We do like a day out
November 21, 2011 § 3 Comments
A couple of people have asked me what it’s like to have chemotherapy. They are not talking about the side effects of which I’ve discussed/droned on about previously in this blog and am likely to do so again. Instead, they are asking about the process so here’s a little “day in the life of” for chemo days. Be warned: it’s a bit dull and there isn’t much art.
I am having six doses over eighteen weeks, so once every three weeks. My fourth session was last Friday. The key is the blood count. Either the day before or that morning, I have a blood test to check that my white blood cells have sufficiently recovered from the last dose. There is concern that I’m not left too vulnerable to infection, and once my treatment had to be delayed until said blood cells had reproduced sufficiently to protect me from unnamed enemies.
Assuming all is well, I then wait around while the drugs are prepared. This takes an hour or so because, understandable, the NHS doesn’t want to waste money on drugs that are not going to be used. If I’m with my friend, we usually take a spin round the neighbourhood while we wait: have a coffee, buy M&S groceries for the St Paul’s protest, see if there’s anything happening at the Central Criminal Court. Once we visited the Postman’s Park, and looked at the plaques to commemorate people who died saving others. Here are a couple.
Back at Barts, I am seated in a day ward. There are about eight chairs in a ward, each with a less comfortable guest seat. The chemo chairs are a bit like those the fat people float about on in Wall-E. A nurse then injects a line into my hand through which, over the next couple of hours, anti-sickness medicines, plus three different chemo drugs and a number of flushes are then pumped. One of the drugs looks like this.
I don’t really feel anything as the drugs are going in. Sometimes they are a bit cold.
As the time goes by, I chat to my friend, who does like a day out. Sometimes we talk to other patients and their companions. There is discussion of wigs, of course, all of us saying that we never could tell – which is usually true – and of journeys. Most people have come from miles away – a two and a half hour journey from Brighton, for example. I feel somewhat guilty that I am just three underground stops away. Being wary of hearing too much about what other people are going through, I try to avoid talk of treatments. I really don’t want to hear about anyone who has secondary cancers or whose treatment is not going splendidly. But sometimes you can’t help it. On Friday, I chatted to two women who do have secondary cancers, which was not ideal, but, on the other hand, they were both in their 70s and had been cancer free for fourteen and twenty-six years, the latter of which seems pretty good to me. (I don’t know how a cancer is even a secondary cancer after 26 years but I’m not ready to ask those kind of questions yet.) This is one of the reasons why I need my trusty friend with me. She is very good at telling me not to build my story onto the stories of people I have never met before and know nothing about, which is a massive temptation.
While we chat, the NHS goes about it’s business brilliantly. On Friday, I was offered coffee and biscuits, followed by sandwiches and fruit, plus a volunteer trolley with newspapers and fancy treats. The nurses are amazing. I know this is a horrible cliche but it’s true. The time before, the lovely Finnish nurse spent ten minutes discussing the pros and cons of invading Finland. Who has time for that? Twice the hospital social worker has been round, both times talking to older gentlemen who were living alone and in need of some additional support. I don’t know how well that support gets delivered but, considering something really horrible is happening to everyone in those chairs, there is a gentle, we’ll get through this, atmosphere.
I leave with a bucketful of medication to help with side effects, and afterwards, my pee is red for a while.