So how do you prepare for chemo? It’s such a scary word that conjures up images of gaunt people throwing up into buckets, Iv’s trailing behind them. Of course it’s far different but I had no idea what to expect. No idea.
Nov 28th 2012.
I arrived at the hospital in the early morning ready for surgery number 3 to have a Port-a-Cath fitted. I’ve gotten to know the staff pretty well and they are so kind to my mister and I allowing us to head off for a walk to escape the depressive waiting area and clear our minds. I knew my surgery would be an afternoon one but when 4:30 rolled around and the anaesthetist came to see me…uh oh.
My surgery couldn’t be done. Say what?!?! I started to freak out because my first chemo was the next day! Like tomorrow dude!
The surgeons had run over which is no ones fault, it means that someone took longer on the table than expected…maybe complications or maybe they didn’t make it. I’m cool with waiting but ummmm guys, chemo is tomorrow!
Tears pricked my eyes as the stress rose and I started to feel helpless. The anaesthetist had done a few of my surgeries and showed great empathy towards me, he made some calls and organised for me to meet him at 7am the next morning to have a gelco popped into my hand for chemo. Ok, that sounds like a plan lets do that. I was starving from fasting since the evening before so with that plan sorted we left and headed out for dinner, and because I’ve had a shit day we’re having dessert too!
It’s the night before my first chemo and I’m trying to be calm but I’m scared. I don’t know if it will hurt, when will I be sick? Will my hair fall out in big clumps or will it be gradual? Will I get the mouth ulcers and blurry vision? Will I throw my guts up and have fatigue? Maybe I’ll only get some of the side effects but in my mind some is too many.
My mister lays on the bed with me and asks me how I’m doing. I go to speak but only tears come out. Heavy , hot tears that wash over my face and dampen my scarred chest. All my fears bubble to the surface and I lay in my misters arms feeling vulnerable and helpless. He dabs my face and wraps his arms around me as the words start to spill from my mouth.
I’ve tried hard to imagine us together with our grown up boys and grandchildren but the images don’t come I just can’t bloody see it and I fear it’s because I’m not going to be here to see it. He tells me I can’t see it “because it hasn’t happened yet Jen.” Shit he’s so bloody wise.
Doubt still swirls in my mind but I cling to the hope that lingers on his words for about 5 minutes and then I find myself bartering with the universe.
Dear universe let me see my kids next birthdays.
Dear universe let me see my boys graduate.
Dear universe let me see my boys with their first girlfriends.
Dear universe let us have one more holiday together.
Dear universe just give me some more bloody time because I’m so freakin not ready to leave yet…please.
Of course you can’t barter with the universe, it just doesn’t work that way so I take some deep breaths and summon my warrior woman to get me through this. I put on my brave Mumma face and fall asleep in my misters arms.
In the morning I get dressed and pack a huge beach bag with magazines, an IPad, snacks, games and a blanket…if I was a knitter there would have been knitting in there LOL. I wanted to be prepared. We know it’s going to be a long day and hey I watch movies… organised ladies take big bags full of boredom buster essentials and I’m gonna be one of those ladies.
We head into the hospital, it’s early and the roads are empty. There’s a weird uneasiness between us as we both try to be brave and cheery but deep down we’re heartbroken and scared…packin it!
The anaesthetist is on time and gets busy sticking me and preparing a line and by 8am we are up in the chemo ward. I’m in a freakin chemo ward!!
I’m sitting in a waiting room feeling like an imposter, the new girl on the block…the one with hair…and eyebrows. Everywhere I look there’s hand sanitizer pumps and signs about hygiene and not spreading germs, finally we’re called in. Down a corridor and into the treatment room.
This is where everything changed for me. This is when I realised that I wasn’t so precious, but life bloody well is. Now here before me were 15 treatment chairs, lined up with the privacy curtains tied back and in those chairs were people fighting for another chance at life.
Here I was with my big bag of ‘boredom busters’ and a head of hair with mascara on my lashes looking every part the rookie while people of all ages and all walks of life sat hooked up to Iv’s being pumped with drugs to give them more time. Yeah good one rookie, this moment was a game changer.
My mister and I were shown to a chair and a friend arrived for support. The nurses got busy and then asked where my port line was. Ummm I don’t have one but I’ve got this big bloody needle and line in my hand! Uh oh nurses raised eyebrows and had a huddled meeting then the ward boss lady informed me they couldn’t put the chemo into the hand. Shit say what??
Yeah turns out that chemo is toxic stuff (er derr) and if it leaked it would eat my tissue and was too dangerous to infuse that way. I looked around and saw some patients with lines in their arms and protested that they had their chemo…why couldn’t I have my chemo? Wah I couldn’t believe I was begging for chemo. The nurses were fab explaining that there’s dozens of different chemo regimes and different strengths of doses.
My heart was pounding, tears started to well because shit, didn’t they know I’d tossed and turned all bloody night worrying about this day? Didn’t they know we had set up a hospital bed in our second lounge room and I even had buckets and flannels and hand sanitizer ready? Didn’t they know that I’d been preparing my kids for this?
I was ready, I had my brave face on and now they made me cry and what if I couldn’t stop crying?
Of course I glanced around and saw all the others and got over myself pretty bloody quick and did stop crying. Calls were made and an hour later my mister and I were up in the waiting area of the surgical unit, in another hour I would be in a black sleep on the operating table undergoing surgery for a port to be put in.
And that’s how chemo and cancer roll. There is no armour that can prepare you.
Cancer is life changing and will turn your world upside down, it will make you cry hot tears even when you really, really want to be brave.
It will break the hearts of those who love you and leave a hidden scar on your children.
It will change your perception of life and how you view it and it will allow you to realise that boredom busters just aren’t that bloody important.