In The Yellow Zone

The group chat on chemotherapy for beginners I saw as a last chance to be out and about. I had been to a similar thing with Cyberspouse in autumn 2018. In those pre Covid times we all sat round a big table in a small classroom and it was a very jolly affair, with our English compulsion to make jokes in medical situations. Most people brought their spouses and there was tea and cake in the middle. This time we were in a church centre opposite the hospital in a large hall with spaced out chairs in rows. Everyone was heading for the back rows so I thought I would be helpful and choose the second row. A mistake as I couldn’t see everybody else properly. We were all given a home work pack and a cup of tea.

All you need to know from this chat is that chemotherapy kills fast growing cells, if it killed all cells we would be dead presumably. Fast growing cells include not only malignant ones, but those we need, such as white and red blood cells, also those we like such as our hair. All chemotherapy is different, a variety of chemicals depending on which part of you they are targeting and every patient can react differently.  What is for certain is we all lose our immunity and get fatigue, a variety of available drugs and vast medical experience should prevent nausea and vomiting these days. The Big message was Ring the Hot Line, the number on the Red Card, the number written on every piece of paper and leaflet issued. Any symptom that you normally ignore Ring the hotline from toothache to temperature.

That done I walked down to the shopping centre in the sunshine and headed for Beales’ department store, ironically still open, though its flagship store in Bournemouth closed down even before Covid. The new very bright café upstairs is quite spaced out and quiet, people are still asked to wear masks in shops, even though Boris says we don’t have to and I did not want to catch anything before my Covid test in a few days.  The top floor had turned into a clearance section and I bought a few little things plus my fabulous bargain of lined curtains, intended for interior decors, but ideal for my beach hut… once I have made a very big hem. Curtains are actually very heavy and I had to ask for a carrier bag which fortunately was environmentally friendly and edible.  The bus driver said how nice it was to see a Beales’ bag again. I felt like I had had quite an exciting day!

Isolating or not isolating for chemo in covid times is still rather vague, urged to be very careful, but told to carry on with normal life as much as possible. Friday saw me back at the hospital for a Covid test; this time I went straight home. Saturday night I cooked a roast chicken for the four of us, my daughter had a long weekend pass and Sunday we walked to the beach hut and went swimming. At this point I was feeling very fit, I have been walking more than five kilometres and doing loads of gardening…

Monday was chemo day at the cancer centre in the Yellow Zone of the hospital. My daughter took me. In pre covid days you could bring a friend for company. Now no extras set foot past the front desk. Having been told I would be there for four or five hours on the first visit and to bring things to do and lots of layers to keep warm with the cold cap, I was the only patient there with a large overnight bag. Our little ward had four reclining chairs and one young woman had a cold cap on, looking like something out of a brain transfer in a science fiction film. I asked if it was her first time and she said no and you get used to it.

As I had to have an anti nausea tablet which takes one hour to work, but lasts for five days, it seemed worth filling in the waiting time by at least trying the cold cap, which has to start forty five minutes before chemo. First your hair is sprayed with water, then a rubber cap on, then the metal helmet which must be tight fitting. Cotton pads are put on your forehead to stop it rubbing, but the water and pads made me think of the electric chair… The weight was probably worse than the cold in giving a bit of a headache, it turned out I could have brought my own paracetamol. You are allowed to stop if you don’t like it…

I was the only new person, one old / older lady said she enjoyed the day out and we had all chosen a hot lunch from the menu. My chemo actually only took seven minutes for red stuff in a syringe into the canula and then a drip for twenty minutes, but followed by another ninety minutes of cold cap. I was allowed to go straight away; three hours and ten minutes and I had only looked at my newspaper and phone, puzzle books and kindle untouched.

Back home I thought I would recline on the sofa with a cup of coffee and heard my daughter on the phone telling her brother and husband I was asleep on the sofa, no I wasn’t… later on I thought I would get up and get the washing off the line and water the garden, but I only took one thing off the line and felt wobbly…

In the days that followed I had seven daily injections given by the district nurse, these boost your white blood cell production. On the first visit she took my temperature and it was too high, so I did have to phone the hot line; fortunately it was borderline and I had no symptoms, so I was told to keep checking my temperature. In the following days I did virtually nothing and my mouth got more sore, another side effect, but I was still eating. So this was the famous fatigue; just like when you feel wobbly recovering after an illness only more so, wondering if you will ever leave the house again or how you could possibly have thought it would be easy to post blogs while you were stuck at home. This is just a tiny insight into what it must be like for people with long term chronic conditions and those who now have Long Covid. Apart from that there was nothing else to complain about and low and behold I was back pottering in the garden on Friday and walked round the block this morning. Tomorrow, two weeks after chemo,  is a visit to oncology outpatients to see the nurse, then Friday will be another Covid test and blood test to see if I’m ready for the next round…

38 thoughts on “In The Yellow Zone

  1. Hi Janet, I am sorry you are having to go through this treatment. I supported my mom through chemotherapy for breast cancer and I remember it clearly. She had four Red Devil treatments, three weeks apart, and then Paclitaxel. It was supposed to be 12 treatments 1 week apart but she only had six because her white blood cell count was to low. The good news is she has been in official remission (5 years cancer free post treatment) for over 2 years.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes well done your Mum and having support is great. My family keep hearing from friends about all their relatives who have had chemo or mastectomies — it is a big international club! I have had an energy spurt watered the garden, cooked dinner and packed more spare food into the freezer since writing this earlier!

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  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Janet. I am always amazed at how very differently every person is affected. You do seem to have much better communications than I have had although the oncologist did tell me (in great detail) about all the possible side-effects. My chemo made my hair thin but I didn’t lose it. If I have to have more it will be a different drug which will make me lose my hair.

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  3. Yes Mary I expect I am on the chemo-lite range of things and there are 360 of us a year going through the breast cancer run at my hospital, so they have caring and support down to a fine art. We said to my surgeon how impressed we were and she said it was because it was all run by women! I hope you have some smooth patches coming up.

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  4. I’m glad things seem to be doing so well for you and you’re getting lots of helpful information. When my wife was ill, I think we used to have 3 Fridays on and one off over I think a 12 week period, We wew always there about 5 hours as they wouldn’t cook her ‘gunk’ till she was in the building. It was nice to see her rel;ax when she could and even nod off for a while.Depended how bad the pain was.There was always a good feeling between the chemo patients, swapping future plans. Have a good day tomorrow, I hope some others are there with you,
    Huge Hugs

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  5. My daughter had three sessions of chemo (and she did lose her hair – at least, her partner shaved it off once it started falling out. Her friends came around for the event. I have photos!)
    The bad news is that the side-effects of chemo are cumulative and she felt worse for longer after each session. The good news is that it wears off eventually. Her hair grew back wavy, which I gather is not unusual but, as someone has already said, everyone’s experience is different. Bodies are different, cancers differ and the chemicals used are different.
    My daughter only had three of her six planned sessions because the cancer she has was found to be a type that doesn’t respond to chemo. It is currently being managed with medication.
    Hope your chemo isn’t too agressive and does the job for you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Cathy, I just saw the nurse this afternoon and she said much the same; I am getting prepared for plenty of pyjama days next week! I hope you daughter has some easy times ahead, it seems so unfair when younger people get cancer.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. thank you for sharing such a personal experience. It is informative, to me, to find out what it is like to go through such a treatment. I’m glad you were able to get back to the garden and do some walking. I am sure all that walking beforehand was extremely beneficial. I wish you the best moving forward…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Janet, I have been offline for awhile and I’m happy to read you are doing well. You sound pretty upbeat. I love that optimism. Lots of time and material to write stories. You will do others in your situation so much good. My best for swift healing. xo

    Liked by 2 people

  8. My mom went through chemo treatments decades ago, but I’m sure things have changed a lot. Thank you for sharing what your experiences have been, Janet. Wishing you the best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Janet, I do hope you are going OK. What an ordeal you go through but many thanks for sharing as my brother-in-law is currently going through chemo treatment and it sounds quite similar. You have gone into far more detail so I understand a bit more now of what is happening to him. Wishing you well.

    Liked by 1 person

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