Monday, November 02: I had my third chemo cycle on Friday and am now in the “meh” stage of feeling pretty rubbish. The constipation returned, worse than six weeks ago, despite prescribed laxatives. Oddly, I had no constipation after the last chemo dose when I upped the fibre content of my diet. I thought I was eating much the same this time – body thinks otherwise.
Movement was finally achieved around 5.30am today. I went back to bed feeling decidedly lighter.
I felt really healthy throughout the week leading to the third chemo round. The only blip was a sleepless night on the Wednesday after I’d had my pre-chemo bloods taken. Having the bloods taken isn’t a problem. In fact it’s one of the highlights of my social life – meeting a masked nurse in the health centre. Mostly, I cope with my hermit-like, self-isolation existence but when I heard myself gabbling away at the nurse I realised I do miss people.
No, the anxiety was about the chemo having to be postponed because of something not right with my blood. While having my body pumped full of toxic drugs is not something I relish, having decided to go for it, I dread anything which might slow down the process. And as the first two rounds of chemo halted the growth of the tumour, but didn’t shrink it, I don’t want a longer gap between cycles in case it starts growing again.
On top of that particular anxiety, the more I thought about Cancer Specialist Nurse (CSN) and how dishonest she’d been with me made me angry. I had seen some research on medicinal mushrooms, particularly Coriolus versicolor, and the results of various trials which seemed to indicate its use increased immunity in patients taking chemotherapy. I asked if I could send it to her to pass on to the oncologist for her thoughts. She said she would and I printed out the version for health professionals and put it in the post to CSN. At the meeting last Monday, it became clear the oncologist hadn’t seen or heard of the research papers. CSN said she’d asked the pharmacist who had said I shouldn’t use it.
Why? ‘He doesn’t know how it would react with the chemo drugs.’ The point of sending it to the oncologist was to see if she could find out more about the trials. It’s too late for me now, with only one more chemo ahead of me, but I will still try to learn more about it. It may seem a trivial thing to lose sleep over but to have queries dismissed out of hand as not being worth any kind of follow up does not build trust – neither does knowing the CSN didn’t do what she said she’d do. And she didn’t call me on Thursday with the blood results as she said she would.
When I told a friend I’d be sitting in the chair at 11am on Friday she asked what I meant. It made me realise not everyone reading this may know what is involved in a chemo session.
I give my name at reception, remove my mask, use hand sanitiser, put on a new mask and take a seat until called. I’m weighed, have my temperature checked and am told to wash my hands before being led into the room where the chairs are socially distanced. The first time, it felt like being led to the electric chair – not so bad now but there’s still something deeply unpleasant about giving up all control over what’s going to happen.
They check pulse rate, BP, oxygen stats – then bring warm pads from a microwave to put on the back of my hand to bring the veins up before inserting the cannula and hooking up the drip bags. There’s usually a delay waiting for the pharmacy to send the drugs down. They start with a saline flush, then the first of the chemo drugs, another flush before the second drug – and there I sit for around two, three or more hours. I take my Kindle in and spend the time reading. Having to keep the hand with the cannula in completely still for so long isn’t easy – especially when they bring you lunch. A wee wiggle of the fingers is enough to block the drip and make it bleep.
Usually nurses look at my veins like happy vampires so it was surprising to be told by the one on Friday that my veins are very thin. ‘I bet everyone tells you that,’ she said.
‘No, you are the first.’ And, astonishingly, the first vein she tried was completely empty! The second attempt was successful and all went well until she came to remove the cannula. The fountain of, by now toxic, blood missed me and went all over her. She asked me to put my finger on the gauze pad while cleaning up then told me the haematoma swelling before our eyes was because I’d moved my finger. Last time, there wasn’t a mark on my hand so I kind of hope she gets some practice in before I go back, or has the day off.
I hope by my next diary entry I’ll have shaken off ‘meh-ness’ and bad temper and be back to my usual self. And, please let it stop raining so I can get out for the occasional walk.