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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chemo 2

62 days after diagnosis I am home after my second chemo treatment. It's been a fairly stressful 24-hour period.

Yesterday I went for the routine blood test but I had the staff from hell - two women who couldn't find a vein and jabbed me 3 times, bruising me and finally managing barely a millilitre. I was traumatised as I felt trained monkeys would have done a better job.

As a result of this manhandling, I was anxious about the state of my veins and whether the chemo would go well. Especially the Adramycin which can cause severe tissue damage if it escapes.

Last night I slept poorly too, the insomnia exacerbated by heavy rain outside - and the fact I was expecting Harry home at midnight but the rascal changed his plans and didn't tell me!

When I wake up this morning I'm already a little exhausted. Still, Al and I leave in good time and get to the Cyril Gilbert Centre early.

Strangely, I am looking forward to the experience, NOT because of toxic chemical injections but because all three of my besties, Janet, Lindar and Tracey are ALL coming to sit with me.

I am looking forward to seeing them and it's the only thing I anticipate with pleasure.

On arrival I am led to Suite 20 and hooray! My nurse for the day is Ursula, who was the breast care nurse educator I mentioned in an earlier blog. She is the one who has battled breast cancer herself and I note, this gives her incredible empathy as she ministers to my needs.

Chatty, open and friendly, Ursula understands the need for positive chat, good information and creating confidence in the procedure.

Therefore, THIS time, the insertion of the cannula, despite the dramas of yesterday, goes without a hitch. One attempt only! Ursula places hot packs on my arms to ease my veins up. I've drunk copious amounts of water the day before to help the process along. So all is good!

Here is a picture of Ursula at work:

It hurts like buggery though and Ursula shows me how she knows the cannula is well inserted and expects no problems. She is awesome! From wo to go, she is synced into my concerns and knows exactly what to say and do to make this experience less stressful.

Ursula explains that the clear fluid that is injected first up contains steroids which are anti nauseas. This is the bugger that causes fluid retention, insomnia and increased appetite.

Ursula then tells me to let her know if I suffer any... she can't find the word. I suggest: "Dopey? Sleepy? Grumpy?" She gets it and says. "And no, not Sneezy".

"Aah" I jest, "The seven dwarfs of side effects." :))

She laughs. "Oh I can see you'll have no problems, you'll do great." I like to hear that.

Then the first of my visitors, Lindar arrives and Al decides to head off to complete the job at the Manpad. Lindar gives me a present of a large jewel that catches the light. Lovely.

Let me tell you a little about Lindar who I met at the tender age of 21. I had just started work as the Speechwriter to former Lord Mayor Sallyanne Atkinson, and Lindarrrrrrrr (as I call her, in gentle mockery of that unique extra 'r') started as the LM's Protocol Manager. Over the years, Lindar and I have shared some great laughs together while all along, I've known a woman with an incredible story to tell. Let's put it this way, she's a formidable style queen and always immaculately presented, yes. But Lindarrrr has Character with a capital C. In other words, she's had her ups and downs, her measure of life's little kicks and disappointments and has faced them with what I can only describe as equanimity and grace - perhaps too much grace!

Amongst her travails - and I hope she won't mind me sharing this - Lindar lost her beloved Dad to mesothelioma at the age of 55. I'm guessing she would have been about 38 years old then and looking back, I do feel like a pretty cruddy friend because I'm not sure I was there enough for her then. It was a terrible event that has made a deep imprint on my Lindar and so, now in the context of her profound care for me now, I am a bit pissed off at my 34 year old self for not being a little bit more on-the-ball (although, admittedly, I had a two month old baby at the time the brunt of this took place).

Just how much Lindar cares is revealed today. When Ursula begins to carefully insert the Adramycin, the "Red Devil", Lindar senses my anxiety. She grabs my hand and I realise she is CRYING! I don't know what to say so I joke about it.

"I seem to make lots of people cry these days. It's okay."

Our little moment is broken when now Tracey arrives, looking, I have to say, bloody fabulous. Held up by traffic and apologetic about being late, I'm touched that she has hurried to be by my side.

Tracey gave me a book as present last time, but she gives me ANOTHER one, beautifully wrapped and especially procured after much shopping around from the book depository. It's about how a woman dealing with breast cancer reads her way to recovery. As mutual book lovers, this is a book full of love and meaning.

Then Janet arrives after spending 25 minutes in a carpark on Moggill Road to get to me. She's taken the day off work especially and comes bearing a present that I think reflects the unexpected wonders of this day: chemo in my veins but the fears magically taken away as I've focussed instead on sharing stories and laughs with three of those of my many friends who have chosen to show me that extra care.

Janet brought me this 80s headdress, wrested from the bowels of her chest of beloved memorabilia. What do you reckon, mun? I be haulin' sum good Ufrikun mojo, ja?

But here is what else she brought. It's a letter I once wrote... to Janet and Bob's dog, Pete the Pointer, with who I shared a special bond. I loved that dog and here is a photo to prove it.

I have no clear recollection of when or why I sent this letter to Pete. I am guessing it was some time in my single years, late 20s perhaps. All I can say is re-reading it, I was laughing so hard I could barely recite it aloud:

If laughter is the best medicine, today I have it in litres. The time flies. I have good endorphins floating through my veins along with potent medicines. How different it is to what I have been expecting - nay, dreading!

As we prepare to leave, we take this photo which Janet later requests so she can show her kids, who are also worrying about my welfare. (Janet's 15 year old Georgia, even bought me a turban!)

As Janet explains, as only Janet can, in an email this evening: "I want to show them how fabulous you looked, reclining, like the Lady of Camelias, some heroine in a Victorian novella -or as it happens, a teen vampire romance, given the things sticking out of you." Here it is:

After a quick visit to see Dr Choo, Al has come to pick me up. In the car coming home, I'm quiet. I have terrible heartburn (thank you Taxotere) and I feel furry headed (thank you insomnia). It's different to the first time. I'm not chatty.

I want to go to sleep so I lie down as soon as I can, taking one of the tablets I've been prescribed for this sought of unpleasantness. Al puts on the meditation tape (a gift from Lorelei).

I doze but I don't feel comfortable so I get up to write this blog while Al has a snooze.

Ness calls me to find out how I'm going. I really appreciate her calls and tell her so. I know she's a busy working business woman these days. I don't expect much to know she is a dear and caring friend. So I tell her I love her and then: "I'm getting teary eyed so bugger off now." She laughs and we hang up.

Louisa calls so we go for a 4 km stroll. I'm pleased with myself! It's pleasant as we discuss a planned trip to Nepal next year - when I'm better.

(The steroids apparently have a kind of feel-good flow-on effect. I suppose I'm feeling it now.)

When I get home, Al's made me a margarita! I'm supposed to have taste changes but you know what? Stuff it! It tastes good.

Finally, there's a dinner of my mum's special Pittu and my favourite Chicken Curry (delivered yesterday).

What can I say. Today I have experience perhaps the greatest alchemy.

A day of potential terror has been transformed, by single acts of love and friendship, into a day of happiness.

There is nothing more I could need.


  1. WoW!
    That dragged me from my selfish bout of self could I be sitting here in such a foul cranky mood, when you have been having the day that you had been dreading. I am so very glad that it turned out to be a better day than you had feared
    You are blessed to have in a million!
    Look after yourself Bronny....the world needs your amazing spirit!
    Much love and are simply amazing!

  2. The love in your heart far outweighs and will outlast the chemicals in your blood Bron! XOX

  3. What an ordeal, I hope that you are feeling a little better today (Sat) I am looking forward to taking my turn to cook for you on Thursday, let me know what you fancy, me thinks maybe my famous Chicken with Olives OR Chicken Chasseur, hopefully you are not chickened out, we could always have a stroll beforehand. Keep your pecker up. xxx

    Linda C

  4. wow you are lucky to have your friends, family for that great support, happy endorphines. my fil had to have blood tests and he had the same experience no one could get any blood and it took another woman to get a small amount and it was with a fine needle. hope you are doing ok. stay strong.