I was diagnosed with Cancer on the 1st October, and on Tuesday, 29th October, I start treatment. In this crazy month I’ve had a tonne of pre-treatment, sometimes daily. Chemo almost looks to be easier simply because it’s only one appointment every three weeks. I mean, it won’t be, but every cloud and all that!
My treatment plan splits into four parts.
It starts with chemo, followed by surgery which - assuming chemo works - will be a lumpectomy. Radiotherapy is next and 10 years of Tamoxifen wraps it up.
Roll on my 43rd birthday. I’ll be done!
My chemo regime is known as FEC-T. I get it once every three weeks. One treatment is called a cycle, and I’ll have 6 cycles in total. I’ll finish up chemo late February. Ward 1 will be my new home for the next 18 weeks!
Luckily, I only need one half day of chemo every three weeks. Whereas Keith spent five days as an inpatient on chemo 24/7, for three cycles.
FEC-T is a combination of four drugs designed to kill off the cancer cells, whilst taking down all of my healthy cells in the process. My drug combo is:
Fluorouracil formed part of Keith’s treatment too. We liked the irony of pumping a drug with ‘FU’ as a nickname into your veins. It’s apt. It really is a fuck you. Albeit a brilliant one that also saves your life.
My happy chemo cocktail also includes Trastuzumab (Herceptin) and a new drug called Pertuzumab (Perjeta). This drug was only approved for use in early stage HER2 positive cancers in January this year.
My cancer is HER2 positive - hence the Perjeta - which means it thrives on hormone protein - specifically, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (see, HER2). These two extra liquids are biological drugs that act like a shield, wrapping themselves onto HER2 proteins and stopping the cancer cells dividing and growing.
Chemo kills off the cancer cells and the biological drugs stop HER2 acting like plant food for my tumour.
I am so lucky that my cancer developed this year, a mere 10 months into the drug’s availability. It’s exceptional, life saving, and truly awful, medicine. But it keeps advancing all the time.
Chemo school and symptoms
We were called into chemo school last week, to prepare. Essentially a group session, run by the nursing team at Maggie’s, to tell you how chemo works, what the process involves and what side effects you might expect. Keith and I felt a bit patronised, in a smug we-know-what’s-fucking-coming way. We’re terrible people!
Immediate side effects, during infusion, include:
A high temperature and chills
If I am allergic to any of the drugs, I might experience:
Feeling hot or flushed
A skin rash
Swelling of the face of lips
Pain in the back, tummy or chest
Common full-term side effects are:
Neutropenia (low white cells) making you highly prone to bugs and infection
Loss of appetite
Sore mouth and ulcers
Changes to taste (metal mouth)
A cough or wheezing
Numb or tingling hands or feet
Muscle and joint pain
If the alternative wasn’t death, you’d probably try and avoid chemo!
During our session, the film and then the nursing team reassured our class that the major side effects happened to only 1/1000 people. Keith was that 1/1000 and managed to acquire neutropenic sepsis, a blood clot on the lung, collapsed veins, infertility and vomiting to the point he quit treatment!
We know what to expect. Without chemo school.
As a result, as treatment draws closer, I am growing more and more nervous. I don’t like being sick. I don’t like feeling unwell. I am a mad drama queen with a cold!
But, all of the doctors and nurses we’ve met have told us that my treatment will not be as bad as Keith’s, so I’m holding onto that and hoping they’re all right. Even if it gives him outrageous one upmanship and bragging rights!
T-minus 2 days to go.
Roll on February!