On Monday 12th September, I started cycle 4 of my chemotherapy. I had been quite nervous in the lead up to this one, because I’ve been out of my chemo routine for about a month. Thankfully, in this day and age, we have the ability to take and send selfies, which I discovered makes for a great distraction technique on the way to hospital! Although my accomplice, Jess soon had to stop sending them back because of some interesting looks she was getting while crossing the road on the way to work!
Once in the hospital and settled on the chemo ward, I went through the usual routine, until it came to putting a cannula in. It seemed that my veins decided not to play ball; it took several attempts to get one in. The nursing team were pulling out all their tricks to try to help my veins along, including drinking lots of fluid. I ended up needing to guzzle lots of water and tea – I had to keep switching between the two because I kept getting hot and cold! Eventually, after quite a few attempts and me feeling a like a well-used pin-cushion, the nurse found a vein that decided to behave, so we were able to get started.
The issue with my veins may have been because I hadn’t drunk enough fluids in the morning, but it may also be because my veins have become a little exhausted from all the chemo over the past few months. If this is the case, it might be that I need to have a PICC line or portacath put in to help with access for chemo sessions.
A PICC line is essentially a longer cannula that can stay in my arm for a longer time. It would mean no more cannulas or needles for blood tests, as everything can be done through the PICC line. A portacath is another option. This would sit under the skin on my chest, so is a bit more hidden than a PICC line, but because of where it is placed, it has a slightly higher risk of causing me to develop a pneumothorax (air trapped in the lung) – and because I developed one after surgery, the PICC may be the most sensible option at this stage. I’ve been given some information to read about each option, and will decide with the team what the best option is over the next week.
Back to chemo….my treatment plan for the next three cycles is pretty much the same as it was for cycles 1-3. The only difference is that I’m not having Avastin at the moment. Avastin works by preventing cancer cells from re-healing, but it also prevents other cells in the body from healing. So because I’m still healing from my operation, I won’t be having this until the start of cycle 5. I also re-started scalp cooling which I’ve obviously not used for a few weeks now. The moment the cooling cap went on was tough – I had to grit my teeth and remind myself that I can manage it. Ironically, because I am currently experiencing hot flushes due to menopause, the cap is quite useful in helping them pass quickly…if only I had a scalp-cooling machine at home! Talking of hot flushes, my team is referring me for acupuncture therapy to try to help manage the flushes and night sweats. I’m really grateful for their support with this, because as I mentioned previously, menopause at 27 is really a hard thing to deal with for so many reasons. I’m trying to take each issue from the menopause as it comes, and at the moment, the biggest issue for me is the hot flushes and night sweats.
Back to chemo again…it was wonderful to see another patient on the chemo ward who I met at my second chemo session. This lady had a huge impact on me when I first met her. At the time, I had recently started using scalp cooling and didn’t know whether it would work. After talking to her about how she planned to manage her own hair loss if it happened, she made me feel less frightened at the thought of loosing mine. In her words,she would, ‘Embrace it and rock it!’ Hearing this I felt reassured that I could also deal with it if it happened. So I’m keeping her words in my mind as I start using scalping cooling again. When I see this lady, she also reminds of a quote by the poet C.C Scott who once said, ‘The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.’ This is a reminder about our spirits being stronger than any physical effects from cancer and chemotherapy (hair loss included).
Everyone is different and people find their support in different ways. For me, I find it so comforting seeing familiar faces and talking to other patients on the ward. I have gained a lot from hearing about other patients’ experiences of ‘Cyril’ and of chemotherapy treatment. I have found that these conversations have been such a big part of keeping a positive mind-set and have given me courage in my own treatment.
I’m hoping that this week will run as smoothly as possible, although I’m anxious that it will be a hard one. I’m worried about having the side effects from chemo again, especially at a time when I’m still recovering emotionally and physically from surgery, but I know that one day at a time is the trick.