I am loved and alive and in this world of wonders and that I must ensure I enjoy the here and the now and all the things I have.I for one hope the doctors are wrong and we enjoy the benifit of such a person as you for years to come.I know it seems like the fat lady is waiting in the wings to sing but let’s hope she trips over before she gets on stage. Stranger things have happened. Again. Thank you and good luck.

  13. Hello Helen, just heard you on Broadcasting House and feel compelled to respond. My first cancer manifested itself in 1985 when I was 40, but only diagnosed the following year. I was living in Zambia at the time and with no hope of treatment there, had to fly back to the UK where I had a radium needle implant to the back passage. I returned to Zambia, but 18 months later the cancer was back and I had to have a colostomy in 1987.

    Realising it would be better for me to stay in the UK, I enrolled on a degree course at Liverpool Poly in 1988. In 1989 I was diagnosed with carcinoma in situ of the cervix, but the normal treatment, cone biopsy, was aborted, as everything was displaced on account of the previous surgery, so that was just monitored by regular smears. The following year (1990 and the final academic year of my degree) my pelvis fractured and I was diagnosed with secondary bone cancer. I had conventional radiotherapy followed by chemo. I very much wanted to document my experiences of cancer/treatment, but was too tied up with my dissertation – and the staff at Christie Hospital allowed me the peace and quiet of the interview room in which to work.

    Treatment over, I saw my consultant and he was very grave, but just said, ‘We have done everything we can, but I know what you are capable of, it’s up to you now.’ 22 years later I’m sitting here writing this to you, so I trust this will give you some hope.

    You know how we are advised to be positive and visualise the cancer leaving our body, well, I think it was a good thing that I was unable to concentrate on my cancer at the time. I can’t help thinking about others who documented their cancer – Helen Rollason, John Diamond, Nick Clarke … , so, concentrate on your visualisation and doing all the wonderful things you have on your list.

    Please feel free to contact me if you think I can help. My very best wishes. Willo

  14. You have that wonderfully observant eye for the small details that only real journalists (or beat cops) have. You have been a foreign correspondent, so treat it like just another (sometimes sickening) adventure. You’re a veteran now!

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