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My Chemotherapy Diary: Part III - The Ice Torture

Unfortunately, I get myself all worked up before the session and feel sick by association - just the sight and smell of the hospital make me retch and I have to whip my wig off lest I puke all over it. (Advantages of Wigs #103: You don't need anyone to hold your hair back when you're sick.)

Chemotherapy Round Four

16 Oct: After three rounds of FEC, I have my first round of Taxotere - a different drug that causes less nausea but has its own set of side effects. Unfortunately, I get myself all worked up before the session and feel sick by association - just the sight and smell of the hospital make me retch and I have to whip my wig off lest I puke all over it. (Advantages of Wigs #103: You don't need anyone to hold your hair back when you're sick.) By some miracle, I manage to hold it in and the moment passes.

Taxotere can make your fingernails and toenails go black, so I have to wear enormous frozen ice gloves on my hands and feet. It's a bit like having your mitts and tootsies pushed down into a bucket of constantly topped-up ice for two hours as you slowly lose the feeling in your extremities. In other words, painful. That said, at least it distracts me from the drip in my hand.

For the first time in all my chemo sessions, I have a little cry mid-sesh. I may have been raised like a hardy Northern sheep, but this is about as tough as it gets.

17 Oct: The doctors were right: I don't feel sick at all after chemo. In fact, I feel perfectly fine. The effects obviously take a while to kick in.

18 Oct: I just injected myself! With a needle! In my belly!

I have to have daily immune-system-boosting injections for 10 days after each chemo and this time I learn to do it myself as I'm planning a trip to London. It really isn't so bad and I swear it hurts less when you do it yourself because you're concentrating so much on doing it right. I reward myself with tea and cake from my Graze box.

21 Oct: Taxotere may take a while to kick in, but when it does, it's mighty painful. About 48 hours after chemo day, I start to feel the most excruciating shooting pain all over my body, particularly in my legs. It's a bit like getting tiny electric shocks all over your body and the pain seems to come from deep inside your bones. Two days later, it spreads to my back and I spend a couple of sleepless nights in agony.

22 Oct: It's hard to describe the taste in your mouth that comes about after having chemo. All the text books tell you everything tastes metallic, but to me that's not it. To me, everything tastes... grey. Or maybe it's blue. Either way, it's not nice and it lasts about two weeks every time.

28 Oct: Just as I'm starting to think I'm fine, I start getting nosebleeds. Not huge nosebleeds, but nevertheless fresh blood in each nostril every time I wipe or blow my nose. I call the chemotherapy hotline at the Christie Clinic and am told this could be a sign of a low blood platelet count and I may need a platelet transfusion. It's Saturday night and I have no choice but to drive to the hospital, an hour and a half away.

I was always planning on spending the evening watching Strictly and X Factor. I just wasn't planning on watching them at the hospital...

The nurse struggles to get a needle into my uncooperative veins, leaving me with a big, painful bruise. After a couple of attempts, we eventually succeed with the test and my blood count comes back fine - no transfusion needed; crisis averted - phew! Nevertheless, I'm not allowed to leave the hospital until a doctor has given me the once-over, and this takes several hours. Little do I know, I'll have to get used to spending my Saturday nights in hospital...

Chemotherapy Round Five

Nov. 6: My second round of Taxotere isn't half as bad as the first - probably because I've been practising freezing my tootsies off on Bonfire Night and I have a better idea of what to expect from the ice torture. My little pinkie finger feels like it's been slammed in a doorframe, but apart from that, I'm ok.

7 Nov: Obama wins a second term, no doubt thanks to my wielding an enormous pair of over-sized ice-foam baseball hands and feet. No need to thank me, Mr President.

10 Nov: I'm rushed to hospital at midnight on Friday after discovering I have a temperature of 38.6 C - way above my usual temperature of 36.5 and well into the dangerous infection zone. Unfortunately, my parents have both had wine with dinner and are unable to drive, so we have to get a taxi all the way to Manchester from the other side of Huddersfield. This costs a small fortune and takes almost two hours because:

a) the driver doesn't know the way to the hospital and has to go back to the taxi rank to pick up his sat nav;

b) the driver doesn't know how to use a sat nav;

c) the sat nav seems to think the quickest route to Manchester is via Dundee with a quick flight to Belfast, a hovercraft ride back across the Irish sea and a brisk walk from Liverpool.

I need to have intravenous antibiotics immediately because my temperature is so high, but it takes three nurses and three painful failed attempts to get a needle into my veins before they get can even hook me up to the drip. I start to go dizzy and almost faint the second time I am stabbed by one of the nurses and am glad when, at precisely 4am, I am safely hooked up and allowed to sleep.

'Sleep' is the operative word, of course. Not exactly easy when you have a splitting headache, are attached to a machine by a long tube and are kept awake all night by machines bleeping and whirring so loudly it's like standing in the engine of a ship - not to mention the horrifying sounds coming from a patient in a nearby room.

11-13 Nov: I spend the next four days in hospital, performing all my toilet activities into a cardboard bowl so that the nurses can 'measure how much I pass'. I'm not sure how they do this but I have visions of them pouring the contents into an enormous glass cylinder, like on Supersize vs Superskinny where they examine all the burgers and chips the participants eat in an average week. Either way - not pleasant.

My white blood count is abnormally low, meaning my body can't fight infection, so I'm kept in quarantine in my room and everyone who visits is made to wear rubber gloves and an apron. With my right hand permanently attached to the drip, I learn to do everything with my left - brushing my teeth, writing (read: scribbling) my signature and even moisturising my legs (I manage to spectacularly splash body lotion up the bathroom wall, even reaching above my own head height - quite a feat!)

13-20 Nov: When I finally escape from the hospital, I find the greatest pleasure in the simplest things, such as 360-degree arm movement and the ability to cut up my own food without assistance. Apart from a few wobbles, I'm feeling miles better and am just about ready to face my sixth and final chemo session next week.

Five down, one to go! Let's see if I can get through the last chemo without any extra hospital visits...

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