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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sherpa 1

It's a fantastic day today as I arise after 9 am.  I'm a bit exhausted because last night I went to a rare concert.  Al, me and a few friends made the long trek to Suncorp Stadium, where we watched the iconic band, 'Coldplay'.

It's not that I'm a massive fan, but I do like a couple of their songs.

The concert was sold out and, with tickets to the mosh pit, it was an experience standing in the open under a clear, balmy sky, a cool half moon hanging from the sky like a nibbled biscuit, while Chris Martin sang some of the bands classics including my favourite:  "I Will Fix You".

"When you try your best but you don't succeed/When you get what you want but not what you need/When you feel tired by you can't sleep/Stuck in reverse/And the tears come streaming down your face/When you lose something you can't replace/When you love someone but it goes to waste/What could be worse?

And the chorus - I love it - 'Lights will guide you home/And ignite your bones/And I will try to fix you.

They released confetti - pink hearts, butterflies.  I felt sad.  For a minute I thought that it's what we all are: confetti flung into the wind, expunged into the universe in an act of love, celebration, flying, soaring, fluttering, until we finally settle on the ground, underfoot.   Squashed.

Shit.  A miserable thought like that could make anybody weep.  (And afterwards, because I can't help myself, I did wonder if when 'Coldplay' becomes as old as say 'The Rolling Stones', they might change their name to "Oldplay"?)

In a good mood, Al and I return home after midnight, exhausted.  The zeds reverberate around the room pretty much as soon as our heads hit our respective pillows.

But when I wake today, I need coffee to get going.  And I know I have a big day ahead of me.

Fiona starts her chemotherapy today and I've promised to keep her company.

She's at the Royal Brisbane Hospital on the other side of town and it takes around 55 minutes to get there.  It's a good drive and I make good time.

It takes me a while to navigate the grounds and locate the car park.  The RBH (as it's more commonly known) is now a new hospital and it's quite impressive.  Soaring ceilings, plenty of pretty artworks, people everywhere.

I ask directions from a volunteer with a bung eye who is sitting behind a desk in the foyer and eventually navigate my way to the oncology ward in the Joyce Twedell building.  Briefly I wonder who Joyce was?

When I reach the right floor, I have to queue for 5 minutes just to ask where Fiona is, but I find the staff helpful.

Fiona, with her husband Richard, is seeing her doctor and I spend a few minutes flicking through a magazine while I text her to advise her I'm in the waiting room.

Soon the three of us are reunited and we have to go through some rigmarole as Fiona hasn't had her blood test.  We go down lifts, up escalators, to pathology.  We kill an hour having coffee.  I must say we have a really good conversation.  We go back to the oncology ward.

We are joined by Xavier, Fiona's gorgeous first son.  He's a bit of a cool dude, Xavier, with aspirations to be an actor and a bit of the chutz-pah of a confident 20-year-old.  A nice kid who take his role as the eldest of five seriously.  He has promised to look after his mum.  What a sweetie.

And so the four of us wait until Fiona is finally led to - ta-da-da-DUM - the chair.  There's a bit more stuffing around about dates on forms, a bit of confusion about pre-medications she should have taken but wasn't told about.  A tiny bit chaotic I think, but what can you expect?  It's a bloody busy ward and these people are worked off their feet, interchanging shifts, manipulating paperwork.

Soon Fiona is receiving her pre-treatment briefing, the heat pack is on her veins.  She is first injected with some anaesthetic and the cannular is neatly inserted by a confident nurse dubbed the "Master Cannulator".   Which I guess is better than being dubbed the "Master Bater".

It is at this stage that I see the way Fiona's eyes are wide.  I'm not sure if Richard sees it but as her sister, I know she is terrified.  I know I must have looked like that: that split second, that harsh moment of reality when you know it's not just a bad dream.  You really do have breast cancer.  This really is chemotherapy.  Shit, shit, shit.  Why is this happening I think?  To her, after me?

But Fiona is stoic.  She pushes through the fear and eventually, I think she seems to be handling it well after all.   There's a bit more waiting.  A problem with paperwork, the pharmacy and the drugs she needs to be sorted.

It is at this point that Richard asks the nurse if he can put on the ice cap he has prepared.  You see, it's been proven that if you place an icy cap on your head prior to receiving the Doxyrubin - the one that causes the hairless - might help preserve precious follicles.

Fiona puts on the cap which makes her look like she's a rugby forward in protective headgear.  She looks kind of cute I have to say.

There's a bit more waiting and, by this time, would you believe it's 4 pm!  I'm starving and so is Xavier so we decide to get something to eat.  Neither Fiona nor Richard are hungry - well, would you be?

When I return, it's all started.  My beautiful sister who has never had a single drug inserted into her pristine body - who gave birth to five big heifer babies without a single sedative, who has studiously avoided pharmaceuticals for most of her life - has her first taste of my old mate Doxyrubin.

You may recall it's the "Red Devil", the one I really hated.  Fiona says it's cold just like I said it was.  I feel a bit sick in the stomach seeing the red stuff again.

But Fiona is real trooper through all of this.

We are chatting so much I don't really notice the point at which the drugs are switched.  When Doxyrubin becomes Docetaxyl but there it is - that evil black bag.

We are  little through this procedure when Fiona panics.  She feels short of breath.  There's a lump in her throat.

Momentarily, my thoughts are suspended.  Shit, shit, shit, I think, please let this go without a hitch.

Fiona presses the emergency nurse call button and then, it is poetry in motion as three nurses converge on her so quickly it's really very impressive.  This may be the public hospital system but be assured, the quality of care is very high.  The drug is halted, saline is given, an oxygen mask is placed on her face, pulse and blood pressure monitors are mounted.

A minor allergic reaction perhaps they say and so phenergan is administered, sending Fio off into a droop of sedation.

She's taken off the drug while things recover and Xavier leaves.

Eventually, it all begins again and pretty soon, phase two of my sister's first chemotherapy is over.

By this time, it's getting close to 6 pm.  After 7 hours, the parking costs here go from $22 to $28 and being a cheapskate, I think I should vamoose.

The worst is over.  From what I can recollect, the Cyclophosphamide to follow is not so bad.

I kiss Fiona, I kiss Richard.

As I drive home I think that in 18 weeks, the brunt of Fiona's treatment will be over.

I have absolutely no doubt that she will rally through her treatment with flying colours.  Because we had the same parenting, she has my positive attitude, resilience, with that ounce of philosophy that allows us to keep things in perspective.

Importantly, she has the one ingredient I believe is essential to her recovery - the love and support of family and friends.

In the end, I think, it is this that is the light that guides you home.

In the end, this is, really, what will fix you.

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