1st cycle of chemo 4th January 2022
I had imagined the nurse hanging up my chemo bags and letting them infuse over a 2-3 hour period, occasionally popping in to make sure all was going well. I would have time to relax back, close my eyes and visualize these killer drugs advancing to every tiny nook & cranny in my body … up my arm and through my armpits to the heart … up the neck and through the brain, chest and mastectomy site … aorta, kidneys, liver, pancreas … down my legs to my toes and back again. Around and around they would go, smashing and destroying cancer cells. You get the picture? Clearly I have never been an Oncology nurse! What actually happened was my wonderful nurse, as pictured here, sat quietly for 45 minutes flushing, aspirating, and slowly pushing the 6 large syringes of the bright red Epirubicin into my vein manually, chatting as she went. The last 2 killer infusions hung for just 20 minutes each, punctuated with regular checks … were flushed through with some saline and that was that … done! There was hardly a quiet moment for any visualization at all. In the two and a half hours.
Rehydrated & a enjoying family visit in hospital 16 January 2022
And as for my first post-infusion experience, I didn’t really know what to expect except to say that my body was clearly going to be ravaged by this killing material. What a pleasant surprise then that other than feeling very tired for 4 or 5 days, I felt absolutely fine. My immune system took a big hit by Day 7, reducing neutrophils to just above zero, but I had escaped the biggies; mouth ulcers, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and chemo brain. That was until Day 13 of my 21 day cycle. One night of incredible unrelenting diarrheoa saw me recently hospitalized for 2 nights to be rehydrated intravenously and to manage cardiac arrhythmias caused by such sudden & serious dehydration. One of my friends reminded me of the many times I had cheerfully proclaimed, “Well if your body’s taking a big hit that’s great because that means the chemo’s doing it’s job”.
The effects of chemotherapy are apparently cumulative. This was my very first of a series of 6 chemo sessions and I can’t say I now looking forward to the next 5! Where is “the gift” in this sudden miserable onslaught?
Click on “The Gift” below to discover the gift
I surprise myself sometimes at how well I think I am prepared yet get taken so much by surprise. It felt important to me to be able to have a relaxed, meditative time when I could visualise the Holy Spirit attaching to that killer chemo and permeating every single nook and cranny of my body; bringing peace and healing. But no, that wasn’t the case there and then anyway. This is such a learning curve. I am receiving 6 cycles of chemo in a regime know as FEC-D. The first 3 weeks consist of 3 different powerful cyctotoxic medications, epirubicin, flourorouracil (5FU), and cyclophosphamide. The last 3 weeks will be just docetaxol … maybe this is when I get to have some relaxed visualization time. It seems amazing that the surgery has probably taken all of the cancer, yet for the sake of a few cells that may have escaped, we get to go through this gruelling regime. Ugghh. Not complaining, just saying …. Of course I don’t want any recurrence of this cancer. Chemotherapy is currently the only available treatment at the moment for aggressive triple negative breast cancer, so I’ll happily take it and let it do its life-saving job.
As for that miserable diarrhoea; I now have a plan in place to try to prevent, or at least treat significant fluid loss. It has been an important learning curve for both my Oncology team and I. Several years ago I had ½ of my large bowel removed, so don’t have the normal capacity to absorb fluid as it passes through the large bowel. Compounding that is a long-standing abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation that doesn’t like it when my body becomes dehydrated. The subsequent rapid, irregular heart rhythm is potentially dangerous, so effective hydration is really important at all ties for me; something I usually manage well. One of the 3 chemo medications, flurorouracil (5FU), has the potential effect of stripping out your gut, so this dose will be reduced next time. Hopefully we can all manage this more effectively.
I am learning that the reality of being a participant in this journey is very different to speculating about how it might be as a bystander. At times such as I have just experienced, it is really challenging. But I am more and more convinced that my experience of this cancer and its treatment rests largely in my own attitude, beliefs, and willingness to take control of what I can control. The flurorouracil may strip my bowel, but I can do my very best to populate my bowel with a healthy microbiome; I can stay really well hydrated and I can seek support early. As my friend so rightly reminded me, if the chemo is doing its job and attacking the cancer, that’s a good thing. The chemo, and the Holy Spirit and I are partners in this process. I am discovering sooooooo many gifts in this experience.
• We are having really hot weather day after day at the moment. I get to take my wig off to cool down. And let’s face it, I’m never going to have a bad hair day, wig on or wig off !
• I have discovered how amazingly nutritious and gorgeous chicken soup is.
• I can go ahead and reduce expectations of myself after a lifetime of pushing hard to be what others need or expect of me.
• My friends are fine with my bald head and tired self; they just want to be with me and to help in any way they can. I see that so much more clearly now.
• It is a privilege to grow old. I realise that and am living my life much more mindfully.
• Jim & I are getting onto sorting out EPOA (enduring power of attorney) and having open conversations regarding end-of-lifecare plans with our family. We should have done this before now anyway.
• I followed a blind man and a young woman being pushed in a wheelchair down town this week. I will only have cancer for a short period. I can see and walk and cycle and swim and engage with others as I please. Theirs will be long-lasting.
• My relationship with God and awareness of His wrap-around presence is so real to me. I am experiencing His peace that passes all understanding, written in Philippians 4:7 and complete confidence that God is able to meet my needs at any given moment and for any situation, good or bad.
My ex-nursing students working on the Oncology ward expressed their sadness that I am having to go through this, just as I have retired. I told them that I am not sad. I am learning that life is full of precious gifts if only you seek to discover them. This is an exciting journey of discovery for me.