Chemo round 4

After round three’s meltdown, chemo round 4 was a breeze – for me at least.

I had plenty of company – thanks to Emma, Zelie and Pete for keeping me smiling.

Also my lovely chemo buddy Vicki (read her latest blog here),  who’s had a really rough week in hospital battling a nasty infection, but still found time and energy to bring me a matching wooly hat to keep our balding heads warm. She also had to endure some very painful injections in her hand today, after the chemo drugs started to leak out into surrounding tissue.

Here’s hoping we both have an easier time of it over the next couple of weeks. See you on the other side of the side effects xxx

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Mother’s Day

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It’s Mother’s Day and that’s the perfect excuse to say thank you to my mum for supporting me through cancer treatment for the second time.

Last time around, I was in my twenties and living an hour-and-a-half from my parents’ home. But that didn’t stop mum driving over the M62 every weekday, bringing homemade food to me in hospital and sitting by my side on the ward. It was a boring, tiring slog but she never complained, even when I was grumpy as hell and unwilling to communicate.

This time around, I have a family of my own to take care of, and mum has stepped up again – helping to distract her grandchildren from my health worries with trips out and craft-making. She and dad are just a phone call away whenever I need a lift to the hospital or help with school pick-ups.

I’m not an easy patient – I’m too obstinate, introverted (on chemo) and irritable to accept help readily.

But I am grateful, lucky, and thankful to have my mum.

Friends

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I’ve seen lots of friends over the past few days during my ‘good week’ – when the chemotherapy drugs have left my body long enough for the side effects to be minimal: A group of cheery colleagues came to ply me with cake and raucous work gossip; my sister drove up from Birmingham for a catch-up; we had Sunday dinner cooked for us by lovely friends while the kids played together; and I’ve even ventured out for coffee with neighbours.

Spending time with friends during my good week each chemotherapy cycle is a huge boost to morale. It reminds me that when the chemo fog lifts, I can still be the sarcastic, chatty, outgoing person that feels like the authentic me. Rather than the curled-up-on-the-sofa depressed misanthrope. Because, in case you haven’t noticed (and my husband has definitely noticed), I am really very grumpy for at least ten days after chemo.

There have also been some very thoughtful gifts – a magazine subscription, cosy blanket, HelloFresh food delivery, to mention a few.

And then there was this:

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Thank you Amanda Wilkinson. There are no words 😉

Chemo round three

Chemo round three basically sucked. Mainly because I had worked myself up into such a state last night about my tumour ‘not responding’ to chemo that I had a full-on panic attack which required breathing into a paper bag followed by vomming into a plastic Haribo bucket (empty – it’s our family sick receptacle).
By the time I had realised this morning (in the car on the way to the hospital) that I had forgotten to take my pre-chemo steroids I was a snotty sobbing wreck. I managed to reduce the crying to tears-silently-pouring-down-the-face by the time my nurse had inserted the canula. But when I was still spilling big fat teardrops half an hour later the nurse suggested I might like to move to a side room. I think I was putting the other patients off their chemo. 

And being on my own did the trick. Ironically, once I stopped trying not to cry in front of other people, I stopped crying. I was still monosyllabic and moody with my lovely nurse who was working her last shift before moving to a new role at the hospital (hopefully with fewer weeping crazies) but at least I wasn’t sharing the misery round the ward. Because – honestly – the process of having chemotherapy is painless (once the canula insertion is out of the way) – it’s the emotional baggage you bring with you that turns it into a downer. 

I even managed to have a semi-normal conversation with my friend Anita, whose visit distracted me from own depressing thoughts. And two breast cancer veterans on Twitter (@Liz_ORiordan  and @secretdiaryofcg)- reminded me that chemotherapy isn’t really about the primary tumour – surgery will deal with that – it’s to ‘mop up’ any rogue cancer cells that might be swilling around the rest of my body looking for a new place to set up shop. And they’re so tiny that they’re more likely to be crushed by the chemotherapy drugs. 

So I’m feeling much calmer tonight. 

Although I have just taken a shit-load of steroids. 

Setback

Round three chemotherapy tomorrow and this time I’m not ready to face it. My MRI scan results today showed the tumour is ‘stable’ after two rounds of drugs. It hasn’t grown but it hasn’t shrunk either. So basically I’ve endured six weeks of hell for diddly-squat. 

And there are 12 more long weeks of torture stretching ahead just in case the tumour does decide to cooperate at any point. At which point I have a mastectomy to look forward to. 

So no, I don’t want to go to the oncology day case unit tomorrow and get pumped full of poison that will render me migrainous and mute for days while my tumour continues to fester away merrily. 

But I will. Because what choice do I have?

Working

The last time I was in the office was the Christmas party. I took annual leave as planned the day after. And five days after that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I haven’t been back to work since. And that’s a choice I’m wrestling with.

I realise I’m lucky that I get to make that choice – I’m fortunate that my employer is supporting me through my treatment. This isn’t the case for everyone – and  for some, there’s no financial alternative but to keep on turning up at the office and battle through the side effects.

But there are also those that choose to keep working during treatment, because it gives them a sense of normality and routine. And I get that – I’ve blogged before  about missing the routine of the mid-morning coffee run, and the banter with colleagues. I love my job as a journalist and enjoy the mental stimulation that producing and reporting on other people’s stories brings.

Victoria Derbyshire carried on presenting her TV show during chemotherapy, wearing a wig on screen. And 5Live newsreader Rachael Bland, who is currently blogging about her treatment, even did a Facebook Live from her chemotherapy session. I admire them for carrying on, and I’m also a little envious. The self-critical part of me (and it’s quite a big part) likes to beat myself up about it: Why are my side effects so all-consuming? Is it because I’m mentally weak? Would I cope better if I did carry on working? Am I being a bit pathetic about it all?

But the truth is, it’s pointless comparing yourself with other people going through chemotherapy, because everyone reacts differently to the various drug regimens, and everyone has different ways of coping with the rigours of the side effects. And for me, the first ten days after chemotherapy are so physically and mentally exhausting, that I want to spend the next ten days recovering – cooking and eating good food, spending fatigue-free time with my children and doing fun stuff like watching a film or reading a book without the brain fog. Basically, shoring myself up for the next onslaught of poison.

And no matter how much you enjoy your job, working always brings its own stresses and strains. I’m functioning, but only just. I don’t cry often, but tears are never far from the surface. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I end up sobbing into my keyboard when we cover a story about a murder/child abuse/cancer. When you’re ‘on the edge’ yourself, it becomes more difficult to maintain that journalistic detachment.

Who knows? – next week I might feel completely different and be so bored out of my mind that I can’t wait to get back to it. But right now, my decision to take a step back from work during treatment feels like the right one. For me, my health, and my family.