The chemical-free countdown: Five

If all goes to plan this week (shamrock, black cat, chimney sweep and crickets at the ready) I’m just five days away from TH3.  On Friday I’ll be able to say goodbye to  FEC-TH or at least the FEC-T part of it because 18th January is the date for my final chemo in this regime.  Hip hip hooray!


FEC-TH started on 25th September last year.  Putting an end to these drugs is something I’m exceptionally happy about.  Although Herceptin will continue for several months more,  being free of chemo chemicals and steroids is a major milestone.  I’ve never been a big drug taker, the odd headache pill now and then or a course of antibiotics for a bad chest infection but no regular drugs and nothing to excess.

Chemo has been a regular drug habit and I’m glad to be breaking free of it.  Whilst I haven’t been violently ill the regime has interfered with my life by disrupting almost every system of my body.  Some will recover, some won’t.  I am weaker, less able to repair myself and more tired than I used to be.  Of course there was really no alternative and the combination of drugs I’ve received thanks to Dr C. is thought to be the best we have at our disposal today.  It was the only way to combat the unwelcome stranger that decided to take up residence last year.

Looking along the trail I can see the summit ahead of me now.  The sun is glinting on the snow and I’m armed with a flag.  I’m going to plant it at the highest point when I get there on Friday.  The flag says “You can do this” and it’s a message for anyone else who has to follow in my footsteps. Sadly there will be many, too many, but I want them to know that it is possible to come through this, to get out the other side of treatment and to enjoy life again.

I was told this experience would change me, that I’d be a totally different person by the end of it.  The people who insisted I’d be different weren’t medical experts, they haven’t been through this regime and they didn’t know me very well.  I am different – physically I look like Elmer Fudd but get past the rather strange exterior (which I hope is temporary) and I’m still the same person.  I enjoy the same things and hold the same values.  I value my life and all it encompasses more than I did before but that hasn’t made me a different person, just a slightly wiser one.

Penultimate step in the chemo climb completed

M.R.S.A. Staphylococcus aureus on Brilliance M...

M.R.S.A. Staphylococcus aureus on Brilliance MRSA Chromogenic Agar (Photo credit: Nathan Reading)

I had another long day in chemo camp today but am pleased to report number 5 out of 6 is complete and seemed to go smoothly.

My son came along with me and said he found it very informative and also enjoyed the wide-ranging chat we had.

I was branded a trouble-maker as I noticed the MRSA swab pack I’d been given, to check if my suppressed immunity has made me and the other camp interns carriers of the hospital super-bug, was two months beyond its expiry date.  Apparently these kits had only been delivered in the last fortnight.

When the department assistant phoned microbiology she was told to dispose of the out of date kits, two full boxes, and throw away the swabs all today’s patients had already taken. They’ll need to be done again. I’m glad I read the packet before doing mine! This attention to detail comes from developing a beady eye for supermarket produce that’s been subject to poor stock control.

I’m now insomniac beetroot woman once again, high on the dreaded steroids and full of super toxic chemicals.  I did discuss whether I could be a future Bane in the Batman franchise with my son but he doesn’t think I suit the bad-guy character

This evening one of my best friends visited and it was just the tonic required after 5 hours of chemo so tomorrow I’ll pick up on my heavenly graces theme once again with a post about charity















Make ’em laugh, especially if they’re an oncologist ;-)

Make ’em laugh is a song from Singing in the Rain – I couldn’t remember it’s origin so looked it up and the choice is apt for two reasons. The first is rain.  Today it’s been raining. Not light drizzle, spits and spots, or squally showers but full-on rain together with 70 mph winds.  I’m getting slightly concerned because I’m led to believe the plagues of Egypt involved violent wind, flooding rain and a thick darkness in all the land for three days.  That’s our current weather forecast and it sounds just a bit too hellfire and brimstone for my liking.

However, make ’em laugh is my theme for today and that’s because Thursday 22nd November was oncology day.  I’m never sure how I feel about these appointments.  My oncologist is a quiet studious chap, very bright but not terribly forthcoming.  I think he’s a little on the shy side. A while ago I made it my mission to make him laugh every time I see him.  It lightens things up for me and I hope in some small way it compensates him for doing a very tough job.  Because he’s not the openly communicative type I have to think hard about how to appeal to his sense of humour but this is exactly the kind of challenge I enjoy.  Break the ice and see what’s underneath.

Even if I’m feeling a little ropey, I make myself breeze into the oncologist’s office with a warm smile and a bold “Good morning Dr C, how’re you today?” I make a point of asking how he is as soon as I get through the door because I noticed many people don’t bother 😦  I also listen to his answer and I hear that it varies. I can get more than the Pavlovian “I’m well, but how are you?” response and I’m genuinely interested in how he is and how his day is going because behind the spectacles, the slightly weary look and the fervent note-taking he’s a human being coping with as many of life’s conundrums as the rest of us.

My make ’em laugh plan for today involved referring to the adjustment of my chemo cocktail as leaving me stirred, not shaken, being very grateful for Dr C’s expert tinkering in achieving a successful FEC3 and asking for even more expert tinkering to ensure TAX1 is allergic-reaction free.  Sally the trials nurse was trying not to laugh but eventually asked if I was calling my eminent cancer specialist an expert tinkerer… to which I replied “yes and remember I have chemo brain so could easily have said tinkler, sprinkler or wrinkler.”  Mission accomplished, it made them both laugh.

On to the serious stuff.  As I’m a good chemo girl and my halo is shining brightly (around my knees) I get to have Taxotere next week.  I also get an unexpected bonus.  My echocardiogram highlighted that my heart is stout, strong and full of life and as I’m showing minimal signs of chemo wear and tear  I’ll be allowed to combine my first Herceptin alongside TAX1.  I advised I would expect tremendous amounts of expert tinkering if I’m to enjoy Dr C’s ‘connoisseurs choice Savoy Corpse Reviver’ without brandy, fernet branca or creme de menthe.  He gave me lots of extra dexamethasone to start from Monday, hmmm yummy.   On Tuesday I also enter into the Persephone trial and I’m very excited because I will have a new label – guinea-pig!  By volunteering for the trial I hope to help many other women as well as kicking cancer where it hurts.

Walking out of chemo camp today felt like a very auspicious moment.  I’ve done the FEC part of FEC-THis!  On Tuesday I enter the THis part.  Three more chemos and I’m back on the road to normality, whatever the heck that is.   With herceptin starting alongside TAX1, I’ll be ahead of the schedule I’d anticipated. I might need to replan, rebaseline, rework the critical path.  My milestones might be at risk……..  and I’m very happy about it 🙂

Make ’em laugh.
Credit: Clive’s Cats