It was Glastonbury festival a few weeks back but I’m sure I’ve taken more drugs in my first 2 week chemo cycle than anyone who was there. I start my day taking 35 little pills, it takes a bit of effort and a lot of water but after an hour or so I manage to force them down. And then it’s off to Bath for some chems.
My first day in Chemo was ropey, to say the least. I tried to be brave, but fear of the unknown got the better of me and I had a freak out. My first drug, which is bright red was administered straight into my cannula and I had to suck on an ice lolly to stop me getting mouth sores – so far, so good. Then the next, big bag of drugs was set up into a drip. As it started to flow I could literally feel it pumping through my veins and up into my heart, cue an anxiety attack. I start to feel flushed, my chest tightens and I feel like I can’t breathe. I press the emergency button, 4 nurses rush over. They instantly take me off the drug, inject me with a strong steroid and an anti-histamine and put an oxygen mask on me. I am shitting myself, I start to cry, I am very aware that everyone else on the ward can see me, is probably looking at me – ‘first timer’. Day 2 and things get easier. Vanessa (best nurse in the world) tells me not to worry, that what I experienced yesterday is very normal and often happens to people when they have their first treatment. I get given the same drug and have no reaction whatsoever. Bossed it.
The chemo ward is surprisingly cheery and I don’t really mind it too much. There are volunteers who bring you round tea and biscuits in china cups and I just find myself sitting there reading a book or magazine – chemo club. It’s my life for at least the next 4 months so I may as well embrace it. Day 3 of chemo club and I even go in on my own. It’s just part of what I do now, part of who I am for a bit, like the worst part time job ever. As I leave on day 3 I pop into the same loo I went to on my first consultation when I was diagnosed. The ‘Fuck life’ graffiti has gone, been painted over, erased.
Three days of chemo and I realise a miracle has occurred. I am no longer having Hodgkin’s symptoms. No sweats, no shivers, no itching, no extreme exhaustion. I am no longer feeling ill. Friends come to visit and can’t believe the change in me. It’s incredible how quickly the mind can make you forget traumatic times. Again I have the sense of “Am I really that ill?” I feel so much better that I can’t even remember what I was feeling like. Then Barry reminds me of a time when I was really bad and I awoke during the night needing the loo. I was so ill and the exhaustion was so extreme that I led crying for half an hour trying to summon up the energy and courage just to get out of bed for a wee. I eventually forced myself to do it, but only because I would have literally wet the bed. Three days later and I’m sat in the garden, having a laugh and stuffing my face with BBQ meat. Chris Knetchli – the miracle worker.
Luckily for me I haven’t had too many side affects. I feel slightly nauseous at times but I haven’t been sick, I’ve had slight blurred vision very momentarily, I can taste chemicals in the back of my mouth and I can feel that my taste is starting to change ever so slightly. The back of my scalp feels quite tender, almost like I’ve had too much sun and more hair than normal is falling out in the shower. The worst side affect for me so far has been, constipation, at times pretty severe and causing me pain. So when I have finally been able to relieve myself, we have aptly named it a ‘Brexit’ and then a ‘Johnson’, ‘Farage’ or ‘Gove’ depending on the size of the relief, in honour of the shit show that is British politics.
But on the whole I’m feeling pretty okay, put it this way I’ve definitely had hangovers that have been much, much worse!!! In fact most of my hangovers feel worse than what one cycle of chemo has made me feel! I’ve found that most people who come to visit, or family members who I speak with have a perception of how I’m going to look or how I’m going to be responding to chemo – really, really ill, throwing up, unable to get out of bed, thin, gaunt looking, pale. Of course I certainly don’t look and feel my best but I think it’s surprised many how “well” I am.
All positive vibes aside and a little dose of reality for a moment. I do know that this is only the beginning of a very long road, that my body is going to continue to get battered, that I am going to very shortly lose my hair, that I may not respond to chemo, or I might get an infection and have to be hospitalised, so I am trying to have no expectations, I am trying to practise Buddhist principles of being in the present moment and just taking things as they come.