Thursday, January 3, 2013

Round Two: DING

One down. Five to go. Not that I'm counting or anything.

One of the nurses tried to tell me yesterday that I'm a third of the way through chemo, because yesterday was my second treatment of six. Oh really? I said to myself. Um, YOU might be a third of the way through our shared experience, sweetheart, but I have three weeks of coping with the side effects before I'll claim that fraction!

Never mind, she was trying to be encouraging. Maybe some people find the whole being poisoned thing the most challenging part.

Not for me. Yesterday was actually quite an enjoyable day.

What's that I hear you say? She's finally lost the plot? Yeah, yeah, I know- perhaps my definitions are changing; being stabbed in the chest and sitting in a chair for nearly four hours would probably not fit most people's definition of fun.

Context, folks, context.

For me, it was a chance to leave the measuring, timing and decisions to someone else. This constant self-monitoring of my standard medications (which are wildly different for different parts of the cycle), symptoms (including warning signs) and prophylactic treatments (which often clash with each other if you don't schedule them in the right way) is consuming my days in a way that you just can't understand till you go there.

There are the tablets to take before eating. There are the tablets to take with food, or after eating. There are the tablets that prevent you absorbing other things in your stomach, that need to be taken separately.

There are the tablets that constipate you, and the remedies that help with that. But you don't want the remedy to shoot your medication out in a ball of fibre before you absorb it, either.

There are the mouthwashes to keep your mouth free of ulcers and infection, the flossing and brushing to keep your mouth hygienic, the other mouth treatments to re-moisten your mouth because the soft, fast-multiplying cells inside are in meltdown. You don't want one treatment undoing the other, or causing agony like flossing followed by bicarb soda (squeeeeeeak).

And so on.

Yes, there's something to be said for sitting down and having absolutely nothing expected of you.


Before I lined up for Round Two, I'd been to see the GP's practice nurse to make up a Care Plan. It was perfect timing, a pure fluke based on my care plan having to be made in the New Year to have a financial benefit to me. But I was having trouble remembering every routine from last time I had chemo, and after ninety minutes explaining and documenting all my treatments, symptoms, meds and practitioners with Leonie, my head was sorted again and ready to go.

Breast cancer has had so much money thrown at it, because it's in epidemic proportions and some high profile ladies have been sufferers; I'm reaping the benefits of that. Between Monica, the breast care nurse, and that experience of making a Care Plan with Leonie, I'm feeling like the two of them have my back. Someone out there has a holistic view of what's happening to me. The big picture can get lost so easily when so many people are involved, and when your own brain is overwhelmed.

There are worse diseases I could have. Truly.


Not the best picture, but
you get the idea!
Going out without hair and with confidence... well, it's a work in progress, but I can feel a shift happening. The day before, when I had to go to town to have my blood test, I'd bought a few cheap trinkets to help me style up my new look. A waterproof liquid eyeliner to draw a motif on my forehead (hare krishna, hare rama...). Some stick-on body jewels to jazz the motif up. Some nice big silver earrings, with little shiny balls that matched the bell pendant that Christine had given me.

Teamed with the black hat, plus the beautiful home-made sarong my cousin Nancy gave me, my rainbow bag and my jazzed-up nails courtesy of Megan, the trinkets made me feel sort of unified in my approach. I felt like I could go out without cringing.

All those experiments beforehand had been worth it. When we picked up Rowan from the train the night before I'd felt a strong need to wear at least my fake fringe and the Joan Crawford turban, even though it was deathly hot in the car and my scalp was still feeling prickly and sensitive.

Baby steps. I'm getting there.


Spending some time with my son, who I see so rarely, naturally made chemo day much better. We were charmed yesterday; we went bike riding together at the crack of dawn (much easier for me to get motivated in company!!) and then found a car park right at the hospital door. We'd allowed so much time for contingencies that we were nearly an hour early, and yet we were greeted with smiles and allowed to get into it straight away.

Happy days.

Margaret lost no time telling me that my blood test results were stupendous; I was right back to tip-top shape. (Yay for me, yay for the bike and the Wii Fit, yay for the agonising Neulasta injection and all the fucking horrible suffering it entailed.) I told her about my mouth feeling like Polly had had a bloody cracker and then recycled it on the desert sand covering my tongue, and she came out with a sample pack of the Biotene mouth moisturising products that the drug rep had left her the other day. (Yay for freebies, especially ones that actually WORK.)

Once the anti-emetic had taken effect and I'd had my first saline flush, we got into the nasties again. The Doxorubicin, aka battery acid, must have set off some sort of poisoning alarm bell in my body; it didn't hurt, but there was definitely a physical sensation that this was a foreign body (and not a nice one) going into my veins. I had a little queasiness happening there already.

It lasted most of the day. I handled it. (Hello Ferdinand, welcome home. A nice plate of barramundi with lemon butter, fresh local beans- thanks Mel- and a jacket potato fixed his demanding little wagon at dinner time, and he left me in peace for most of the night.)

Then we got to the drips. Rowan and I settled down for a game of really truly not-online Scrabble, with the cricket on in the background to amuse us while we waited for our turn. (I say amuse advisedly, as we already knew the score and wanted to see exactly how a team could lose all its wickets for 45 runs.)

The Scrabble completely absorbed my attention, not least because I found myself quite physically clumsy. I was constantly dropping the fiddly lightweight letter tiles, as did the lady two chairs up from me who was playing with her companion. Rowan bailed us both out, jumping up to find tiles under chairs and under feet, as I contemplated how unlike me it was to be fuddle-fingered. But if she was dropping them too... at least I could blame being poisoned.

'Is' at the bottom left won me the game...
after I'd had to take risks twice to set
it up, three moves in advance!
I was behind all the way, till the very last move. I won by a point. Candy's brain 1, chemo 0. Rowan reckoned he'd done pretty well, considering I'd beaten him by 100 the first time we played a few months ago- even if I had been nobbled by the drugs on this occasion and had dreadful letters most of the time. His defensive play has improved astronomically in that time- look at all those inaccessible triple word scores!

It was fun.


And then there was a bonus. The 15-month-old granddaughter of one of the nurses paid her a visit, just after we finished our game of Scrabble.

O. M. G.

I am missing working with kids sooooooo much. I hadn't realised how much. The moment that little one came into the room, I was making contact like a deprived crack addict- and within 15 minutes I was singing her little songs and she was giggling and trying to talk to me. I completely forgot where I was.

I was sorry when I had to leave. Truly.

I haven't sung for months. (Now, there's a thought for depression therapy.)


I feel that I'm in better shape this time round than on Day 2 last time. Better prepared, better able to anticipate and treat the side effects. True, I feel more queasy- only to be expected with a repeated poisoning- but at least I have some evidence of what will shut Ferdinand up this time, without the failed experiments of last round.

(Don't mention the Milo. Ew. That is something I may never like again.)

So- I am fine. Thank you for caring. I will be waiting with interest for the developments on Day 5, after I stab myself in the guts with the Neulasta again this afternoon. The prophylactic treatments had better work. Wish me luck!