Yesterday was day one of the first cycle of chemotherapy. I had been dreading it. Silly, really, because it spoiled the two days beforehand (an effect exacerbated by having finished a piece of work and not having got my act together to resume another) and would not have made the experience any better.
As it happened, the experience was not too bad.
I soaked my arm in warm water to bring up the veins and was attached to a drip by a nice woman called Amanda who sat with us and added in various drugs - 3 in all - explaining to me what each one was and what to watch out for. This was sitting in a comfy armchair and after having swallowed an anti-nausea pill.
Essentially, chemo is poison that stops cells replicating. This includes the cells which renew my hair follicles, which maintain mucus membranes, which produce white blood cells to fight off infection, and which reproduce like mad things and turn into tumours.
Obviously, only one of those effects is desirable: it's a poison that likes the cancer cells even less than it likes the rest of me. The other effects are unfortunate, but can be got over: they will recover. The cancer cells, at the stage I'm at, may well not recover, though it is likely to take six rounds of chemo - six whacks at the rat with a chemical sledge hammer - to get the point across.
One of the effects is risky - white blood cells, which are the cunning little chaps that see off infection. Without them, my immune system is up for grabs. I've got to monitor my temperature every day, and every time I feel bad, because in the absence of white blood cells I can easily get infections which normally I'd knock out in a couple of days - and which can kill me! So the magic number is 37.5 - any higher, and I call the emergency phone line. They recover, though - by week 3 they should be back up and running, thanks to the superb powers of my bone marrow. Just in time to get whacked again in round 2: hey ho.
I sat in the chair chatting with B and Amanda, and felt, basically, fine - a little light-headed, but I hadn't slept much. A heat pad wrapped around my arm to keep the veins wide was very comforting. The only odd thing it was having my right arm immobilised - I'm right handed, but the lumpectomy and lymph removal was on my left side, and it's better to put the chemo in on the opposite side.
One good thing was to be warned that one of the drugs gives you red pee - like beetroot does - and a terrible shock when you see it for the first time. Lucky she warned me.
Then pills to take at home - anti nausea. Some to take at fixed times of the day, some to take at will. Oh, and laxatives - the anti nausea pills freeze the peristaltic waves, so stop other things than vomiting. (I've always thought that Perry Staltic and the Waves should have been a 50s surf band. Unfortunately unlikely to have played on the same imaginary bill as Death Metal band Synapse Collapse).
By 11 we were all done. Next to me a lady in an elegant black and white turban was completing her 6th and last round of chemo with her daughter by her side.
B and I got the bus back to town and went for lunch at a fave cafe, Olives, which does root hash with scrambled eggs, and spiced apple warmer. Yum, yum. I was feeling fine. Then we wobbled up the road to cruise some charity shops for headscarves and hats and books. I bought two hand made pillowcases in thick linen with lace edging and handmade buttons for £6.
Slight sensation that my mouth does not taste the normal way.
Home, take temperature (35.7) drink ginger tea, check Facebook. I've been getting so much love and support and good wishes from my FB friends. Update that I'm feeling fine. And I kind of am.
And then - oooops! Sudden extreme vomiting. Not enough warning to get to the loo. Damn. There goes lunch.
Strip bed, change clothes, wash floor, shower, brush teeth, swill mouthwash.
Take an anti-nausea tablet. Get bucket and retire to bed. Both cats come and cuddle me. B does too.
More ginger tea. Hmmm. How am I? Not sure. I nap and read, and listen to Keith Jarrett.
B starts cooking spicy soup for supper... smells wonderful.
Take some pills with a sip of orange juice and water.
Sudden vomiting... though I managed to get it in the bucket.
It was mostly ginger tea this time - but a distinct sensation of the pill I had only just swallowed coming up too. Hmmm.
Read the information leaflet. If you take more than the recommended dose you can have all kind of horrible effects, including disrupted vision and distressingly irregular heart beat. However, I decide I can't really have taken the pill first time around, as it wasn't in long enough to digest. Decide to risk it and take another one.
Went to sleep without supper... no problem.
Dreamt Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg were debating, but both wearing extremely thick-framed, square, totally black dark glasses. Convinced that neither of them had eyes... Bleaahhh!!
So, for nausea read vomiting.
But, like in Michael Rosen's "We're Going On a Bear Hunt" - "Can't go round it. Can't go over it. Got to go through it."
This is one down, five to go, and I can cope.