I was a bit smug after my first chemo. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t completely a walk in the park. In actual fact it was a long sit in a chair. I think those of us of a certain age can remember the chemo stories. The days when nobody even said the word cancer out loud. People disappeared into hospitals where mysterious growths were discovered. Where once before the hospital visit they were seemingly healthy, they didn’t come out alive after going in for tests and treatment. My mother is of this persuasion.
“They opened the poor woman up and she was full of IT, there was nothing they could do. As soon as they opened her up it killed her”.
I arrived on the chemo ward accompanied by my sister in law and armed with my “chemo bag”. Reading matter, sweets, tissues and wet wipes. I think hospitals are stocked with more appropriate wiping materials but, one has to be prepared.
My mind raced with family chemo stories, people who had chosen to die slowly rather than endure the treatment. Comments like: “the treatment was worse than the cancer”, “it was the chemotherapy that killed her”, “when she had chemo she wasted away and vomited herself to death” suggested to me that I was in for a rough ride.
I found myself seated in a chemo chair next to a woman crying quietly to herself. She apologised to me and said that I shouldn’t worry, maybe I was on a different treatment plan to her and it wouldn’t be so bad. I pondered on the notion of a “Treatment plan” – I didn’t realise I had one. Most planning in my life is done at work and can involve spreadsheets. I’m not a whizz on Excel maybe this chemo lark was going to be a struggle.
So, back to being smug. I had my chemo, I felt a little bit strange and I went home feeling okay. At home I waited for the vomiting to start. It didn’t. For the next couple of days I felt a little tired but mostly guilty that I hadn’t gone in to work. I wasn’t sleeping. Don’t get me started on steroids and sleep. They are not good companions. So no surprises that I was feeling tired. My chemo was on a Tuesday so I planned to visit my parents in Norfolk at the weekend. My brother would arrive on Saturday morning to drive me.
This is where the punishment started for feeling smug.
I don’t think I’ve told you about my tumour. It’s big. About the size of a tennis ball. Its rapid growth is what changed my diagnosis from a common or garden Stage 3 breast cancer to Inflammatory Breast Cancer.
My tumour, let’s call her Belinda. Well she objected to this first chemo BIG time and by Friday night she was screaming. It was time for the painkillers which knocked me out. My brother drove me to Norfolk. I don’t remember much about the journey.
By the time I arrived at my parents’ home I could barely walk into the house. I had strange tentacle like veins across my chest. Mum, in her best malalprop Norfolk way exclaimed to my Dad that my chest was smothered in testicles.
So, to cut a long story short I found myself in A&E at about 5am getting my “testicles” checked. My father, who is as squeamish as I, remained in the waiting room with Uncle Mike (our chauffeur for the trip) as my Mum seats beside me in the hospital cubicle and a particularly clumsy student nurse attempts to take a blood sample.
My Mother has sometimes been confused by my life decisions. The choosing of yet another holiday to a far-flung destination with suspect hygiene standards instead of installing double glazing left her flummoxed. But today she looks down at the blood on the floor and says:
“Well at least you’ve done some good things with your life, you’ve travelled a lot”.
It’s not over yet I hope!