First treatments

It has been a very trying week. After being in hospital to get some more fluid drained off, the next day we go to see the oncologist. She is frustrated. There is still no news on the plueral fluid but we all agree to go ahead with the chemotherapy. I will also get a referral to and ENT specialist as I have so much pain in my osophaegus which no-one can seem to understand. I am already sleeping propped up at night and still taking a mixture of pain killers to help dull it. The phlebotomist who takes blood is not the usual one and he seems obvlivous to the fact that inserting the needle in and pushing it around under the skin actually causes a lot of pain. After fifteen minutes of so of this, he hands me over to a colleague who gets into a vein on my forearm straight away. There are 2 research nurses waiting to take extra blood but the vein will only give enough for the basic tests so they fade away like sad vampires.

Thursday sees me in the chemo suite for the first time in a year. I am starting with Herceptin which has to be loaded. This means they deliver it over an hour and then I have to wait for 6 hours to see if I have a reaction to it. Firstly, getting a canula in is a major job and they use a vein in one of my fingers which is a little painful. I feel fine after the infusion although that feeling gradually fades away. By the time Mr Mason arrives at 5pm, my blood pressure is shooting up and my heart rate is high. A doctor is summoned. She has to take a full history which takes some time and I am constantly monitored. The unit has emptied out and apart from 2 patients who are waiting for transport, it is just me, Mr Mason, a doctor and nurse. The doctor asks for some bloods to be taken. I feel so ill and it takes quite a while for the nurse, who should already have left, to get anything out of me. The doctor rings the on-call oncologist who agrees I can go home if I take some blood-pressure medication as soon as I get in. We finally get home at 8.30pm

Friday I am back in the suite and they are very unhappy about trying to canulate me again as Docetaxel is not something they want to put in a vein that might burst. The nurse takes around 45 minutes to get a canula into my next finger and it is strapped down as firmly as possible. The first drug, Perjeta, goes in over an hour and I manage to sleep through it. After that, we have to wait for an hour to see if I have any reaction to it which, thankfully, I don’t. Then the anti-sickness meds go in and finally Docetaxel. Somewhere around 5pm I get a visit from Ms Cantini and Mr Tozer who have been to the radiotherapy unit. I also get a visit from Steve, the unit’s administrator, who tells me he is leaving during the middle of next week to go temping. He had seen my name and remembered me from last year and I feel so touched he has come to say goodbye. Steve was the person who was so witty during the ‘Dont’ call her Beryl’ incident nearly 2 years ago. You’ll probably have to delve into the archives for that one.

We eventually leave the chemo suite at 6pm, tired and just weary of the whole thing, My appetite is not great at the moment so we stop at Tesco Express to buy some eggs and, a current favourite, trifle. Scrambled eggs and trifle slip down easily so they are currently on the menu quite a bit. Mr Mason gets some fish and chips from our favourite shop as he is so hungry and I know he is tired. He is always up earlier than me and is also decorating my office in addition to doing all the housework and walking Dog. It’s such a lot for him so fish and chips is the least I can do. He breaks off a little piece of fish and puts a few chips on a plate and that’s enough for me. I take a raft full of drugs and then get into bed. I am so physically and mentally tired, I just need to get into bed and stare into space. It’s such a lot to take in but at least we’ve begun the treatment which I am glad about. The oncologist did say that if I tolerate Docetaxel well, I may be able to stay on it long-term. Hmmm. Not so sure how happy I feel about that but we’ll have to see how things go. We are hoping to treat this as a chronic condition but won’t know if that’s possible until after we have a couple of treatments under our belts.

So were basically doing OK and looking forward to visits by two separate groups of friends next week. It’s not going to be an easy road this time, not that it was last time but last time we had hope of cure and this time that’s not possible. Sorry, a bit gloomy this time but that’s probably all the drugs and I know I have loads of people routing for me and that feels good. Thank you.

Woo hoo! Bank Holiday!

I am absurdly excited by the forthcoming Bank Holiday. Last year, I can’t remember what we did. I do remember being in the supermarket with Mark and wondering whether Easter had happened or not. My thought processes were so scrambled from chemo and the amount of information being thrown at us that I was unable to think straight. Today, although my thought processes are still muddy, I am so much clearer and better that I am able to look forward with keen anticipation. Yes, I know I’m not working but the thought of 3 days without appointments or any other kind of distraction is very, very appealing.

Today had a good start. Thanks to the idea of one of my blog followers, I contacted my GP to ask if I could be prescribed an Acti-Glide sleeve to help me put my compression sleeve on. A day after I sent her the email, I receive a phone call from the surgery informing me there is a prescription for me. A day later and I am the proud owner of a bright blue Acti-Glide sleeve. It is made out of a kind of woven plastic and has elastic and a plastic tie. The instructions seem very simple so I try it out and hey presto! My sleeve is on magically without the sweating and carry on I have enjoyed before. I slip on my tattoo and I am ready to go (having showered and dressed first – I am not going out in just my sleeve, not even if you pay me).

Today we go to Cambridge so I can work with some researchers looking at an intervention to help people share bad news with friends, family, colleagues etc. We drive past fields full of gloriously yellow rape. The skies are dark and the contrast is stunning. We arrive at Hughes Hall and Mark and Dog decide to go for a walk while I meet the researchers and other patients. They provide lunch which is plentiful but slightly bizarre. There are sandwiches with the crusts cut off, wraps and, on just one platter, half a bagel. It looks as though lunch has been composed of left-overs but it tastes fine and it is kind of them to feed us. There are 6 of us excluding researchers, all having experience of cancer first-hand. Ann, a lady sitting opposite me, has had bowel cancer and, just before her fifth anniversary, found out she has developed bladder cancer. Her friends and family had arranged a party to celebrate her 5 years clear and she had to announce her new diagnosis. I can only guess what this may feel like and she is clearly distressed at recalling the very recent events. We discuss what sort of information might be useful but it’s difficult to imagine what anyone fresh from diagnosis may be able to take in. It’s an interesting meeting, though, although periodically I wonder about Mark and Dog as the rain lashes down outside followed by bright sunshine.

At the end of the afternoon, we leave the meeting. Ann and I swap email addresses and I find Mark and Dog in the car, waiting for me. We drive home via the supermarket where, full of Bank Holiday cheer, I run around throwing lovely things into the trolley. I plan to buy a big tub of sweets for the Chemo Suite staff as it is my final dose of Herceptin tomorrow but, amid legs of lamb, pots of fresh herbs and cream, I somehow manage to forget this completely, only remembering as we drive away.

It is one year since I began receiving Herceptin. I started the infusions in a confused and chaotic state and cannot remember exactly when the first dose was given. The only thing I remember is being given the first dose carefully and slowly in case I had an allergic reaction to it. I was bald and was being given my first dose of Docetaxel, the wonder drug made from Yew trees. Light sensitive, it is given under a protective bag to keep it dark.

This weekend will be a celebration. On Saturday we are having lunch with friends and I plan to make arrangements to fly in our friends’ light aircraft, another of my firsts. The fact that it coincides with a Bank Holiday just makes it extra special. I have been so lucky with the support and love of friends and my immediate family. I am not sure I could get through it without them.