Consenting to chemotherapy is one of the bravest things any human can do.
On one hand you know it may eradicate the cancer and as a result cure you, then, on the other hand, there is also that chance it might not. One thing you can be certain of in all cases is that you will be sick in some shape or form and you and your body will never be the same again. So, by the time the day came for me to start my own course of chemo (for my fellow chemo friends that consisted of x4 rounds of EC and x4 rounds of T) I decided if I was going to be sick, I wanted to walk to the hospital with my mum one last time and take in the fresh air and the scenery as the fit, able-bodied Leanne I knew.
An early blessing of my cancer diagnosis came in the form of me having the guts to contact one of my best mates that I hadn’t spoken to in over a year due to my own stupidity and stubbornness. When I broke the news to her a few weeks earlier via text she called me straight away and we both cried on the phone realising how silly our fall out was. We both apologised and she made it her mission to come to my first chemo with me and there she was- waiting for me in the waiting room all the way from Maidenhead. We hugged and approached the desk of the chemo day ward to book in. It was really happening.
The receptionist was lovely, she introduced me to the team and reassured me all was going to be ok. I even got my own little breast cancer goody bag complete with a Stella McCartney scarf. Yes, real Stella McCartney! This put me at ease. As soon as my chemo nurse was allocated he explained the procedure and what he was going to do, checked my weight, height and blood pressure- which was very high but straight away they knew it was due to stress. He also spoke to me about trying the cold cap press, which is a tight-fitting, strap-on, helmet-type scalp cooling system filled with a gel coolant that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. These caps and scalp cooling systems are designed to help some women keep some or quite a bit of their hair during chemotherapy. I agreed to try it. I needed to wear it for an hour before any chemo was given to me so that was first up on my agenda. Getting that thing on was hilarious and between me, my mum, best friend and the chemo nurse we had some good laughs at my expense, as painful as it was to keep on, I felt at ease being on the ward. My chemo nurse was fantastic and he went on to tell me that my pre- chemo blood results were pretty amazing, we all had a moment just realising that cancer doesn’t just hit sick people or people with poor lifestyles it can affect anyone and here was the proof, I was fit and healthy and it came for me.
Next up was fitting the cannula ready for the drugs. I was told that chemo tends to cause the veins to collapse so I may have to have a PICC line inserted as my treatment progressed (A PICC line is a long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter. It is used to give you chemotherapy and other medicines. A doctor or nurse puts it into a vein above the bend of your elbow. It can stay in place until your treatment is over.) I Didn’t like the sound of that as it ruled out exercise and I would have to come back to the ward every week to clean it. I was then shown the cocktail of drugs I would be given for the day, which included x2 huge syringes the size of a tube of toothpaste full of red liquid and a few smaller syringes. My nurse explained the side effects and asked for my consent once again. I agreed. It was time.
It took 2hours in total for the drugs to go through my system, and what had become apparent after the various chats with my nurse that day was that if I was going to feel anything from these drugs it wouldn’t be at this moment it would be in the next coming days. Thanks to him, my mum, my best mate and my cold cap experience I smiled and laughed my whole way through my treatment. As soon as they realised I wasn’t having any allergic reactions from the drugs I was given a huge bag of more drugs as a takeaway- this included anti-sickness tablets to take every day, steroids to manage the sickness and any adverse allergic reactions of the drugs, I was given an out of hours number to call if I had any emergencies and was lastly advised to get a thermometer to measure my temperature, if that was to go above 37.5c I was to report to A and E immediately. They gave me my appointment slip for treatment number 2 in 3 weeks’ time- I was then discharged to go home.
Going home I felt like a champ- I had made it through the day- Yey! Go me! but I was starting to feel weak from the drugs and really sleepy and the immediate thing I did feel was my taste changing- metallic like sensations filled my mouth and I realised I couldn’t eat.
The next day I woke up I could start to feel general tiredness and nausea, my older sister brought me round a breakfast with all my favourite things and I couldn’t quite make out the taste of any of it- so didn’t finish it. And I was tired, real tired but I was coping well. In fact I was coping really well, a lot better than I thought I would- this was great because I had my brother’s wedding in 4 days’ time and it was a weekend wedding 6 hours away on the Norfolk coast and right now it was up in the air whether or not I was to attend. Day 3 post chemo- my taste completely went and the taste of metal intensified, this alone was making me sick- if there was anything that bothered me at that moment it was not being able to eat because of this. Nevertheless I ordered a few dresses from ASOS to try on in case I decided to go to my brother’s wedding. Day 4- the day I had to set off for my brother’s wedding- there was no change in how I felt but I was relieved I wasn’t feeling the way I thought I would so I made the decision to go- picked one of the dresses that arrived that day, packed my bags including one for my drugs and headed off to the coast with the rest of the family for the weekend. YEY! Go me once again
Errrrr hmmm well not quite- who told me to go and do that? I still don’t even know what possessed me to get in my car 4 days after my first chemo and drive 6 hours away from all my home comforts- but I certainly suffered for it. Big time.
Although I was glad I went to see my brother get married, it was one of the worst decisions I could have ever made. I was tired and sick like a dog. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t stand or take any family pictures. I couldn’t interact with the guests and I had to quit the actual day halfway through the wedding breakfast. I listened to the music and party from my bed imagining what was going on down there. Hearing them party downstairs was hard. It was also isolating and lonely. And I cried in frustration at what my life had become- and upon reflection, I must say my brother’s wedding was one of the saddest days I’ve ever experienced. I’d like to say a big thank you to my niece Hazel who sweetly looked after me and kept me company that night.
On the Sunday as soon as I woke up I left for London with my mum, crying as I packed the car.
Upon my return to London it took me a few days to get over the wedding- lots of sleep and lots of anti-sickness tablets it was a hard slug but 10days after my first chemo I was feeling back to my normal self again, my taste had even come back- wow- first chemo down and im ok, I remember telling a mate of mine (who watched her sister go through chemo for breast cancer many years previously) that I was doing ok and I felt fine, and unintentionally she brought me right back down to earth again when she told me generally you don’t feel the physical effects of the first two chemo’s but by the 3rd/ 4th you will start to feel it- I remember thinking 1- oh great! the worst was yet to come and 2- people really need to be careful of what they say around people going through something like this- as for me it created more anxiety around my next dosage. But aside from that, I can’t lie- I was loving feeling better again I even organised a meal for my sister’s birthday and had a great time having a cocktail or two whilst I was there. This feeling was short lived though as a few days later- exactly a week before my 2nd chemo I combed my hair and a huge clump came out- I screamed in shock and ran to my mum- we just looked at each other and went silent- I knew this day might come but I didn’t expect it at that moment, so soon- I was traumatised, the cold cap hadn’t worked, and over the next 3 days my hair basically fell out clump by clump by clump and it was one of the most traumatic things I had ever experienced, it was causing me to have painful headaches too. I knew what I had to do and as hard as it was I made the call to my hairdressers to book in the big chop- and just like that it was booked. Saturday 10th of December was going to be the day- how ironic that that day also happened to be the day I was meant to be having a huge bash to celebrate my 15th year in business, now instead I would be having my hair shaved off- happy 15th anniversary to me!
Featured Pic: Top left: Me at my brother’s wedding, Top right: That cold cap, Bottom left: Me at my sister’s birthday dinner, Bottom right: my first clump of hair to fall out.