Chemo survival

You’ll have your weight and bloods tested before each cycle. Be prepared to be refused treatment at some point – your bloods may drop below the minimum threshold.

Many of us struggle at some point during their chemo cycle. I suffered after cycle #5: I couldn’t get my temperature under control, phoned the helpline, and was admitted to A and E for 5 hours. It’s a shock when it happens to you – I felt really vulnerable for the first time.

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After my dip, my Folfox dose was slightly reduced for the remainder of my treatment.

Chemo: exercise

To start with, you may feel OK, apart from a few minor side-effects.

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EXERCISE
Once you’ve had a few cycles of chemo, you probably won’t feel like doing exercise. Really not feel like it. But it’s important to try. I walked to the shops most days, or walked very slowly around the park with a friend and Mojo the dog. Both were very forgiving. 

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Round #3: the fortnightly chemo cycle

I had the Folfox cocktail through a PICC line. I would start with blood tests in the Welcome Village (yes, really), then move up to Chemo.

Once admitted, I’d be plugged in and fed my steroids and assorted meds. Then the skull and crossbones would arrive on a sleeve to cover the poison. And the dripfeed would begin. All told, around four hours.

To finish, I’d be hooked up to my chemo bottle, to feed into my body over the next 48 hours. In tribute to Philip Pullman, I called it my chemo daemon, as it never left my side. I had to bathe and sleep with it attached to me. No showers because of the PICC line.

Finally, I’d return to a ward at the hospital as an outpatient, to be unplugged.

TIME GOES SLOWLY
You will probably spend most of your day taking on your chemo. In the early rounds, you’ll be more lively, so you need to have something to keep you occupied. A spare friend or family member, book or magazine, tablet or phone will do the trick.

Be warned, you’ll end up waiting, sometimes for hours, for consultations and treatment. Staff are stretched and resources are scarce.

HANDLING FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Later on, you might fancy a snooze. This is when friends and family need to know it’s OK to leave you to rest. Really, it is.

COMFY CLOTHES?
Some people dress up for chemo, some dress in loose and baggy clothes. I wore short-sleeved tops so the nurses could get to my PICC line. Later on, some wear gloves, hats and scarves because you become hyper-sensitive to the cold. I ended up wearing just one pair of forgiving trainers, because of the side-effects.

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Chemo: does it bite?

To begin with, chemotherapy didn’t seem so bad.

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I took steroids for 4 days in each cycle, and at first I felt pretty strong – I managed to make a shelving system after my first cycle. But as soon as I went without the steroids, it felt like falling off a cliff. And the effects of your chemo are cumulative.

You might think the side-effects are OK,

chemo_bite

FEET
My feet started to feel uncomfortable, like pins and needles. Later on, I felt like I had electric shocks passing through them. They became numb, so it was hard to avoid tripping on the ground. Plus, they became really sensitive to the cold. It took a while to build my tolerance up again.

EYES
Chemo makes some people’s eyes dry.  I ended up with streaming eyes.

NOSE
I had nose bleeds early on. I also got thick scabs inside my nostrils for a few months.

MOUTH
I had mouth ulcers for quite a while. At first, they weren’t too bad, but eventually  they became intensely painful for several days in each cycle.

TASTE/APPETITE
At the worst points of each cycle, I couldn’t taste the food in my mouth, and it felt like chewing on grit. I also lost the taste for chocolate and many other fine things. Wine gums and fizzy shapes became a big part of my five a day.

SKIN
My skin became really dry, and the skin on my fingertips and toes cracked. 

BOWELS
I got diarrhoea quite a lot. Early on, I didn’t need to take any medication for this. But the runs crept up on me, and at times I wondered what I could eat that wouldn’t set me off. The truth is, pretty much anything would. So the moral of that story is, just take the meds, and keep eating if you can.

HAIR
Some of my hair fell out, especially in intimate places.