The day finally arrived where I would join the chemo train, which for me was a step in the right direction towards getting my life back. I felt like I had been waiting for this day for so long, but now that it was here, I was certainly feeling less keen.
My appointment was at 10am, so that gave me time to get up without rushing around, prepare a snack to take with me and take the anti-sickness medicine and some paracetamol to help me through cold capping. We arrived to a fairly busy waiting room but I was whisked straight through to the room where I was to start my treatment. There were just 3 patients having chemo, 2 of whom had their partners with them, so it was quite calm. There were 2 nurses on duty and there were regular visits from a volunteer who was offering us all hot drinks.
The nurse who looked after me was an agency nurse and therefore quite new to the hospital, having been there since September. She set about checking my blood pressure, only to find that the machine wasn’t working, therefore resorting to counting my pulse rate the old fashioned way. Next, a temperature check with an ear thermometer which I am glad to say was working well as I would have hated to have this measured the old fashioned way! Then the nurse asked if I had taken my anti-sickness tablet and my steroids. I informed her that I had not been given any steroids at which point she fetched me a dose to take there and then, warning me that they are likely to keep me awake at night. Wonderful!
As my checks were fine, the cannula needed to be inserted with a steady flow of saline attached to it. My brilliant veins from Friday were nowhere to be seen so the nurse had to supply me with a heated pillow to see if they would put in an appearance. Then it was time to prepare for the cold cap. I was told to go and wet my hair and apply conditioner. Luckily, I had brought my water spray as I would have struggled to wet my hair without drenching the rest of me at the same time. Job done, we then needed to select the right size cap. I assured the nurse that I have a big head. Nevertheless, she proceeded to try a medium size on me as there should not be any gaps. Turns out I was right and I do have a big head. So a large inner cap was needed and this took some pushing and shoving to get it to sit on my scalp correctly. Then the outer cap (also large!) was strapped tightly to my head with a chin strap which severely restricted the movement of my jaw. I had a headache before the machine was even switched on! Once the cold came through, the first 20 minutes were indeed pretty painful and very cold. My blanket certainly helped, as did my cosy slippers.
Since the cold cap needed to be on for 30 minutes before treatment, distraction was needed to stop me thinking about the horrible sensation in my scalp. I couldn’t wear my glasses because of my new head gear, therefore reading wasn’t an option. My ears were covered up, so listening to music was also out of the question…Oh dear! Husband, this is where you come in handy…wait, he was in his own little world. Of all times!
“Read me some clues for this crossword puzzle!” I pleaded.
He sheepishly took the puzzle book, read the first clue to himself and then proceeded to write down the answer! Seriously! I told him he was meant to read them out to me so that I could join in! Finally, he got the idea and we tried to solve a few clues. My brain was obviously being affected by the extreme cold as I was struggling to think of the answers – This, coupled with my husband’s dodgy spelling led to us falling about laughing, much to the bemusement of the other patients. Hubby continued to show his lack of experience of doing crosswords when he read out a clue which was followed with ‘INITS’ in brackets and he asked me what that meant. I told him it means initials. “Oh!” said my husband, “I thought it meant innit!” Well, if I wasn’t crying before, I certainly was now! Things took a turn for the worse when one of the more mature ladies opposite me had a phonecall and for some reason I found her lively disco ringtone very amusing. I did wonder if the nurse had given me a good dose of laughing gas as the tears were streaming down my face! Mission distraction: Achieved!
After a while, we composed ourselves and the calm atmosphere was restored. I had brought along my coffee in a thermos cup but oddly enough, was not enjoying this very much. Don’t tell me I am going off coffee! Shocking! I didn’t much fancy the ginger cake I had brought along for my snack either.
After half an hour, the nurse returned with a trolley and a big tray of syringes. She and her colleague double checked all of the drugs and my personal details. I was also asked a range of questions to check that my vital organs were all in good working order. Then the treatment started. The nurse injected three lots of epirubicin first which was bright red and would come out later the same colour it went in (apparently). This particular drug turned my hand and arm very cold so I was given the heated pillow again to warm me up. Next, one lot of fluorouracil and for this one, the nurse advised me to suck on a mint to prevent possible sinus like pain. I could actually feel it working its way up through my veins which was weird to say the least. Finally, two lots of cyclophosphamide, and my infusions were done. Unfortunately, the cold cap wasn’t done yet as it needed to stay on for a further 90 minutes.
During this time, I was offered a sandwich and some juice, as was my husband but I told him he had earnt his bacon sandwich from the cafe on this occasion. Eating a sandwich with restricted jaw movement was slow but I wasn’t going anywhere soon so it was fine. I tried to read my Kindle by enlarging the text but it was quite blurry without my glasses which didn’t help my headache. As soon as hubby returned, we continued with the crossword. I was becoming increasingly in need of some more paracetamol but I had to wait another 40 minutes before I was due another dose. Painful!
Eventually (those last 40 minutes did drag!) the nurse switched off the cold cap, telling me that it needed to stay on my head for another 5 minutes while it warmed up. Removing it straightaway would have defeated the object, as my hair would have literally been ripped off my scalp. I was allowed to loosen the chin strap which was a bit of a relief at least. When the cold cap was removed, I was left with a few icicles on my head. Good job I had my woolly hat to wear on the way home. My head quickly became very hot which was a welcome feeling.
Just before we left, there were some visitors from the Lewis Foundation, which is a charity I hadn’t heard of. They were very kind, offering each patient a goody bag of their choice. For me, it had to be the one with the puzzle book, our new hobby, and a bag of sweets.
I left the hospital with another goody bag from the nurse – this one filled with anti-sickness meds and steroids to be taken over the next few days. So my appointment lasted a good hour and a half longer than I had estimated, but it was done. My next chemo is due to take place on a Tuesday again, which the nurse informed me tends to be the quiet day – Hurrah for Tuesdays! Before that I will of course have my bloods checked and go for a chat with the oncologist.
One chemo down, 5 to go.