Girl On Top (Part 4) – Fear of the Unknown

On my arrival back home from my time spent celebrating my Nan’s birthday, there were a pile of letters awaiting me.  I shrugged them off: after each hospital appointment, I would receive a letter, detailing exactly what had happened and so I assumed that the one on top, bearing the NHS stamp on it, must be just that.  After dumping my obligatory ‘away bag’, filled with dirty washing and gifts for friends, I sat down to deal with my mail.  Absentmindedly opening the NHS letter, whilst sipping a cup of coffee and chatting with my flatmate, I glanced down, expecting to see the usual hospital letter, explaining what had happened during my previous appointment.

It is very easy to use expressions such a ‘fear struck me’ or ‘I literally froze’, but I cannot honestly think of another way to describe my feelings when my eyes focussed on what was written on the page.  The letter was from the hospital, but it was not regarding my last meeting with the surgeon, as I thought. It was something that I had tried to put to the back of my mind for some time, both hoping and praying that it might be deferred or that it wouldn’t be quite so soon.  Scanning the letter, I saw a series of times and dates printed in neat little rows, running down a good length of the page.  These dates might have seemed harmless enough to the casual reader, but for me, whose name and address were printed clearly at the top, they meant much more. To me, they represented a prison sentence for the next five months of my life.  These dates detailed in black and white my imminent chemotherapy.

I am not sure exactly why I was scared, or exactly what I was scared of.  Of course, I was apprehensive about losing my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, as these represented my femininity, but there was something that frightened me even more.  After my initial diagnosis of breast cancer, I had done some research into the effect of chemotherapy and the thing that had struck me as being most worrying was the nausea and weakness that it causes.  The thought of feeling constantly sick and helpless for a good part of five months, was the thing that worried me.  I had to get up every morning, I had to work – not because it was a requirement by my company, but because it was a requirement by me.  I didn’t want to be deemed as I write-off, as useless, either by myself or anyone else. I had to carry on through the chemo, just as I had since my diagnosis.

The week before my treatment commenced, I went to see the nurse at the Haematology Oncology Day Unit (HODU), where my chemo would take place.  Sitting in the waiting room, my heart begin to quicken in pace and, no matter how loud I turned up the volume of my headphones and tried to absorb my favourite music, I could still feel it thundering away in my chest. Trying to avert my eyes to my phone, I could not help but notice that all of the chairs were full of people who looked so much older and frailer than me.  I had been unsure of exactly what to expect on entering the waiting room, but my first thoughts were that if these people could go through treatment, then I was damn sure that I could too!  I was younger, fitter and physically stronger, it was only the thoughts whizzing around in my head that were stopping me from facing up to what lie ahead.

Once at my appointment, the nurse explained the type of chemotherapy that I would have.: FEC-T, a combination of four drugs. I’d have six cycles, every three weeks.  The first three would be FEC, which comprised of three types of drugs, injected into a vein, and the following three would be T-Docetaxel, a drug fed into the body via a drip.

The nurse also explained that the day before every session of chemo, I’d have an appointment with the oncologist nurse, to take a blood sample and check that I was all right for that cycle.  I was then given a brief run-down of the side effects, where the nurse explained that everyone who undergoes the treatment, gets them, usually in text-book form.  My heart fell; I had secretly been hoping that there might be a loop hole that I could find, or that it might not apply to me, but it was not to be.  My nurse’s manner was surprisingly refreshing: I had become so used to being mollycoddled by those around me, that her candour and openness when dealing with my condition, helped me prepare myself for what I was going to face.  I had to brace myself for the worst. I was going to lose my hair within the third week of my chemo.  We spoke briefly about the cold cap treatment (where an ice cold cap is worn by the patient before, during and after the chemo session, in order to reduce the blood flow and minimise the effects to the hair), but the nurse explained that the majority of people who have this treatment still lose their hair at a later stage, and that, unless I was desperate to go through it, it simply wasn’t worth the ‘brain pain’.

I was then told that chemotherapy can shrink my veins and make it more difficult to access them after each treatment. The nurse suggested that I have a catheter through my central vein and I was given three choices.  As each choice was explained, I was shown pictures and things were gone through in detail.  Personally, for me, I wanted to be able to get on with my life to the best of my abilities during this time and not to be hindered by having devices strapped to my body.  This considered, I decided to choose having a port inside my chest.  This would take a little longer, and my chemo dates could not be put back to accommodate the insertion of the port, and so my first session would be injected into the veins in my arm.

I was also given a card, with my own hospital number and emergency number, in case I fell prey to infection or suddenly felt poorly. I was also told to take my temperature daily: if it became higher than 37.7C or lower than 35.5C, I was asked to call the emergency number, and would either need to go to the oncology day unit, or to A&E.  At each appointment, I was also given a pile of leaflets and booklets, detailing exactly what to expect, and also what was waiting for me in the immediate future.  Amongst these was a business card detailing the number of a lady who supplied wigs “fitted in the comfort of your own home”. It was a lot to take in to begin with, but I knew that I was going to have get used to a steady influx of information throughout my treatment.   At every point, there would be something new to take in and something different to experience.

I awoke on the morning of my first chemotherapy session tired from lack of sleep from the previous night.  I had lain awake for most of it, going over everything in my head: how would I feel during and after, would this be the last morning in a while that I would wake up feeling ok?  I was going into the unknown, unlike the operation, which was over and done with quite quickly, this would drag on well into early summer.

At 10am, my dear friend picked me up and dropped my off at the hospital.  I walked in and was seated in a comfortable chair; all around me other patients were sitting, with a little table and another chair for visitors next to them.  I was the only solitary patient there and my chair was unoccupied, apart from the nurse who looked after me and was chatting to me – an occurrence that would more or less become the norm.  The nurse weighed me, offered me coffee and doubled checked my details. The vein of my left arm was then injected into and the process began.  An initial coldness filled my body, as it was flushed through. The chemo infusion then started and, thirty minutes later, a distinct metallic taste filled my mouth.  As I sipped my coffee, unbeknown to me, it was the last time until my chemotherapy ended in full, that I would be able to properly taste things.

After the session, I was given a concoction of medications; steroids and anti-sickness tablets, along with Filgrastim injections, for the stimulation of white blood cells.

Two hours later, the same friend picked me up and we went to her house for lunch, as my housemates were working and I wasn’t ready to be on my own, as I was still unsure exactly what to expect.  After the lunch, I felt fine, but a few hours later I began to feel weak and tired. I was lying on her sofa, trying to consume as much water as I could, as I know that this was a requirement. Every time I went to the toilet and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I looked paler and paler.  My housemates came and picked me up and drove me home.  A few days later, they commented that they had been scared to tell me at the time, but I was even whiter than the white jumper that I was wearing that day, and I looked like a ghost.  They were horrified, as they were so used to seeing me with my naturally rosy cheeks.

As soon as I got home, I went to bed and, as I pulled the duvet over my head, I knew that the side effect had started and the waiting game had begun.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Girl On Top (Part 4) – Fear of the Unknown”

  1. This is just an amazing account. I now feel I have a better idea of what you were going through at that time. I feel that you are reliving it in words but it is now part of you past. Hope that makes some kind of sense!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant entry! Thanks so much for sharing what you went through, in word form. It gives the reader an insight into something which can be seen as a bit of a taboo. Cancer and chemo is something that we feel uncomfortable talking about, but your blog really helps people to understand what patients go through.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your friend Teresa put it really well about how its like its part of your history as you write it down page by page. By laying down this chapter of your life it will help you to move on without fear to your next, thrilling and easier chapter once this one is closed. Laura, that it all felt very ‘busy’ with your treatment- there was always so much for you to think about and appointments to attend and schedule in, so this is a way of catching up with what has happened. For anyone reading who is going through the same, or about to, this is so useful to be able to know what each step is so it feels less chaotic and you can feel a bit more in control of your life over the next few months. Thank you so much for sharing your private journey Laura x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura, we all benefit from your stories. We have the advantage, for now , we are your supporters, followers! I’m delighted to read it, to share it, and to be part of your journey. But this tough chapter. I had to stop reading it few times, I had a lump in my throat. I kept in touch with you, we skyped, we talked, but I had no idea how gruelling, back-breaking, painful your journey was. You have started by doing what’s necessary; then did it what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible!! Phenomenal! Hard, arduous fight with Breast Cancer! Laura, you are a rainbow in the sky!
    Un fuerte abrazo para ti!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your courage and bravery are Inspirational Laura .. Thank you for sharing.
    I hope that other people going through this can take comfort and gain strength in your words.
    Remain strong and stay positive .
    You can do this! (& I’m here whenever you need )

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s