It’s here. It’s finally here. Tomorrow I will have my very last chemo infusion.
Six months ago, sitting in my hospital room, boobless and sore, I was staring down the barrel of a long, gruelling chemotherapy regimen and wondering how on earth I would get through it all. Still dazed by my sudden swerve into Cancerland, and the speed at which my life had unravelled, all I could do was nod numbly as my Oncologist spoke about my proposed treatment and how it was necessary to poison my body in order to purge it of Cancer. Everything I heard and read left me distressed and scared.
It’s a strange process, Cancer treatment. You have to get sicker in order to get better. The day of my Breast Cancer diagnosis I had been for a long morning run, I had even been to see an Asthma specialist at the Epworth and passed his lung capacity test with flying colours. I was, in my mind, a picture of perfect health! Yet, just hours later I was back in the very same building with a referral to see a Breast Surgeon.
Since then, it’s been a long and difficult road. Chemotherapy is toxic, and it has ravaged my body with countless adverse effects: extreme nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle and bone aches, insomnia, a constantly dry mouth, changed taste sensations, mouth ulcers, nose bleeds, hair loss, constipation, diarrhoea, nerve damage, tender fingers and toe nails, dry eyes, watery eyes, weight-loss, night sweats, and a very low immunity. Quite a list, isn’t it? In fact, managing the emotional lead up to each infusion, and the physical fall-out that follows has almost felt like a full-time job. It has hijacked my life, taken over my thoughts, stolen my freedom.
So you’d think that I’d be ecstatic to be emerging out the other side, right?
Well, yes and no. I kind of have mixed feelings.
From a physical viewpoint, I can’t wait to be rid of it! Each time I have gone in for chemo treatment, the smell of the place is so acrid it makes my stomach churn. I watch all the lovely oncology nurses gown up in their purple protective wear, pop on their goggles and gloves before handling the drug mixes and I wince at the fact that while they’re worried about a tiny spill of the stuff, the whole bag of cytotoxic splendour is being pumped through my poor body. The labels on each batch don’t make me feel that great either!
But as each infusion date has been gloriously crossed off my calendar, I count down the hours now, knowing the list of side effects above is mostly behind me. I have made it through the fog and am emerging out the other side, ready to reclaim my lost stamina and get this body of mine moving again. Hair has starting sprouting atop my head again, and although its downy soft, and pure white, it is a small sign that my body is on the mend. If you look hard at the picture below, you might just catch a glimpse of my new fuzz!
The flip side of chemo ending is purely an emotional one. Back in January I joked about planning a ‘remission soirée’ to celebrate finishing active treatment. I envisaged partying through to the wee hours with all my favourite people, rejoicing in the idea that I’d kicked cancer to the curb and could get on with my life.
I’ve since come to realise that finishing treatment can actually be a very anxious time for cancer patients. You see, even though chemotherapy is hideous to go through, the impact of its effect on your body, however debilitating, kind of feels good; as if the severity of my side effects is somehow a testament to the drugs’ efficacy. To be released from its guard is scary. Suddenly I am on my own again: Me versus Cancer.
It feels like I’m on the edge of a great precipice about to take a leap of faith, knowing full well there’s no safety net to catch me if I fall. Actually, I kind of feel like this guy, but way less prepared:
Fortunately, I’m not completely on my own just yet. After tomorrow, I will continue to head in to the Hotel Epworth for tri-weekly infusions of my targeted therapies, Herceptin and Perjeta (aka the wonder drugs), in mid July I start 6 weeks of daily Radiotherapy, and soon enough I’ll be put on some sort of oral Hormone therapy too. So, for now, I am still in the soothing safety net of active treatment, but without the nasty side effects of chemo drugs. So I guess that is a GREAT BIG WIN, isn’t it?
HOORAY FOR MY LAST CHEMO DAY!