Monday, 18 November 2013

Where the FEC has my hair gone?!

The time for FEC (the type of chemo I was having) number two was upon me before I knew it.  I had an appointment with the oncologist the week beforehand.  She asked me how the first FEC had been for me and tapped  some notes into her computer as I relayed the story of my terrible ordeal. (I may have hammed it up slightly, but I was determined to get me some better drugs!)

She was great, this doctor (and continues to be great.  In fact she is rapidly becoming my favourite person in the world!)  She seemed to think that it wasn’t the steroids that had caused me the terrible agitation, but the metoclopramide.  And it turns out she was correct.  She wrote me a long list of prescription drugs to collect from the pharmacy, including the Rolls Royce of anti-sickness drugs – Emend.  They don't give it out first time round because its very expensive and not everyone needs it.  You have to earn your stripes so to speak.

I had a blood test the same day to check red and white blood cell levels.  They will only go ahead with the next chemo if the levels have reached a certain point.  I got the results back before I left the hospital and my neutrophils were too low.  0.5 when they need to be at least 1.5.  The doctor didn’t seem too concerned, she just said to go home and rest up for the weekend.  She was confident they would have increased by the time Tuesday and my next ‘dunking’ was due.  It did mean that I would need another blood test on the day.

Will had to fly to Kuwait that weekend for a job and would be away for the next treatment, so my lovely Mum came down from Lincolnshire to play nurse and see me through until Will returned. 

My hair was now beginning to shed rapidly.  I had it in my head that I wanted Will to shave it all off once it starting falling out in large clumps, but Will had now gone away for five days!  Could I hang on until he got back?

I told Mum that she might need to do the big shave instead and the look on her face told me that she’d really rather not!  By this stage I had decided I could no longer afford to wash my hair as too much was falling out and I was worried about blocking the drains.  I started wearing a head scarf in a vain attempt to hold the hair in but also to cover up the fact that it was starting to look very lank and thin.
You’ll be pleased to hear that I made it though.  I hung it out until Will got back and it was the first job on his list.  It was driving me nuts by this stage.  My head was itchy and sore and I was finding hair absolutely everywhere.  From reading other chemo victim’s accounts of losing their hair, most of them felt the same as me at this stage.  They just want to get rid of it.  I didn’t feel particularly emotional about it, it was just a relief in the end. 

So this was what my hair looked like just prior to shaving it off.  Still plenty there but way thinner than it used to be.  This was taken two days post FEC number 2.  Note the steroid induced red flush of the cheeks, very attractive!

Post shave with attractive bald patches

We did a closer shave in the end as it was more comfortable and I wasn't digging the bald patch look

And this is my mate 'Lou' the wig.  Looks ok but is not really very comfortable so only comes out for special occasions.  Sainsbury's isn't what I call a special occasion, I was just trying it out at this point!
By this stage I’d had chemo number two.  Mum came with me to hold my hand.  When we arrived at the chemo unit I was asked to pick a seat and chose one next to the window.  We settled ourselves down and waited for my drugs to arrive and to my horror, the woman opposite who was all hooked up to her chemo, started vomiting.  Now obviously I felt bad for her, but I was feeling pretty nervous myself about what was to come knowing how bad I’d felt last time, and I really couldn’t cope with the sight and sound of someone else up-chucking at this moment in time.  I couldn’t even offer her a sympathetic smile.  I was just desperate to get away. 
Thankfully, I’d noticed that my reclining chair was not reclining.  This would never do!  Mum and I did the very British thing of tactfully removing ourselves from the situation by making a big show of the fact that the chair was faulty and that I should probably move.  We rapidly scuttled off and re-situated ourselves away from the barfing stranger.  
The rest of the visit went very smoothly.  I had a very efficient nurse who got the cannula in first time with no bother at all (I still had my arm dunked in a bucket of warm water) and within a couple of hours we were on the train back home.  I made sure I had dinner earlier this time so that I could at least get some food down me before I started to feel sick.  I had a small meal and it went down ok.  So far, so good. 
I started to feel nauseous about the same time as last time but, fingers crossed, no vomiting as yet.  The evening passed uneventfully.   I woke in the middle of the night feeling not quite right but a ginger biscuit sorted me out and when I woke in the morning to my huge relief, I felt ok.  A little bit ‘sicky’ but nothing that a ginger snap couldn’t solve.  There was no feeling of a wet blanket on my head and no fuzzy vision.  I didn’t want to speak too soon but maybe I was going to get away with it this time?
As the days went by it really did seem like I was going to get away with it.  Emend, I LOVE YOU!  What a difference it had made.  And no metoclopramide either so I didn’t get that horrific agitation and restlessness.  I still felt pretty wiped out but I could function and best of all, I had an appetite.  Hoorah!  I do love food, so I find not wanting to eat a bit depressing.   My main issue this time seemed to be heartburn, something I’ve never suffered from before.   It was pretty constant and no amount of Rennie would shift it.  In the end I contacted my GP who prescribed some Omeprezole and a gallon of Gaviscon and this combo gave me some relief.

After about a week I decided I was well enough to tackle Westfield shopping centre.  Why I thought this I really don't know, and quite why I wanted to go there was also a mystery.  Clearly my brain was not functioning as well as I thought.  It was a Tuesday so I thought it would be quiet, this was my first mistake.  It was rammed!  Why were these people not at work?  I had a reasonably valid excuse for not being at work, but what about all these hundreds of others?

My second mistake was making Primark my first port of call.  I wanted to buy some cheap hats and scarves so it seemed the sensible option to me.  As soon as I got in there though I began to feel claustrophobic and a bit sick.  Not sick as in nauseous, just sick at the mad frenzy of buying 'shit' that was going on around me.  It was like a mad trolley dash in there.  I made a hasty exit and then wondered what to do next, whilst being knocked about like a pinball by the hundreds of shoppers milling around. 

Body Shop looked nice and peaceful and I wanted to buy some eyebrow make-up in preparation for losing my own so I ducked in there and had a sneaky sit down at the make up counter as I started to feel a bit odd all of a sudden.  I was clearly going to have to abandon this whole idea.  But I still had to get home.  A tea and cake in Starbucks gave me the energy I needed to face the journey home on the DLR. 
Day nine seemed to be the magic day when I woke feeling properly me.  My walking went from old lady speed to my normal pace.  On my final weekend, before they hit me with the third and final FEC, I even managed a 12 mile return cycle ride to Brixton, where Will and I had a wander round the markets.  I really hadn’t expected to be able to achieve that so I was well chuffed to be feeling so well.


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