It’s a glorious Sunday afternoon (25th Feb) and for the first time in 6 months I can say I don’t have the dread of ‘chemo day’ this week. I have had chemo every other Tuesday since 12th September, but now it’s going to be my first week without the dreaded trip to Ward 19, Heartlands Hospital. It feels amazing. My side effects from the last cycle are slowly disappearing, however, I’ve just had to read my last blog to see where I left you all as Baby + Chemo brain is not a good mix and I have a constant fog where my intelligence used to be (I think I had some anyway). The simplest of things like remembering dates, or a shopping list, or my house keys or what I’ve walked into a room for are becoming more difficult. I’m putting it down to the exhaustion and the lack of concentration I seem to be suffering with but hoping I’ll bounce back once these chemicals are gone! The thought of getting back to some sort of normality is refreshing, scary and slightly overwhelming because I know that I need to adjust to a ‘new normal’, not just return to the Catherine that I was before.
Firstly, I now have a child – a child who is 6 months old already! The maternity leave that I had planned sailed out of the window at the same time as me receiving my diagnosis – this means I have 3 full months of maternity leave left to make the most of before I go back to work in June. I intend to spend time with family and friends who I haven’t spent that much time with, go to baby classes, get outside and enjoy the Spring weather (hopefully the ‘beast from the east’ doesn’t hang around for too long) and mainly slowly get my fitness back on track. It’s worrying that I can’t vacuum a room without sweating, panting and having to sit down… I’ve never felt so unfit in my life.
Secondly, the whole experience of going through chemotherapy has changed the way I think, love and appreciate the people around me. Who knew that a message, phone call or social media contact could make a person feel so supported? Not once have I felt alone and I want to make sure I give that support right back. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, giving someone your time is powerful. At some point, I want to help support people going through similar circumstances – there are amazing volunteers in Ward 19 who shine a little ray of sunshine on what is a pretty dreary day for the patients. Two of these amazing people are Jan and Cath – they are sisters and have been volunteering on Ward 19 for the last year. They laugh, joke and chat away to patients receiving treatment and hand out teas, coffees, biscuits and sandwiches. Around Christmas they decorated their trolley with tinsel, wore reindeer antlers and gave everyone a bit of seasonal joy. They have definitely made my time that little bit easier.
Cath and Jan
Thirdly, it’s going to be a long road before I can move on from what has been a fairly traumatic 6 months. Processing and dealing with what’s happened doesn’t scare me because I know it will help in the long run, but I know it’s not going to be easy. I’ve applied for the Macmillan Counselling which is offered through Relate and I’ve had my initial appointment. I don’t have any experience with counselling really, and whilst I consider myself the sort of person who can deal with things logically and tend to be quite open with people about how I’m feeling (hence the blog), I actually think I’d be crazy to not take this opportunity. Macmillan funds up to 8 counselling sessions which is amazing, and then I can choose whether to keep going (and pay) or stop. The fact it’s even on offer is incredible and it’s little things like this that is spurring me on to think up fundraising events to support these services which help so many people.
Cycle 6 recap:
All things considered, the last cycle was ok. Cycle 6A, treatment 11, was a long haul. We were kept waiting from 12.45 until 4pm before I was hooked up. Again, this is the result of a lack of chairs in a very busy Ward, with people falling over themselves to be treated. I don’t actually mind waiting, but the issue I have is the anxiety builds up when I’m sat there waiting. We never moan or show frustration to the nurses because they are just doing what they can, but the longer I sit outside the day unit, the more anxious I feel. I touched on the smells and physical sickness that hits me when I walk into the ward before, but sitting and watching others have their chemotherapy treatment is even worse. I try not to watch the needles and the hook ups, but sometimes you’re right there and can’t see anything else. I often wonder what other patients are going through, what support network do they have, why do they come and get treated on their own? There may be very simple answers or it may be more complicated but it reinforces how lucky I am to have never had a single treatment on my own. Andrew has been sat there, watching me go through these treatments and has seen the pain of the needles and the dry heaving from sickness, and I couldn’t be more grateful. The inane conversations, watching Tipping Point or David Dickinson’s Real Deal (hate it), or arguing over a crossword has helped keep me sane over the last 6 months. This treatment saw another vein collapse (I think they are going on strike) so I had to have a second canular in the other hand. Not fun. However, as soon as it was in, I was hooked up and everything else went smoothly. Well that was until ‘Bob’ – (do you remember Bob? The guy who was being treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?) – started to pipe up. I hadn’t seen him for ages and I’d asked the nurse how he had been getting on and she’d reported that he was on the mend and doing well. I was really pleased to see him and he was holding court having a laugh and a joke with the other patients and nurses. It was Bob’s last treatment (real name Anthony) w/c 5th Feb and he’s all clear. He now has no hair, eyebrows or moustache (much like me) and even went into detail about his other body hair and what his anatomy now looks like – I’m not sure the old guy sat opposite appreciated it but it made me, Andrew and the older lady next to him giggle. A bit of lighthearted humour goes down well in a place like that!
Side effects have been getting slightly worse with every treatment but nothing I haven’t been able to handle. Knowing my last chemo treatment was on 13th Feb just kept me going. I popped into Heartlands the day before my last session to have my bloods done but when I arrived for my last ever treatment, I was told that my WBC’s had dropped to 0.2 (all time low) so I had to have another blood test. Unfortunately, the results of the test showed a further drop to 0.1 which could have meant my treatment would be cancelled. ARGH. This was a nightmare – I don’t think I could actually cope not having the last treatment on 13th Feb. That date had been spinning around in my head since September, and now it was here and there was a possibility it wasn’t the end. Fortunately, the nurse got onto the blower to my mate Paneesha who again agreed for me to have treatment, as long as I had the bone marrow injections too. Fine, I can handle the injections as long as I have my last treatment. It was strange to sit in the familiar day unit and know it was my last time. What really made me happy was that the nurse who put my first canular in and talked me through the chemo process, was the nurse who took it out on the last day. Her name is Naomi and she’s amazing. The way she looks after patients and makes us all feel comfortable goes a long way in making a bad day slightly better. I’ll be forever grateful for her care, along with all the other nurses in Ward 19.
My last clinic review was on Wednesday 21st Feb, and we saw a doctor who was new to us. He had a good read of my notes, asked about side effects and then started talking to me about fertility and when (if we wanted to) we could start trying to conceive. Basically, I have to wait at least a year from now to ensure the baby wouldn’t be affected by the chemicals in my body. I nodded along but in my head I was thinking, ‘hang on a minute mate, I’ve only just had a baby so less of the conception chat’. One thing at a time and all that! The Doctor did talk to me about the possibility of having Radiotherapy. Apparently, Radiotherapy is commonly given to people with ‘bulky’ Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which is obviously what I’ve had – this would be 2-3 weeks of 10 treatments. My heart sank. I don’t want anymore treatment!!!! He did explain though that a recent study from Italy has shown that as long as the scan I’m having in 5 weeks time shows no active lymphoma, I won’t need Radiotherapy. Everyone keep their fingers crossed please! The last scan results were clear so I’m hoping it’ll be the same result for this next scan.
Look Good, Feel Better
During my time going through treatment, I’ve started to follow a few people on Instagram who are going through various cancer experiences. One lady talked about a make-up course (look good feel better) that you can attend if you have had, or have, cancer. It’s a course that acknowledges how ladies may feel during their treatment and tries to help boost their confidence with make up tuition and skin care tips. I called up and booked myself onto one at Solihull Hospital and went along on 21st Feb. It’s completely free of charge which is amazing and they are usually run once a month in hospitals. There were 6 ladies at my session and 3 retired beauticians (all volunteers) who took us through a range of make up tips, from skin care routines to how to draw on eyebrows – this I really needed! We all got a goody bag which was filled with cosmetics, all donated from various brands, and spent 2 hours pampering ourselves. I would recommend this course to anyone going through this – not only was it great to learn how to draw on non-existent eyebrows, but it was also lovely to talk to other women about what they are going through. Despite us having different cancers, different treatments and different prognosis’, we all seemed to be struggling with how we feel about ourselves. I know my confidence has hit an all time low, and it’s difficult to take off my wig and make up, and feel confident looking in the mirror. I don’t recognise the person staring back at me and it’s unnerving. However, make up and wigs give me a boost of confidence so there will not be a non make up day for quite a while. I thought I’d show you all the reality of what I’m faced with everyday, and then the difference some hair and make up can make. I don’t think I need to caption ‘before’ and ‘after’.
On the upside, from this point on, I won’t be losing any more hair and should start growing it back! The doctor said I should have considerable growth within 8 weeks… I’m not sure what considerable means but I’m guessing it’ll be down my back like Rapunzel 🙂