Yesterday (4th December) was my delayed visit to chemo camp, the beginning of Taxotere and Herceptin (TH1). It started early with further ingestion of high dose steroids. I have to say I really don’t like these things one iota and I would avoid taking them if at all possible (the thought has crossed my mind). Following a quick breakfast we were out of the house by 8am to reach the hospital for 9am.
The fun began a few metres along our lane as we noticed none of the roads out here had been gritted, yet temperatures fell to -6c overnight. We live surrounded by 1:5 (20%) or 1:6 (16.6%) hills. Rather than grit, our local council strategically placed attractive and somewhat distracting road signs in an attempt to draw motorists attention to the more treacherous stretches of asphalt. Unfortunately the council failed to realise diverting drivers eyes towards a pretty snowflake appears to cause more crashes. I’ve included the sign – I think it’s pretty but see for yourselves. Unsurprisingly we encountered another crash today and the road was blocked as the battered vehicle was loaded for transport. Fortunately it seemed no-one was seriously hurt. I suspect the combined cost of snowflake signs coupled with police and paramedic attendance, road closures and insurance claims is more expensive than the simple act of scattering some grit. But what do I know?
Upon arrival at camp I saw my buddy Brian for a fleeting moment. He was in for blood draws in advance of transfusions later this week. Brian and I met on each of my three previous visits and we’ve become firm friends. He’s the guy who welcomed me to the club no-one wants to join, made me feel like I’d be safe and loved there and gave me the last three roses from his garden on my second visit. On reaching our fourth rendezvous this morning we greeted with a hug and kiss. Brian is 77 and this simple act, a warm hug and peck on the cheek between fellow cancer fighters means so much for us both given physical interactions with the rest of humanity are pretty much off-limits due to our suppressed immunity. Brian was done by 10am. I, on the other hand, stayed at camp all day from 9am until 5.30pm.
We started with cannulation and with me it’s always a trial. Here’s the evidence from this today’s adventure. (Don’t look if you’re eating or squeamish).
- Cannulation into the vein beneath my thumb – it was a little messy!
Following cannulation we went for the saline flush. This is very inoffensive and takes about 30 minutes. Next up was Herceptin, an essential part of my treatment. Herceptin is known to cause serious infusion reactions so Emma my chemo nurse warned me to shout if I “felt strange in any way.” Truth is I’ve always felt strange in many ways but she’s a chemo specialist, not a psychotherapist so I decided to keep those thoughts to myself 😉 Herceptin took around 1.5 hours to infuse and I felt OK throughout.
After Herceptin we moved to Ondansetron, an anti-emetic infusion plus a further saline flush. Then came the other big gun in my treatment regime, Taxotere complete with a second warning that I must shout if I felt strange in any way. Taxotere is a heavy-weight chemo drug and Emma explained it was essential to take the steroids much as I detest them, since without them Tax is potentially lethal. I immediately agreed to stick with the steroids for as long as it takes even if I look like Mr Staypuff’s beetroot coloured sister and suffer some severe inconveniences inside my gut.
- This is how I look on steroids; it is not attractive inside or out!
Taxotere is a strong yet fragile drug; it has to be protected from daylight so as soon as it’s put up on the drip-stand, it’s covered with a fetching crimson bag. Personally I think they should give me one of these for my head as I’m often not dissimilar in colour and would, I think, be less scary if fully concealed beneath said bag. I would politely request a couple of small air holes though as the bag is thick plastic!
- Taxotere – too scary to be displayed in public 😉
Tax completed by lunchtime and was followed by another saline flush.
I then had the long wait to see if any allergic reactions would kick-in. The cannula stays in for the whole time in case antihistamines need to be administered and this makes the punctured vein very grumpy. At one point during the afternoon I developed a slightly more reddish hue than usual but it passed of its own accord.
Emma was supposed to finish her shift at 3pm today but decided to collect her teenagers from school and return to camp in case I developed any problems. Although Ronnie my other chemo nurse said she thought all would be well, Emma was determined to come back and oversee me once her children were safely at home. The dedication of these ladies is remarkable – they don’t get paid overtime so I’m going to make them a hand-picked Christmas hamper complete with champagne as a small token of my thanks and drop it in when I return to see the oncologist next week.
By 5.30pm I felt largely the same as I did on arrival at 9am. Except for my sore and bloody wrist complete with rising bruise. Emma stressed that if I developed any signs of breathlessness in the next few days I must immediately call for an ambulance. It’s sobering to receive this kind of instruction when you’ve been fit and relatively healthy prior to cancer making an appearance in your life. Emma also advised flu-like symptoms and joint aches may become my new friends over a 2 – 5ish day period and I have to watch my temperature closely. Tax is extremely hard on blood cells so infection risk is heightened.
As always there is good news to go along with these health warnings. So far I have no signs of anything untoward happening inside me and feel relatively normal. Unlike FEC, TAX has not made me head-to-toe seriously nauseous from 4pm onwards. With any luck if nausea stays away and allergic reactions are contained by my unloved but essential steroids, today (it’s now approaching 1am) will be a very nice day. The biggest piece of good news? I’ve completed TAX1 and I’m now two-thirds of the way up Everest armed only with my flip-flops, sarong and the love of my dear family and friends 🙂 Onwards and Upwards!