Alison N ep 12

Och, and it was all going so well! Three chemo sessions called FEC successfully under my belt, some tiredness, temporary steroid-based insomnia, but only in the few days after each treatment.

In the remainder of the time I, astonishingly I now see, managed to go out for several meals, attend a week-long writing retreat one hundred miles up the road in Inverness-shire, meet friends for coffee and cheese scones, have visitors, write two book reviews and get to my music group for three hours each Thursday.

My sister called me Chemo Poster Girl and I glowed smugly.

The fourth session was last week. It is called Docetaxel, trade name 'Taxotere', and known as taxidermy to its friends. First sign of trouble ahead was when there was no parking at the chemo suite and Suz had to drop me off and drive for many minutes up a hill to find a space. This has not happened before and perhaps it is because the sessions are now on Thursdays, clearly busier days than Fridays.

Once inside we found our usual seat and Nurse Linda again prepped my hand in her search for a suitable vein. Unfortunately my veins were in rebel mode, squealing 'Enough Already!' but after a false start resulting in much bleeding on the arm-rest pillowcase, and bruising, an array of colourful sockets were attached.

By now I was feeling very sorry both for my poor hand and for myself.

There can often be an immediate allergic reaction to this drug and so a special 'safety' valve was also attached for an instant infusion of antidote if required. I had been dreading Docetaxel and none of this made me feel better. I read my out-of-date horoscope in Bella ('Expect exciting changes ahead…!') and a few recipes for improbable breakfasts involving small blue non-indigenous fruits.

We waited for the drug trolley to appear. Instead Nurse Linda came back and said she was really sorry but… the porters had not removed the drugs from the service bus and there were all on their way back to Dundee! We stared at her in disbelief as this had happened once before, long before my introduction to this world, and had been relayed as an amusing anecdote to pass the time way back at FEC One.

So first of all why on earth are these crucial drugs being ferried about on the Stagecoach X7 Service bus that shuttles up and down eastern Scotland between Perth Royal Infirmary and Foresterhill in Aberdeen?

Who knows. And why is there not a coherent system for ensuring that someone – anyone – heck I'll do it myself – gets the drugs off the bus? So we all waited, drank more tea and two hours later the drugs appeared and I was plugged in. No immediate allergic reaction so that was good. The safety valve was not required. But all the delays and the vein issues were getting me down a bit so it was good to finally get home.

On Friday I was still buzzing on the last of the steroids and apart from no sleep felt I was doing ok. I even drove to Tescos as I had decided I wanted to make Keralan Fish Curry and needed more ingredients. And on Saturday I hit the wall. Or the wall hit me. I managed to get up and dressed and sat in a chair for three hours watching clouds. Occasionally I moved to the sofa, creeping like an old woman and holding on to furniture. In the afternoon I returned to bed and lay and dozed, immobile.

I asked Suz to put all the curry ingredients in the freezer as this was a meal that clearly was not going to happen any time soon. 

I had never felt like this before, and was a thousand times beyond tiredness, combined with an overall sense of unwellness, of nothing working, of being poisoned, of a steadily throbbing head full of cavity foam wall insulation, with mouth and nostrils full of the taste and smell of foul metallic chemicals so that everything tasted gross. Even water was disgusting though I knew I had to keep drinking to flush the chemicals through. I think I went to bed just after eight and slept for five hours and woke at one in the morning and lay aching and worn out until daylight.

This carried on through Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday night my heart went into overdrive and at 0200 I googled 'what is a normal heart rate' and discovered it is 60-100 beats per minute. I found the stop watch on my phone and timed it and it was just over 100. I was too tired to do anything about it other than just lie still and hope for the best. On Tuesday afternoon I rang the department to check that all this was normal and of course it was and I was advised to keep a close eye on my temperature.

At night I was sick.

On Wednesday I managed a shower and wondered if I felt fractionally better. I tried to write this blog but my fingers had become immobile Cumberland sausages so I shelved it. On Thursday I got to my recorder group and despite not having managed to read anything beyond headlines on my phone I managed to read and play music. It was my first time out of the house for a week and I really enjoyed playing and seeing my friends. I spent Friday recovering.

I felt like I'd gone from Hero to Zero. I had never felt so ill.

This session was only 75% of the chemo dose in order to see how I tolerated it so the next one will be 30% stronger. Many weeks ago the oncologist told us that it was possible to stop chemotherapy at any point if it became 'too much' and for the first time I am wondering about that option. Yet what would be the point, having come this far? Plus it is a systemic treatment, a 'chasing round the system to make sure that there is nothing left lurking', rather than a focussed tumour-reduction treatment, and what if I stopped just as the Docetaxol had the final rogue cancer cell in its sights?

So I will keep going. Two more to go.

I tell myself that while many people die of cancer, I don’t think people die of chemotherapy. I tell myself that this is character forming (though I suspect this is my ancient pre-programmed Calvinistic tendencies coming out) and that it is all worth it, and that I am worth it (have I confused myself with a shampoo?) and a hundred other life-affirming clichés. But right now I just want it all to be over and to be able to make and taste a delicious Keralan Fish Curry, and wash it down with a nice big glass of Shiraz.

And then another one. Ah, we can dream.

To be continued...

Episode 1 can be found here.

Episode 2 can be found here.

Episode 3 can be found here.

Episode 4 can be found here.

Episode 5 can be found here.

Episode 6 can be found here.

Episode 7 can be found here.

Episode 8 can be found here.

Episode 9 can be found here.

Episode 10 can be found here.

Episode 11 can be found here.

Episode 13 can be found here.

Episode 14 can be found here.

Episode 15 can be found here.

Epsidoe 16 can be found here.

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