Forty one days after initial diagnosis I attend my first chemotherapy session at the Greenslopes Hospital. Alan and I leave nice and early and make the trip in good time to arrive at 8.30 am.
Unfortunately we are early as my appointment was apparently for 11 am. Waiting at the front desk is a beautiful bunch of flowers from my friend Chris, who has become my interstate mentor. This is the third pressie from her. Aside from the prosthesis, Chris also has sent me this box full of individually wrapped gifts pertinent to various stages of the long haul to cure:
Despite the mix up with my appointment time, there are no dramas and within a few minutes, Al and I are herded into Suite 6 where I will receive the marvellous infusions that will guarantee total cell death in 7 days. Sounds intoxicating don't you think? Here is Al in an empty Suite 6. That recliner chair goes up and backwards and in front on the wall is a television set. It feels a bit like the Qantas Gold Club :)
This is the Cyril Gilbert Suite at Greenslopes Hospital and around me, patients, most of them much older than me, are receiving different treatments. All of them have their hair in situ and when I question one of the nurses about it later, she explains that there are more than 100 different chemo drugs - not all will lead to hair loss.
The ward is a flurry of activity - noisy! Al comments on the high nurse to patient ratio and indeed, through the day, three nurses will attend to me in some form, Hee (no, her surname isn't Haw), Bronwyn (good name that!) and most importantly, Peta, who administers my drugs. She strikes me as a calm and capable nurse, and that is comforting.
The first step is the insertion of the cannula which presents some dramas. It's imperative this is done properly as any leakages could have drastic consequences. There are two attempts, the first incredibly painful as the target vein collapses, the second more successful.
Before we commence, I am given an anti-nausea tablet. Then Peta arrives with the toxic load. Here is a picture of her. There isn't a cancer patient alive who would not see the irony in this image:
The first drug I receive is Adromycin ("the Red Death") and already, I'm annoyed that I have researched these babies quite so thoroughly. Peta tells me to alert her immediately to any signs of burning, swelling, pain and so as that may indicate a leak into the tissue. So of course, guess what? I start imagining those very leaks and Peta keeps having to check.
This drug is inserted into the cannula with a syringe and it's creepy because it's cold and I can feel it running up my veins.
That successfully achieved, it's time for my tea break and a friendly lady gives me and Al a nice cup of coffee and a piece of cake.
Before the next drug is administered, my friend Tracey arrives to tag team with Al who needs to do a bit of work at the 'man pad' we're creating for Harry in town.
I can't begin to tell you what a difference it makes having Tracey to talk to. The next drug is Taxotere. Large icy neoprene gloves, shaped like oven gloves, are placed on my hands to stop one of the known side effects: the darkening of nails. It's cold! Peta says she'll wait with me for 15 minutes. I'm to look out for breathlessness, respiratory failure and all those pleasant things which go with a major anaphylactic attack. As I chat to Tracey, I'm not even aware of what's happening as this drug is applied via a drip and over an hour.
Peta leaves us, pointing to the nurse call button in case of emergency and wryly joking: "Or you can just jump out of the chair waving your arms and yelling 'Help' - that works too." I can't believe I'm smiling.
The Cylophosphomide is last and, as I am not told to look out for any nasty repercussions that goes okay.
We have been at the hospital for five hours. I am given an injection of Neulastan, to be given 24 hours after discharge by a trained nurse, and a packet full of anti nausea tablets.
After bidding farewells to Tracey, I have to go up and visit my oncologist. Here is a picture of her - cute isn't she?
Dr Choo gives me some scripts for painkillers, sleeping tablets and reflux. You think I care at this stage? I have A-grade toxins in my veins - any interest I may have had in internal purity has gone to the dogs. She also tells me I need to see her again in a week, with another blood test in-between to check my counts.
What strikes me is the irony of things as Dr Choo is one clean-living icon. Sleeping pills? Never taken one. Reflux? What's that?
And so Al and I leave. On the way home he comments on how well I seem to be travelling. We pick up a delicious meal for dinner prepared by Nim's friend Jo. We arrive home and I tell Al I feel like a walk. I tell him I've made a pact with myself to try and walk every day of my treatment. Something to make me feel I have some control over my body, that I'm doing something that is drug-free and good for the soul.
We walk for 5 kms, Al commenting on my unusually slow pace. It's pleasant. We have a good conversation and when we get home, there's a lovely dinner already cooked! Bargain.
The first night passes with me in a hot sweat and some late night/early morning nausea. I have to get used to the late night forage for tablets I think.
What can I do but rally on?
Even writing about this experience has been challenging. I don't know how I'll go diarising the lot of it, but for now, I hope all you healthy women out there have another motivation for checking your breasts regularly. In fact do it now!
Because, already, I know I would not wish this journey on my worst enemy. Take care of yourselves everyone!