Hearing you have to have chemotherapy is petrifying. We have all heard horror stories about the horrid side effects from it. I had to have six sessions of chemo following the radical hysterectomy.
Everyone’s reaction to the drugs differs, as do the drugs, the frequency and the dose you get. This is how it was for me.
Pre-Chemotherapy Meeting With My Oncologist
Before my treatments started, I had a meeting with my oncologist at the Royal Marsden to go through all the details. She explained that my six sessions would take place on a three-week cycle. Some people have their sessions more often, for example weekly or even daily. The oncologists will base the treatment cycle on each individual case.
The idea behind the three weekly cycle is to allow the healthy cells to heal. It also lets you to have a rest and recovery period between the treatments.
In each of my chemotherapy sessions, they gave me two different drugs: Paclitaxel and Carboplatin. Both drugs were given through a drip into the bloodstream.
Paclitaxel works by stopping the cancer cells from separating into new cells and so blocks the growth and spread of the cancer. Carboplatin also stops the cancerous cells from spreading by interfering with the development of genetic material (DNA) in a cell.
In our meeting, my oncologist also explained the range of possible side effects. I will focus on the side-effects in my next post.
What My Chemo Days Looked Like
As I mentioned, my chemotherapy sessions took place every three weeks. Although twice they got postponed because of my low platelet counts, but more on that in the post about side-effects.
Most of my treatments started in the morning. I only had one afternoon session, which was a blessing since each session took about five hours, sometimes longer if it was a busy day at the ward.
I preferred the mornings, because then I didn’t have to wait for the appointment all morning. Best to just get them out of the way.
The first thing that happened once I arrived at the ward was the insertion of a cannula to administer the drugs. Some people choose to have a port, also known as Central Venous Catheter or CVC.
If you choose to have a port, it remains in place for the duration of the treatments. Having a CVC means you don’t need to have a cannula put in place every time. The nurses can also take blood tests using the CVC so you have less chance ending up looking like a pincushion.
After the cannula was in, the nurses gave me pre-meds. I got pills for nausea and liquid steroids and antihistamines through the cannula. The purpose of the pre-meds was to stop nausea and allergic reactions.
They gave me Paclitaxel first. That took three hours to drip through. Then a quick five-minute saline flush to clear the tubes before the Carboplatin. This one only took an hour. Then a final saline flush and I was free to go home.
Confession time. After the first session, Justin and I stopped in a pub opposite the hospital. I had half a pint. This became our tradition. The advice from The Royal Marsden is that it is usually fine to have a small amount of alcohol.
A Scary Moment In The Chemo Ward
I was lucky not to get sick or have an allergic reaction to the drugs. I only saw a couple of people being sick and once there was a serious situation. Of course, this had to happen when my sister was with me, so she was completely shocked.
A woman having her first treatment had a severe reaction to the drugs. All the nurses rushed immediately over to her while her husband watched, helpless. They even brought the resuscitation equipment over. Thankfully, they didn’t need to use it, but they had to stop the treatment.
Witnessing this made me realise just how grateful I could be. Yes, I had sessions delayed twice because of the platelet levels, but that is nothing compared to having such a serious reaction that your treatment has to be discontinued.
I don’t know what happened to the woman afterwards. I pray they found a drug she could tolerate, and that she is well now, too.
The Amazing Chemotherapy Nurses
I could not write about my treatment days without mentioning the amazing nurses. They always made you as comfortable as possible and always had a smile for you.
I always saw the same nurses when I went for my treatments. There were more nurses on duty, but I saw the same three nurses. It was nice that way, because you built a bit of a relationship with them.
When the treatments ended it was weird thinking that was it, I would not see them again. Thank God – I’m sure you know what I mean.
I’m actually getting quite emotional writing this and thinking how amazing they were looking after me and everyone else. They are proper superstars.
Next time, I will focus on the side-effects from chemotherapy. So you don’t miss it, sign up for email alerts on new posts.
I know that everyone’s time is precious, so thank you for being here and reading the post.
Until next time!
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