So I made it through the first 4 days after chemotherapy, and was starting to feel really quite rotten. What would the next few days have in store for me?
Day 5 (Tuesday)
I got a little sleep in the night, and the steroids had now stopped. I was starting to get used to naturally waking up at 4am with a hot flush. I had a little colicky tummy pain and one episode of diarrhoea. Chemo plays havoc with your bowels, and most people get either diarrhoea, constipation or both.
I managed my early morning walk and spend most of the day repeating yesterday – staring in to space and dozing on the sofa. I’m starting to feel like I have the worst hangover of my life, and believe me I’ve had some bad ones in my time. It feels like you’ve drunk a bottle of gin every night, night after night, but you haven’t had the fun from the night before.
I was starting to resent the GCSF injection in the evening, knowing how bad it would make me feel later, and the headache was getting out of control. Paracetamol wouldn’t touch it and for some reason I thought I shouldn’t be taking ibuprofen.
Day 6 (Wednesday)
I was awake most of the night with colicky tummy pain, and missed my morning walk due to diarrhoea – but just the one episode in the morning. I’d been told that if I had more than 4 episodes in a day, then I needed to go in to hospital to be assessed.
Today was a bad day. I had a very tender scalp to touch, with bad earache, the perpetual headache and a deep bony pain in my hips, sternum and jaw. This was probably proof that the injections were working. They stimulate your bone marrow to produce more white blood cells than normal, but this leads to bony pain. My lips were now very dry and starting to split in the corners, so I had lip balms and salves in every room in the house.
It was a real struggle to eat and drink, due to a sore dry mouth and no taste, but I was forcing myself to eat breakfast and get through a bit of soup at lunch during the day, and guzzling mouthwash. Most people put on weight during breast cancer chemotherapy, but I lost 3 kg in the first week. A lot of it would have been water weight, but I was getting worried. I was meant to be building myself up for the surgery to come.
Mentally I was having a bit of a wobble. I wasn’t feeling as strong as people were telling me I was. I didn’t want to admit that I had cancer. I wondered whether I would ever be able to recommend chemotherapy to any patient of mine in the future, having had such a rough week, knowing there were 5 more cycles to go. How on earth do older women cope, or women who also have children to look after?
I also felt like I was losing track of what tablets I was meant to be taking and when. My brain was still foggy and I wasn’t my usual clear-headed self. Thank God for my phone with the million alarms set telling me what to do during the day.
I also felt like I was losing my sense of identity – as I couldn’t concentrate or focus on any of the hobbies I usually loved to do, or even focus on a TV programme. It was the first episode of the Great British Bake Off that evening, and I sat and watched it, but I couldn’t tell you what happened. And as a serious baker and GBBO addict, this was definitely not normal for Liz!
Day 7 (Thursday)
This was another bad night with severe headaches again that paracetamol, and now ibuprofen, wouldn’t touch. I was having very odd, disturbing nightmares as well. My mouth was very sore and dry, and it was painful to swallow my spit. So I have become one of ‘those’ people who spits in a glass, or in a field if they are walking the dogs. Not a nice thing to do, and thank god nobody saw me on my walk.
I was also exhausted on the walk, and had to stop and sit for 15 minutes after just 5 minutes, to get my breath back. The dogs had no idea what their mum was doing!
One of my bridesmaids sent me a wonderful care package (more on these in another blog), with the Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook, which looked like it would be a lifesaver. Lots and lots of recipes for when your mouth is sore, you need to gain weight, your taste is altered. So Dermot was sent off to the supermarket with some new dinner ideas.
Dermot also went to book a head shave appointment for me. We’d toyed with the idea of doing at home, but both thought it would be easier and less emotionally painful to get someone else to do it. We knew hair started falling out around day 16, so we’d booked it just before my next chemo cycle. When he came home, he told me he got really upset in the hairdressers and started crying. They were lovely, and looked after him and gave him a glass of water. I felt awful that I was the one making my amazing husband cry in public, and hated that we were having to go through this crap, but we were going through it together, and it would make us stronger.
However, I did perk up at the end of the day, and managed to watch a bit of the swimming championships. I could say that looking at swimmers’ six-packs might have helped keep me focused, but that would be shallow (though true), so I won’t.
I also realised that I will need to have things to put on my head when I lose my hair, and I hadn’t even started to seriously consider the options. I’d had a brief look at some of the websites recommended by BreastCancerCare, (to be reviewed in a future hair loss blog) but couldn’t be bothered to buy any. If I felt like this until the day of the head shave, when would I have time to browse hats and scarves? And if I bought a hat now, when I had hair, would it be too big without hair…?
One final injection tonight, and then the antibiotics and anti-fungal tablets would start – yet more pills to swallow. I’d made it through the first week (just). What would week 2 have in-store?