Thursday, 9 January 2014

Final chemo - I made it!

My last chemo didn't happen when it should have....

On Christmas eve I was getting ready for a family get together and looking in the mirror, noticed my neck was swollen.  Initially I thought bloody hell, even my neck is getting fat now!  But then realised it was just on the one side.  Oh man, what was this now?  I showed Will, who agreed it was definitely there.  Oh well, nothing to be done now, I would keep an eye and get it looked at after Christmas.  I managed to put it to the back of my mind.

I called the chemo hotline the day after boxing day and they didn't really have much to say about it.  It was obviously not a common, chemo complaint.  They said to try and get a GP appointment or go to A&E.  It didn't seem like an A&E thing to me and I managed to get an emergency GP appointment for that afternoon.  The 'chemo card' can be pretty useful sometimes!

The GP said it looked like a thyroid issue.  Thyroiditis?  That's about all he said.  It was probably totally unrelated to breast cancer or chemo.  He sent me for blood tests and organised an urgent ultrasound. 

I was worried about going for my final chemo in a few days time though, I didn't have a scheduled appointment with my oncologist before then (due to stupid Christmas) and really wanted her to see it and advise me on what to do.  I had to go for pre-chemo bloods the day before the originally scheduled chemo, and they very kindly slotted me in to see Oncy (my lovely oncology consultant) whilst I was there.

She was flummoxed.  She had never seen this as a reaction to chemo.  Was it infection? Possibly.  An abscess?  Unlikely as it wasn't painful.  She was unhappy about putting me forward for chemo whilst it was unclear what it was so it was decided to hold off for a week.  I was disappointed.  Just wanted to get it all done.  I was looking forward to starting the new year with that part of treatment behind me.  Now I just had something else to worry about.

Oncy fast tracked me for an ultrasound the following day (thank goodness, as I got my appointment through via the GP for 30th January!!)

The sonographer could see no sign of infection.  This was worrying.  I was hoping for something simple.  She said it looked like nodes and cysts on  the Thyroid.  It is apparently common in females and is hormone related.  Bloody hormones have caused me a whole load of grief in my recent past!  My thyroid bloods came back normal.  The sonographer seemed to think this was a good sign.

I was now a bit worried and made the dreadful mistake of googling nodes on Thyroid on the train on the way home.  Cancer kept being flagged up!  Shit.  I was doomed.

So New Years day was not the celebration I was hoping for.  I was feeling pretty sorry for myself to be honest.  The wind had been knocked out of my sails and I felt cheated.

Fortunately I had another meeting with Oncy scheduled for the following day.  I went in there expecting the worst.  It felt, all over again, like the day I was to be told I had breast cancer.  HOWEVER, magically, it didn't end up going the same way.  Oncy said it didn't look like cancer.  And she was CONVINCED it wasn't secondary breast cancer.  Huge relief. She said the cysts could always have been there and have just become inflamed for some reason. She was still in the dark as to what may be causing it though, and had spoken to the rest of the team who have never seen it happen during chemo.  

I will be referred to the thyroid experts, who may want to do a biopsy, but they would wait until chemo was over.  This was also good as there is no sense of urgency which is in itself reassuring.  We talked briefly about Thyroid cancer and I was happy to hear that it is totally treatable, should the worst come to the worst.  But I came away from that appointment feeling like I'd been given my life back again.  What a high!  What a rollercoaster.

In light of all this, Oncy was happy for me to go ahead with chemo the following week.  Happy days.  I never thought I'd be so relieved and so looking forward to a chemo.  Just one more set of blood tests to make sure my white blood cells (which had now become raised would you believe) had gone back to normal.  They had.

I was able to enjoy the rest of my day with my nephews Hamed and Yousef, who were overnighting with us on their way back to uni after holidays.  We had a great day showing them Greenwich and surrounds.  Being out of towners (actually, out of country'ers - they come from Bahrain) they think of London as Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus.  They seemed pretty impressed with our scenic and quiet side of the tracks.

Greenwich Park with my handsome boys

And back when I had proper hair and the boys were cuter

I had a make up session with the Look Good Feel Better Charity at a hotel in Soho the other day and it was a real treat.  There were about 10 of us ladies there and a very flamboyant, male professional make up artist showed us how to take care of our skin and apply make up to turn us into glamour pusses.  It was a fun and very light hearted afternoon.  Will thought I looked like a drag queen when I got home.  Hmm... not the look I was after.  I must admit I would never wear half that amount of slap even on a special occasion, but I did pick up some useful tips and came away with a great haul of make-up to top up my very meagre supply.  So a big thank you to this great charity.

So all in all yesterday, final chemo day, was a good day.  Despite the fact that I had a poison dunking and also that it was probably the least smooth chemo experience I have had.  I was there an hour and a half before anything started, my slot had been triple booked for some reason.  Then the Herceptin contraption didn't work so this had to be sent down to a pharmacist to have a look at and dispense another and get it through the clunky hospital system. 

It then took 3 attempts to get a cannula in.  My penultimate chemo had been a dream in this respect.  The lovely Sophia had slid the cannula into a nice chunky vein on the side of my wrist and I barely felt a thing.  I was confident this time.  I asked the nurse to use the same vein.  It didn't work.  She called in the cannula queen.  She tried the same vein, but it blew.  We asked for Sophia.  "Bring in the big guns! " Sophia arrived  - my saviour.  She found another big fat vein and slid the cannula into it like a hot knife through butter!  Hoorah!

I could relax now.  This would only take an hour then I could go home.  Except I still had the Herceptin to go.  A new Herceptin dispenser arrived on the ward.  Good start.  Once my Docetaxel had finished running, they administered the Herceptin.  But then came the good news that I was supposed to be monitored for 2 hours afterwards (which is why they always give it before the chemo).  It was after 6pm by this time and I should have been all done and dusted by 4.30, in theory.  We managed to talk the nurse down from 2 hours to 1 hour of observations.  Will went home to cook dinner and the nurse held me ransom and relayed me the story of how her boyfriend had recently done the dirty on her with her best friend.  It kept me entertained.

My lovely chemo cyber buddies made this for me.  They're the best!

I know I still have a shit few weeks to get through the side effects of this one, but I'm on a high (helped by steroids!).  I sincerely hope I never have to go through this again.  I sat next to a lady at chemo yesterday who was having chemo for the third time for recurrent breast cancer.  She was very matter of fact about it.  If she had to do this every few years, then so be it.  It gave her life.  I guess I would be the same, but I'd rather not have to find out.

I had a sneaky glass of white wine last night in celebration and in the knowledge that it is going to taste vile for the next few weeks so I had to get one in whilst I could!  This morning my mouth is already feeling burnt and the taste buds are disappearing.  Energy levels are good though so I'm heading out to brave the cold, windy streets of Greenwich. Guess I'll be seeing quite a bit of them as I shuffle around for the next few weeks.....


  1. Well done Kate. Your positive attitude, pragmatic approach and ability to tell it like it is really is inspiring. To say I am enjoying your blog somehow sounds wrong considering what you are going through, but your honest insight and practical information do make good reading! Looking forward to seeing you on the 25th for a travel fix! xx Jane

  2. Hi Kate, Back here in time to read this blog about your final chemo session. So sorry not to have kept up to date but wifi and network were a bit ify there. Got back Dec 29th. Would love to catch up with you both. Well done, keep your pecker up.