Thursday, March 28, 2013

The end of an era

It's hard to believe that I won't be returning to the chemo suite, finding a comfy chair (no! Not the comfy chair!) and settling in to be amused and poisoned by turns for four hours or so. The wonderful staff in that suite have become such a bright light in this journey through hell that I've actually looked forward to the sessions.

But today was Treatment Number 6, done and dusted, and I am... free.

Or I will be, just as soon as I slide over this last speed hump and heal the gravel rash it leaves on my poor underside.


My cousin Nancy returned to take me to the last round, bless her. She's been the proverbial tower of strength all through this experience, and when she arrived this morning, totally exhausted after a sleepless night and a two-hour drive and hobbling like a superannuated John Wayne after a 12-hour day on horseback mustering cattle yesterday, I was reminded yet again of the stubbornness and determination of our family to follow through on our promises- to ourselves and to others.

She is a cousin in a million, I'm telling you. And yet again, I think how lucky I am.

I was feeling pretty good this morning after some good sleeps over the last few days (definitely NOT including last night when the 'sleep disturbance' side effect of the dexamethasone got me yet again), but still I was a touch apprehensive about this last run-in with the TAC. Each chemo session has had a bigger bill to pay than the last, in terms of side effects and discomfort, and I wasn't sure I had enough guts in me to pay for this one after the ghastly hospital stay took so much out of me.

But you never know what you can do till you have to do it, and  opting out really wasn't a choice; the Bear managed to jemmy Nancy back into the driver's seat of her beaut ute without snapping her legs clear off at the hips, and off we went.


Want a laugh?

After all that bollocks about my terrible abscess under my arm and my dangerously low blood pressure and how I was "a lot sicker than I thought I was" from that intensely irritating young female doctor, have a guess what my vital stats were this morning when I arrived (NB: my file was marked CHECK INFECTION IS RESOLVED BEFORE TREATING, writ large in red pen).

Armpit: looking almost back to normal, after Miss Sunshine carefully dragged the collected fluids away from it at my lymph massage session yesterday without actually massaging under my arm. Go, you good thing! She is a gem.

Blood test: completely, 100% normal.

Temperature: 36.1.

Blood pressure, after walking from the car park and climbing the stairs: 84 over 55.

(Yep, you heard me, as did Nancy; she noted with some wry sorrow that 84 tended to be more like her lower figure. It's all about your gene pool, sadly, and her high BP causes her as much grief as my low BP... and is far more dangerous.)

Attitude of chemo nurses: Let's get this show on the road!

Thanks god that Young Doctor from Lismore Base was nowhere to be seen. She would have had me flat on my back, hooked up to a drip at 125 ml per hour and supposedly in danger of dying in three seconds flat. Fortunately Margaret has a LOT more experience and good sense (and seems to know the difference between an abscess and an infected seroma to boot).

Thanks, Margaret. Your sanity saved mine.


As ever, there was a lot of laughter and joy in that place. Meleah was full of gratitude for my little plug for her artwork, which had helped her picture of John Lennon get some 30,000 views since I last saw her and brought a lot of well-deserved work her way (yay for social media!).

Everyone seemed to love my latest fingernail art; yay for rainbows, and for covering the basic tell-everyone-I-have-cancer black. It certainly makes me feel more cheery.

That idea of mine may have given the nurses another tool to use to encourage reluctant Morticias to protect their fingernails- apparently they've seen some dire results when people refuse to take on board that simple strategy of painting their nails. Losing a nail is painful at the best of times, and downright dangerous when you're immunosuppressed. Mine have survived very well- not the slightest sign of lifting, and I'm telling you, my nails were not great to start with.

You don't have to be an expert. Just have fun. Two layers of black at the bottom, then grab some cheap kids' nail polish in rainbow colours (the whole pack cost me $13) and dab away to your heart's content. A layer of topcoat, and... bazingo! Pretty nails!

(Yes, it does take a little practice, but you get plenty of that over a course of chemotherapy, dammit. Mine hardly ever lasts more than four or five days without terminal chipping.)


Of course it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. This is systemic poisoning we're talking about here, and on this last round I started to feel like crap almost as soon as the doxorubicin went in. My body was screaming enough.

I breathed deeply, but already my stomach was squeezing me. The taxotere only made it worse, and when my lunch sandwiches arrived I could only pick at them. I reverted to the iced coffee milk I'd brought with me, followed by another glass of milk from the nurses' fridge. I see a lot of milk in my immediate future...

By the time that drip was halfway through, the sleep deprivation was starting to catch up with me again and I crashed. I felt for poor Nancy, who was exhausted too and sitting bolt upright, but she entertained herself by catching up with my novella, er, I mean my last blog post on her iPhone. She used to be the cook at a country hospital, and she was totally horrified by my tale of woe at the hands of the Soft Food Menu.

As you would be.

I woke in time for us to do some more reminiscing about her beloved mum, my Auntie Yvonne. I got pretty teary there for a while. Being in Lismore Base had reminded me a bit too strongly of her last days there as she slipped away from us with pancreatic cancer, an even more cruel disease than mine in many ways. It was the last place I saw my aunt alive, and every time I found myself in the stairwell where I'd walked away from her for the last time I had been overwhelmed. I'd even been on the same floor. It all came welling out a bit today, now that I was relieved of the anxiety of maybe missing my last treatment due to a random gastric wog and the over-zealousness of doctors who wouldn't listen to me.

It all has to come out sometime. You can't sit on that stuff for ever. And immediately one of the staff found me a box of tissues, of course, without a word said. They are watching, all the time, and noticing what you need.

I love them all so much.

They weren't the last tears of the day. When Margaret unhooked me from the cyclophosphamide for the last time, I was trying to thank her for how much she'd helped my Bear with his anxiety by explaining everything so kindly and clearly the first time we were here. Well, try to mention my Bear and I'm a mess again, of course. Those tissues came in very handy indeed.

I'd brought them a present, of course- two boxes of Lindor balls, which I may not be able to eat myself at present... but at the very least I can have the vicarious pleasure of watching others I care for enjoying them. They went down a treat (pun fully intended).

And I'd written them a card which tried to say exactly what I wanted to thank them for, rather than skimming the surface. They are very special people- compassionate, competent and full of the infectious laughter and joy that people have when they love what they do and feel like it's a fulfilling, worthwhile job.

I am so lucky to have met them all.


The car journey home shook me up a little, given that I was already feeling very dodgy. A milkshake before we set off helped push Ferdinand off the plughole, thank heavens, and I made it home without needing the sick bag that Margaret had thoughtfully provided when I started to feel weird early in the treatment (laughing off my protestation that I never threw up from just the chemo with a cheeky comment that she never enjoyed cleaning barf off the floor... fair enough!).

BUT, chemo, you have not beaten me there... yet.

(touches wood very rapidly indeed)

After kissing my lovely cousin goodbye I retired to bed, frigged around on the computer for a while and went out like a light. Woke up some three hours later realising I needed to eat so I could take my tablets, despite Ferdi doing some cranky backflips which were making me feel like hell.

You missed my dinner time. You are Not Forgiven.

I was forgiven, however, when I produced half a smoked trout I'd saved from the night before.


You bet. Please Miss, can I have some more?

No, you greedy fish. I know your game. It'll just make you feel bad again.

Isn't that my job?


So the last Day 1 draws to a close. I dread the coming days. I dread even more the approaching cat scan on April 9th, which will tell me whether any other little nasties have turned up in my organs or bones while I've been suffering the indignities of chemo.

Now, that would be depressing.

Think Piglet and Pooh. 'Supposing it doesn't.'

But my heavens, I look forward to reuniting with my taste buds. Buddies, I've missed you so much. Lord knows what you'll feel like eating when you return. Will you be unable to eat chocolate or drink coffee ever again? Will your fish fetish remain, after all that cannibalism?

Only time will tell. It's the end of an era, and good riddance, but somehow I suspect that there will be a hangover of some sort to deal with. When you're fighting the Freeloader, there always is.
Thanks, Nancy. Love you to bits.

No comments:

Post a Comment