Chemo is a fickle and funny beast. Thanks to my half-way point scan back in December, I know it has been successfully ploughing its way through my little tumour cluster and reducing the pesky cancer cells superbly. But it is simultaneously giving me anxiety and panic attacks!
Fun fact, Chemotherapy treatments derive from Mustard Gas and it was developed as a result of chemical warfare in WW1/2. It’s both an incredible drug and a dreadful one.
As my round of chemo draws towards a close my anxiety is now at a point that I’ve gone looking for some professional help to manage it. Just to process treatment, fear, my reactions to any time Keith feels unwell, and some of the weirdities your brain manifests.
All the anxious stuff
I scribbled most of this post down during my last chemo, sitting on Ward 1, with a bay full of others on various IV treatments. (BTW if you’re one of those who pay to have IV vitamins pumped into you, good lord just eat an orange. Get those things out of your veins you nutter! Protect those precious bloody highways.)
Although I can recognise and acknowledge the irrational moments pretty easily, controlling them is a whole other box of frogs.
Watching the guys and girls using Cold Cap now makes me feel very uncomfortable and stressed. Looking at the cap brings back memories of one painful session which prompted me to quit the treatment altogether*.
I find having a cannula placed hurts now and get very tense beforehand. Totally irrational as we're not trying to use damaged veins or causing any real pain, but it’s my brain recalling one bad needle out of 100 perfectly fine cannulas. Unless you’re horribly dehydrated, I’ve found they really are just a scratch, until my head gets in the way.
My resting heart rate has also steadily increased. Last chemo it hit 107 as we were preparing to start. Back at the beginning of treatment someone mentioned my “nice” resting heart rate of 56… oh how things changed, that trepidation is real!
Lastly, my biological drugs cause no nausea whatsoever, but after 10 minutes I feel sick. I know I can’t be feeling sick, it’s simply not a side effect, so I chow down more rich tea biscuits and fizzy water. Again, all in the head.
The best way to survive this newfound chemo stress is colouring in, music, podcasts, a decent book, and repeating the going-to-the-toilet routine once every 45 mins. Get up: unplug IV machine: back it out of gap between seats that’s a bit too small: roll down the corridor to the toilet: navigate around bins into the bathroom: pee: hand wash: hand sanitizer: reverse and repeat!
And do it all without flexing your hand and causing the IV line to think it’s blocked and beep (got this down to a bloody art, now!). The hours disappear fast.
Chemo is over and the least of my issues
I don’t need to chat to a professional about chemo stress,because tomorrow is thankfully my last one! It’s the wider impact that’s more challenging, because my anxiousness has now crept into various aspects of our life.
I’ve been officially signed off sick for 24 consecutive days, but I must force myself to ask how the business is doing, assuming we’re going bust and none of my co-directors are sharing the news. (It’s not. It’s flying!)
I spend 90% of motorway drives with my eyes closed - I am not in charge of the car! - because watching traffic makes me feel we’re about to crash.
I can’t let the dog disappear out of sight on a walk because I worry he’ll fall, run away or die. Despite him being trained to recall to a whistle and being a dream 98% of the time!
I have huge blow ups with Keith over the tiniest thing in the week leading up to treatment. We’ve always been a happily independent couple, but now I find I can’t be alone for more than 4 hours without growing concerned. We’ve got an agreement that he’ll come straight home if I begin to freak out (work aside!), if he can. He even leaves his phone on loud for me.
I am truly annoying eh?! Who has a phone on loud…
On to the next step in treatment
None of this stuff has dented our positivity or resolute expectation that we’ll be fine, cured and live a great life in the present. However, this weird list of side effects that have slowly manifested cause a bigger impact than the nausea, pain, constant infections or my ever growing collection of boob scars. And it’s the only one that’s very difficult to get treatment for.
Yet we’re at a key next step! Chemo is over. Surgery will tee up in March. Radiotherapy follows. Infusions of my biological drugs will continue until December.
Onwards to the next bit.
*Cold Cap is an amazing treatment. You wear a swimming cap made up of tubing which pumps icey cold water around your head for the duration of chemo. It freezes your scalp. After 15 mins you’re so numb you can’t really feel anything most of the time. And it prevents chemo hitting the hair follicles, saving the hair on your head! It doesn’t work for everyone sadly - and my very thin hair disappeared quickly despite giving it a bash.