I haven’t written here for a while as the most recent chemo cycles have been pretty tough and I have been admitted to hospital twice.
Today though is my final chemo in my treatment plan. I have made cupcakes to say thank you to the staff on the chemo unit and I don’t doubt there will be much back slapping and thumbs upping to celebrate when I arrive.
I suspect I should be thrilled, excited, relieved; something like that. I am not though. Not yet, anyway.
When I first started on this journey I realised that approaching chemo as an 18 week long process was just asking for trouble. It’s far too long a time to deal with and looking ahead that far, particularly as the process would be pretty repetitive, didn’t seem like a great game plan for me. Instead I have taken each cycle at a time and even then each week at a time.
The hair loss and skin sensitivity have been a constant but other side effects come and go through the cycle. The side effects are the real slog. It’s the side effects that form the cycle and the journey.
Day 1, chemo day, is the easiest part. Just turn up and get plugged in. The first 3 of my 6 cycles brought allergic reactions on chemo day but they were brief and easily dealt with. After that chemo day has been pretty uneventful. Once the poison has been pumped in and I have gone home is when the real work starts.
It begins with acute thirst. I will be awake half the night just drinking water but that’s ok as the steroids aren’t great companions with sleep. Next comes constipation but this is short lived and soon gives way to it’s opposite number. By day 4 I’ll also have bone pain and fatigue and, if the last 2 cycles are anything to go by, I can expect to be hospitalised with neutropenic sepsis by the end of week 1! Around this time the rash of itchy, pus filled blisters will have arrived on both hands and I will probably have a sore throat, sore gums and sores at the corners of my mouth that mean I can only open it about half an inch and chewing is painful. I eat A LOT of mashed potato in week 2. It doesn’t really matter that my diet is repetitive though as I can’t really taste any of it either. I’ll also develop red, painful patches on my feet and I pretty sure my left little toenail will have given up the ghost and dropped off by the end of week 2. It ain’t pretty.
Towards the end of week 2 my mouth starts to heal and I start to feel better. Taste is still weird, everything has an after taste of soap but I can at least get it in my mouth and chew solids.
Week 3 is lovely. I am almost well in week 3. I have pains in the areas affected by the tumour and my finger and toe nails are pretty much always tender and sensitive but other than that just a little tiredness and the weird soap aftertaste when I eat. I get out more and usually get some chores done. This week I’ve replaced a faulty toilet seat and fixed 2 broken doorknobs. At the end of week 3 I go to the hospital for a blood test in preparation for the next chemo. This is the end of the cycle and I start all over again.
By approaching each cycle as it comes and not considering the next until the end of the one prior I usually find that I get to the end of week 3 and find myself thinking “Ok, I got through that; I can do it again” and off I go.
Today I am at that place again and whilst everyone has been phoning, messaging or texting to wish me luck today and to celebrate that it’s the last dose I am conscious that it’s the easy part today. There are 3 weeks of side effects to ride out yet. I know that I can do this though. I have done it before and I can do it again.
3 weeks from now when I should be getting ready to go again I won’t be. I will have had scans to see what the impact of the chemo has been on the tumour and affected lymph nodes. I’ll have a clearer idea of what is going to happen next and should be approaching a date for surgery. Perhaps by then I’ll feel like this chemo journey has actually finished and be able to celebrate.
There will be more cake. There will be lots more cake.