Well. It seems like this post has been an awfully long time coming. But on 12th October, I had my very first session of chemotherapy. I’ve never felt more like I’m being treated for cancer than in this last week. When I got my diagnosis back in July, we were initially planning to do chemotherapt first, so I felt like I had been building up to it for months. I never thought I’d actually cheer when my surgeon gave me the all clear to start having poison injected into my body, but alas, I did.
My friend Georgia came up with this blog post title about eight weeks ago. I’ve been patiently waiting to use it and now is the perfect time, because over the last fortnight, I have been more than a bit chemotional. Before my first session, it was weird waiting for something that could have the potential to make the next few months of my life exceptionally tough. It was strange to be excited to start something that I was actually completely terrified about. I’ve said before that the great unknown is not my friend, and chemo was the biggest unknown I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. If cancer is a squatter in my life, chemo was my unchartered Everest, with no maps, no footpaths and no idea of what was waiting for me at the peak.
A lot of people have asked me how the chemotherapy itself was. And the answer there is simple. It was exceptionally quick, incredibly straight forward and really, relatively painless. I’m doing six cycles of chemo, with two different sets of drugs. The first three cycles of my treatment is called FEC chemotherapy, because it’s made up of three drugs – fluorouacil, epirubicin and cyclophosphamide. The drugs were pushed into my veins via a cannular in my forearm and I was given plenty of fluids so that the chemotherapy drugs were less harsh on my veins.
One of the things that I found most difficult ahead of the chemo, and I feel like I’m repeating myself here, was the fact that I had no idea how my body would take to being pumped with poison. Side effects and experiences vary from person to person, but can include risk of infection, bruising and bleeding, anaemia, nausea, tiredness, upset stomach, taste changes, sore mouth, skin changes, sore eyes and headaches. You know, just a couple of mildly problematic things. Nothing too unpleasant (!)
Though the last week has been hard, it hasn’t been completely intolerable. It has been manageable, but tell that to the me five days in who was incredibly grumpy and feeling fairly sorry for myself. I’ve had some pretty intense nausea, crazy heartburn, been more tired than I even knew was possible, spiked a temperature and had to go to the hospital to check I wasn’t neutropenic (having way too few white blood cells), thrown up in a hospital recycling bin, not wanted to eat anything apart from maybe half a bag of McCoys salt and vinegar crisps (possibly the most distressing side effect for me. I love my food) and being unable to drink liquid nectar of the gods, Sainsbury’s Cherries and Berries squash. But it’s been manageable. It is one week since my first chemo and I’m starting to feel more like myself again. I’m still not excited about eating but I gave a Sunday lunch at my local pub a good shot yesterday and I could definitely get on board with a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel for breakfast one day this week.
Obviously, one of the more obvious side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer is the hairloss. I’ve talked about this throughout my cancer treatment and I think it’s important to explain myself a bit here. Despite being worried about losing my hair from day dot, I made the decision not to use a cold cap during my chemo. A cold cap can offer some protection against hair loss and I’ve heard of ladies who have had brilliant results – but after a lot of umming and ahhing, I decided it wasn’t for me. Along with all the other uncertainties of chemo, there wasn’t enough of a guarantee for me that it would work on my fine hair and I couldn’t face going through it to then potentially still lose my hair anyway. I didn’t think I was strong enough. So I embraced the buzzcut. And got a wig. Some people say my hair will start falling out around day 10, some say day 14. Others say 19. Soooo, watch this space yo. I’ve been prepping my headscarf game and truth be told, I actually feel kinda glam. And yesterday, in my red and white polka dot number, I felt like Rosie the Riveter.
I’m sure millions of people have said it, but I can’t wait for this bit of treatment to FEC off. One down two to go, followed by three docetaxol. Let’s DO THIS.