Week Three after my first chemotherapy session included an appointment to oncology outpatients to see a nurse. I told her how fit I was feeling and she reassured me the fatigue would get worse each time ( perhaps she said slightly worse ) and it was amazing how fitness levels dropped. She also said this was the week when hair thins… but she did order me mouth wash for next time; sore mouth and food tasting like mashed cardboard is probably the worst part. But like the fatigue it had suddenly got better and food tasted wonderful.
Sure enough, two days later my hair did start falling out; yay, no need to bother with the cold cap next time and I could get out my collection of colourful scarf/hat Chemo Chic wear, mostly ordered from Hannah Bandanna. It didn’t all fall out and I look rather like my grandmother, who even when I was young had very sparse wispy white hair. We just took this as being what a grandmother looked like, along with the large pink plastic whistling NHS hearing aid box that hung on her chest. Now I wonder if the hair loss was upsetting for her and was it the stress of bringing up three children while Granddad was away in World War Two ( away in Southport with the civil service, not on the front, he had already done that in WW1) or perhaps genetic, her sister was completely bald and hung her wig on the bed post overnight.
Sunday ‘chemo eve’ I went with my son to the beach hut and we had a swim in the sea. He probably got more than he bargained for; walking along the cliff top we met a couple I know, who hadn’t heard about the big BC. He has lung cancer so lots to chat about! On the way home, walking along the promenade, we met more friends at their beach hut and she recalled her bowel cancer treatment… You’re never alone with cancer!
In the ward on Monday was the young lady from last time with a full head of hair and about to put on the cold cap, proof it can work. The lady opposite me was sitting quite happily with her bald head uncovered. They were trying to put in her canula, while she repeated she didn’t usually have any trouble. At the chemo group chat the sister had said they can always find a vein. I gather putting a canula in is a nerve wracking rite of passage for medical students and I would certainly not like to try putting a needle into and not straight through a thin or even invisible vein.
Smugly I assumed mine would go smoothly, but my nurse also had trouble. I have only one arm they can use – the arm of the lymph node removal is apparently out of bounds for everything including doing blood pressure. Inevitably the desperate tapping of veins etc has to be performed with the patient looking on, which can’t help, but third time lucky. Meanwhile it was about fourth person lucky, a nursing assistant, who managed to get into the vein of the lady opposite.
The ‘red poison’ is put in slowly by syringe; it is so strong they must keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t go into surrounding tissue. The second drug just goes in by drip and was only supposed to take fifteen minutes, but no sooner had I messaged my lift that I wouldn’t be long than the alarm beeped. The drip had come to a halt; much tapping of the tube and fiddling with the box the tubes feed through between the bag and the arm. In the end the nurse removed the yards of plastic tube, dumped it all in the bin and started with a new length of tube; an idea I had been tempted to suggest myself. All was well until just two minutes left when it stopped again, luckily she was able to restart.
Soon I was ready with my bag of prescriptions to take home, the large bottle of mouth wash making it deceptively heavy. I followed the WAY OUT signs, but luckily paused at the entrance to rearrange my stuff and glancing in the prescription bag realised the seven day course of injections ( which stimulate white cell growth ) was missing. The centre is actually in temporary accommodation in a large ward while the regular place is being upgraded; I had great difficulty finding my way back through the maze of desks, little rooms and other bays till I found Bay Three. My needles were still in their fridge.
At home three days later I was waiting for the district nurse to come and do my first injection, they can call any time between 8am and 5pm, but I had this funny feeling the hospital may not have contacted them and phoned up before noon to make sure. No they did not have me down and did I have the prescription form? NO, I had not thought to look in the bag and check. They cannot do injections without the oncologist’s prescription form on which they have to stick a tiny label peeled with difficulty from the syringe and write the date. What number to ring? After searching through my bundles of information I had no idea, but actually phoning the main hospital number and working through the options is the easiest approach and I did end up in the right place. The nurse said notification should have ‘gone to the hub’ and then out to the district nurse. I was home alone and no I couldn’t send anyone to fetch the forgotten prescription. Fortunately she agreed to phone the district nurse and email them the form… I wasn’t totally convinced and had almost given up hope when the nurse turned up at 4.55pm.
Now my aim was to learn to do injections myself, it looked quite easy. In the stomach is not as bad as it sounds, subcutaneous, under the skin, just a matter of taking a fold of
fat skin. I’m sure there are many people out there used to doing injections on themselves for various conditions, but this was my first time. The next day I did it under supervision, no problems, yes I would manage fine by myself tomorrow.
The nurse said the cap on the needle point is very stiff so you have to grip tightly and pull hard. Next morning I did exactly that… the plunger came out and liquid sprayed into the air. I had broken it. I took out another syringe and made sure I gripped the right part, success. Perhaps I would keep quiet and not tell anyone about the broken one…