Monday, 4 August 2014

26. Ginger

Chemotherapy starts tomorrow afternoon.

Today, the breast care nurse showed us around the Chemotherapy Lounge. Which sounds like a lovely place for the well-heeled, with its echoes of VIP Lounge and Aromatherapy Lounge. In reality, it seemed a rather cramped room with reclining armchairs for the patients flanked by non-reclining armchairs for accompanying partners/friends. Assorted patients (women, mostly) were dotted around with their drips full of chemotherapy drugs.

(Here, even more than in the breast clinic waiting areas, it is very difficult not to scan the room for any signs of wigs or scarves, that give-away sign of a cancer patient. Which is ridiculous, because I can be fairly sure that 100% of the patient in the VIP chairs are cancer patients, so why the need for further evidence?)

To say I am apprehensive is an understatement.

The good news is that the scans of my bones, liver and lungs showed absolutely no sign of cancer. The chemotherapy is given to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back, rather than to target specific errant cancer cells.

It took the consultant half an hour to talk through all the side effects once more. She wrote them down on an A3 sized consent form under the section Serious or frequently occurring risks. It's a daunting list with things like allergic reaction, nausea, vomiting, appetite, indigestion, constipation/diarrhoea, bone marrow suppression, alopecia [hair loss], myalgia [muscle pain], fatigue... On it went. She had to squeeze the words into the margins, having run out of allocated space.

I suppose I have to see it as one of those leaflets you get in boxes of medicine, tiny script running on and on, listing every possible side effect under the sun. You are unlikely to get all (or even any) of them.

I signed on the dotted line.

They keep saying that they cannot predict how I will respond to the chemo.They don't know who is going to be nauseous, who is going to do the vomiting thing. I will just have to wait and see.

I am not ready, but I suppose I am as ready as I ever will be.

We have cleaned the house from top to bottom. The girls have been put on a plane to stay with friends in Eastern Europe (so at least some people will get a bit of a holiday). I have organised for a friend to stay with me the morning after, when my husband has to go to work. (Don't go away during the first few days, they said. If you are among the women who start throwing up, you'll have to come back into hospital so we can sort it out.)

Not taking any chances on the nausea front, I have stocked up on ginger tea, apple & ginger juice, ginger biscuits, crystallised ginger pieces. Oh, and (to be on the safe side) ginger.

I am trying to be positive about it all, but I cannot help being distressed at the thought of those rampaging chemotherapy drugs...

I have never taken any serious medication. My mother counteracted our teenage period pains with a pot of chamomile tea, and any budding colds with several cloves of garlic steeped in hot milk. Not for us the pain killers or the antibiotics. You must give nature time to run its course, she would say. As a consequence, I have counteracted dentist's drills not with numbing injections but with a concerted attempt at mindfulness, and the pain of childbirth with hypnotherapy training.

It's not that I condemn medication, or other people taking it (and I cannot count the number of times I must have explained to my hospice patients how important it is that they take their morphine). It's just that I don't associate medication with myself.

My surgeon was astounded when she discovered that the ward nurses hadn't given me any pain killers after my mastectomy. Didn't I have any pain? Hadn't I asked for anything? Well, yes, I said, of course I had pain, but isn't that normal? I just put up with it. (She gave the ward nurses stern instructions to administer regular pain killers, "because Irene won't ask for it".)

So... what will it be like to have my veins pumped full of poison, cancelling out half a century of healthy living?

No amount of beetroot juice and goji berries is going to compete with that.

I will just have to keep in mind what the consultant wrote on the A3 form, under the section Intended benefits: To improve overall survival.

I suppose that's a good enough reason to put my arm out willingly, ready for the needle.

Wish me luck.

1 comment:

  1. Dearest Irene, we all wish you so much luck and love for this unwelcome but necessary onslaught, and if the love from all your family and friends could help you sail through with nary a symptom, you should be flying!