Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chemo 2

ON MONDAY I had my 2nd chemo treatment. All in all, it was a similar experience to the one I had  3 weeks ago. I had to "book" into the hospital, fill in some paperwork, go for blood tests, chat to the oncologist, and then finally, start the 3 hour treatment.

Unfortunately my oncologist was away and I had to "report back" to her partner, an older woman, very highly regarded in the "breast disease world". I actually had some specific questions  that I wanted to blog about but I will follow these up with my next round. 

As my 1st chemo was actually pretty "good" compared to some peoples' experiences (I didn't get very sick and was just extremely tired), I am happy to report that my 2nd treatment was even "better". I tried to "hold onto" the positive attitude from my 1st round. I did have my doubts though because often the 2nd one is different/worse than the 1st one. A friend that I met in hospital (we both had a lumpectomy) had a slightly "worse" 2nd chemo. But she is ok now.

I am back at work today. Physically I could have come in yesterday. However, mentally I needed one more day...

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I AM WAITING in anticipation for my hair to fall out. 

A month or so ago, I was convinced that I might not "suffer" from this particular side-effect. However, my oncologist told me, during a recent telephone conversation, that losing my hair is not negotiable – in other words, I will lose it. Apparently it starts "happening" about ten days to two weeks after your first chemo treatment. It's been eleven days now. And counting...

Luckily I have my hair stylist, a good friend, on standby, so to speak. It is advisable to shave off your hair as one can only imagine how strange it must look to have patches of baldness.

In the meantime, I am still not completely convinced that my hair will fall out...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Angel and the Farmer

The Farmer from the market (where we sell West Coast oysters every Saturday) gave me an Angel. It is a papier-mâché angel, with upraised arms, praying. He said that perhaps the Angel will bring me love and peace, and all things good. The Angel, however, has been through tough times himself. Without knowing, he has been an icon of hope and faith to the Farmer and his family. And now he has been passed onto me.

Years ago, the Farmer's son had a dreadful disease and ended up in hospital. It was a Friday morning, very early, when the doctors told the Farmer that his son had 20 minutes to live. This prognosis did not make the Farmer and his family give up hope. In fact, they waited out the "deadline". Nothing happened. They waited till teatime. Still nothing. Lunchtime came and went. And so did that weekend.

The Farmer's son somehow survived this ordeal. A miracle? Perhaps. As the Farmer told me his story, with tears in his eyes, he said that the Angel was there, in hospital, watching over them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


So I am rather pleased to report that I am experiencing exactly what I had hoped for – no extreme nauseau or throwing up or any other hectic symptoms, just an enormous feeling of tiredness. Ironically, I feel quite blessed...

I am back at work today.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Starting Chemo, Monday 6 September 2010

So this is it. The much anticipated day of starting my 18 week chemo course. I admit that I have been looking forward to this. Really. The sooner I start, the sooner I am finished!

The diagnosis:
Breast cancer, stage II

The chemo plan so far:
1 Monday, every 3 weeks, for 18 weeks
TOTAL = 6 sessions
LAST SESSION = 20 December 2010

I arrived at the hospital at 8:30. Accompanied by my partner and mother, who insisted on being there to support me, I had some blood drawn, opened a hospital file, filled in some forms and answered some questions.

We then proceeded to go to my oncologist’s office. She again explained (1) the way I would receive the drugs, (2) the actual chemo drugs, (3) possible side-effects but also the more (4)serious stuff that I wasn’t quite aware of.

(1) Intravenous therapy – giving of liquid substances directly into a vein (commonly known as a drip)

(2) The chemo medicine I will receive is called FEC100. FEC is the acronym for the following 3 meds: Fluorouracil (5-FU),epirubicincyclophosphamide. It is apparently a common combination of drugs to start with for breast cancer patients.

(3) So the possibe side-effects for using FEC might be:

Fluorouracil (5-FU)
nauseau – very common
oral mucositis – inflammation and ulceration that occurs in the mouth (this could also affect the digestive tract, I think)
dermatitis – inflammation of the skin.

chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV)
unusual tiredness or weakness
mouth sores
joint pain
existing wounds that are slow healing.

(4) Extravasation (intravenous) – when the intravenously (IV) infused medicinal drugs accidentally leaks out to the surrounding tissue. This can cause pain, reddening, or irritation on the arm with the infusion needle. Severe damage may include tissue necrosis.

Please note that the above point mentioned is purely a summarised list, as I am being slightly selective ;-) However, once I have done a bit more reading, I will maybe discuss the drugs I am using in a more indepth post, sometime soon.

I am not going into detail now as to what I think I might suffer from, or not suffer from. These are very general things. There is a vast and overwhelming amount of information on the internet and in books and magazines. I suggest equipping yourself with the basic knowledge only.

I did selective reading because people and friends around you, once the news of you having cancer has broken, all offer stories and advice. It can be tremendously overwhelming and exhausting. But listen to them, to their story and just take from it the "good stuff".

Chemo Room
So after the discussion with the oncologist, I was taken to this room. There I met the 4 or 5 friendly nurses, on whom my comfort and confidence was partly dependent on. They were all lovely, very caring and professional. The room has about 8 comfy chairs (like the “lazy-boy” chairs), blue.

I picked one closest to the door. Not exactly planning my escape route just yet but one has to keep your options open. And it seemed more spacious not having a chair on my righthandside.

To start the nurse had to find a vein. One would think that’s the least of my worries. But no! My veins are not very visible, and the ones they did try, was either too “thin” or just protesting against the drugs it was going to receive, who knows!

After a rather painful couple of vein searches (they use a hollow needle to pass through the skin directly into a vein), we were all set to start.

Start 10:00 am

The first fluid they send through the drip is just a normal saline solution (crystalloid fluid). I think this is just for “opening up and cleaning” the vein, in preparation for the other fluids. The secondand third “bags” of fluid were anti-nausea solutions. Unfortunately I did not ask enough questions here but will next time, so I am not too sure exactly what this was. In the meantime, Cath popped in and out, my mother, looking slightly worried, spend her morning between Chemo Room and Cafeteria.

And then my best friends popped in. C just returned hours earlier from an overseas holiday but made the effort to come and say “hello”. She looked tired and might have needed a drip more than I did ;-) B, slightly more lively, was actually on her way to a lovely mini holiday in the Breede River Valley area. A well-deserved one!

It was time to move on to the actual chemo drugs now, after all, this is why I am here. First bag filled with a red liquid, the nurses calls it the “Red Devil” because of its colour. I might be mistaken, but I think this is the drug that causes hair loss. The second and third bags had a clear solution in and I am not sure what these were. Anyway, I still have to read up on this as the “Red Devil” is not one F, E or C in the FEC drugs I am getting? Will keep you posted...

Finish: 13h15


So I have finally started chemo (see next post). I will in the meantime fill in what happened between now and when I was first diagnosed. It will happen in stages, so bear with me. I have luckily kept a bit of a diary so at least my timeline with be correct.