My chemo will take place in the same building where I had radiotherapy in 2014 and 2015 but there’s a marked difference between the radiotherapy and chemo departments if my pre-assessment a couple of days ago is anything to go by. Both are very modern and very clean but what I found different was the feeling of the place although, to be fair, I was there on one of the days that it is closed so maybe the atmosphere will be different when it’s got patients and staff in it.
The only person there was the Chemo Nurse who had phoned me a week earlier. We went through the paperwork together and I learned that in addition to Docetaxel I’d also be having two other drugs through an intravenous drip – Dexamethasone and Ondansetron, which I’d get first. At the end I’d get some saline, too. I also had the possible side effects that I might experience explained to me and was asked if I had any questions. It’s important to get one’s priorities right and the first question I had was whether or not I could go away on holiday to Spain for a week in September. The upshot is that it’s not the definite “no” I thought it was, but neither is it a “yes”. I’ll have to see how I do and then see what my oncologist advises. If I do manage to get away I mustn’t go into a swimming pool because of the chlorine and I’m only allowed into the sea up to my waist so as to avoid swallowing any sea water, which is not my preferred tipple in any case.
I was told a lot of things I expected to hear, but some of the “surprises” were that I should use a regular toothbrush with soft bristles instead of an electric one because, I think, the inside of my mouth will be more prone to sores, cuts and ulcers which could get infected, and to only use alcohol free mouthwash. As my immune system will be compromised I’m also not allowed what were described as “smelly cheeses”, so no Brie or Camembert for example, and meat and eggs have to be well cooked. Although salads are ok, they must be thoroughly washed.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I enjoy the foods that are described as “healthy”. I’m talking about low fat things, skimmed milk, soya, sugar-free and things like those. I’m told the general advice now is to do the opposite as I’m not to lose weight and I must eat things that’ll boost my energy. I’ve never found it difficult to put weight on and I’m worried that I’ll end up very overweight.
One of the more definite side effects of the chemo is hair loss. It’s a dead cert, in fact. I haven’t yet got used to having lost most of my other hairy bits due to the radiotherapy and hormone therapy so the prospect of losing what’s left on my head and face is quite depressing – we’ve all got our weak points and that’s mine. My body is getting more like that of a woman’s with every hormone pill I take and it’s only the hairy bits that still make me feel like me, so being told about something called a cold cap that might prevent hair loss on my head that I could try if I wanted sounded a very attractive prospect, all things considered. It’s not guaranteed to work but I was going to give it a go. Except I can’t. The reason I can’t is that they don’t make cold caps big enough for my big head or, if they do, the chemo place doesn’t have any. So within 3 weeks I’ll probably be bald all over. A mate suggested that I could put myself in control by shaving the lot off before it falls out, something that looks so easy when you see people shaving their heads to raise money for charities like Macmillan, but the thought of doing it for real does not feel so much like taking control as giving in, which I suppose I will have to do.
Other things I have to do is carry my Chemo Book around with me when I go out and have an overnight bag ready by the door in case I get an infection that is so bad that I have to go to hospital.
After going through the paperwork and questions the chemo nurse showed us around and then I had my bloods taken. The place isn’t big but has everything required. As the patient I’ll be given sandwiches because each session takes around 2½ hours, and both me and my partner will be given a cuppa, but there’s a small kitchen we can use if we want to bring food with us so he can eat, too.
I know I’m not in a humorous situation, after all, cancer is no laughing matter but whenever possible I’ve used humour to help me get through the last few years. It’s not how everybody does it but we’re all different and that’s how I need to do it. I get my laughs where I can and, it seems, so do others because while writing this I found a site that gave me a few laughs and from which I pinched the idea for an image.
Humour is what was missing from my chemo pre-assessment and I missed it. I had arrived on a high, having spent the previous four days in Dorset enjoying weather that was reminiscent of the Côte d’Azur and revisiting places that we hadn’t seen for over 25 years, such as Studland, Corfe Castle, Swanage and Weymouth and partaking of our favourite local delicacy, freshly caught crab sandwiches. Maybe chilling and de-stressing was not a good strategy, maybe I should have stayed home and dwelt on my situation instead, because the whole pre-chemo thing was far too matter of fact, realistic and clinical for me to handle and I came down from my high with a bump and left feeling like a black cloud had descended over me.
I’ll have my first cycle of chemo tomorrow. I hope it’s not all doom and gloom and that I’ll find the humorous side somewhere.