Wednesday, 10 September 2014

FEC-ing hell! - Number 1


So my chemotherapy regimen is what is affectionately called FEC-T and will consist of three session of FEC and three session of Taxotere in 3 week cycles, providing all goes to plan. The plan is to shrink the tumour so that only part and not my entire breast need to be removed.
I had my first session of FEC on the 26th of August and I can safely say I was terrified. I had a session with a chemotherapy nurse the week before, where I was read the chemo riot act – i.e. when to call the hotline, what is classed an emergency, what side effects to expect etc. However, she was really lovely and it sounds as though I was quite lucky. My friend’s chemo info session has consisted of a PowerPoint session in front of a group of people, smattered with the words ‘emergency’ ‘fatal’ and ‘life threatening’. Nice.
The nurse basically told me to carry on as normal. When I asked if I could still have a glass of wine (the important things!) she said ‘of course – you can even go for a night out down Broad Street if you want to’. Not sure what’s more terrifying – chemotherapy or a night on Broad Street!

The oncology waiting room was full due to the bank holiday the day before – those who would have had their session the previous day were all shoved to the Tuesday. Yes folks, whilst most people were enjoying their bank holiday, perhaps having a trip to the seaside or on all dayer down the pub I was crapping myself about having a toxic cocktail of chemicals pumped in to my veins.

As usual, my presence in the oncology waiting room brought down the mean age somewhat. We sat and waited. And waited. And waited. I had an appointment to see the oncologist before starting chemotherapy, mainly to ask about the results of my sentinel node biopsy. By the time we finally went in to the oncologist’s room I was once again doing my Peter Barlow impression. Cue very sweaty palms.

The waiting part, as most women in the same position as me, will attest is extremely difficult. At the moment, time just seems to be filled with endless hospital appointments, tests and waiting for results. It turns out there was a tiny bit of cancer in the first node they removed and none in the other three. Not exactly the news I wanted to hear – no node involvement would have been preferable. But the oncologist was unconcerned and told me it would just slightly alter the surgery they planned to do after the chemotherapy.

After giving me the go ahead to take some diazepam whilst I sat and did some more waiting, I downed two and sat in the waiting room eventually feeling a little calmer as they kicked in (yey for diazepam). Finally, after about four hours since arriving at the hospital, I was called through to the chemo unit to get the ball rolling (or the drugs flowing).
The chemo nurses are remarkably cheerful considering they spend the day injecting toxic drugs in to poorly sick people. I was given a lovely seat next to the window looking out on to the garden. After putting the cannula in one of the veins on my hand which had to be coaxed out using a heat pad, we set about drenching my hair in water and conditioner ready for the cold cap. I had my hair cut off in to a bob to reduce the weight on my follicles and tried slightly unsuccessfully to get it closer to its natural colour as in the event of my keeping my hair, you can't dye it whilst having chemotherapy and I wasn't looking forward to having dreadful roots on show. When you are using the cold cap, you have to sit for half an hour before they start injecting the epirubicin (the E out of FEC) which is the one that makes you lose your hair, during the time it's being administrated and for two hours after. So it extends the time you have to be at the chemo unit for but it's worth a shot. They strap on this very fetching pink cap that looks like you are about to jump on a horse for a gallop and then switch the machine on. I have heard it described as a prolonged brain freeze and the first 20 minutes are the hardest but to persevere.
Without wanting to put anyone off who is thinking of using the cold cap, the first half an hour was excruciating. I desperately tried to distract myself by playing a game on my I pad but all I could think about was shouting to the nurses to take the damn thing off my head! It took all my strength and the thought of a bald head not to. After about half an hour I began to get used the sensation although the rest of me became incredibly cold! I did take my slanket though. First time I’ve actually found a use for it! Next time I'm kitting myself out with scarf, gloves, socks the works!!

After the epirubicin comes the next two drugs – the
fluorouracil and the cyclophosphamide. The remarkably cheerful chemo nurse explained to me every time the next toxic drug was about to be injected in to my veins. Due to our late admittance to the unit and the fact that I had at least an hour still to go with the cold cap once the drugs had finished being injected, we were the last ones there with the cleaner mopping up around us. It felt a bit like being a pub at closing time only without the massive meathead bouncer stomping round shouting 'finish your drinks folks'. Once the cold cap was done I had to sit for ten minutes to wait for my head to defrost (I'm not joking) then I ran for a pee. Although I had been warned that the epirubicin turns your wee pink for a little while it was still a bit of a shock to turn round and see rose wine coloured pee in the loo. It seems to be a regular occurrence at the minute to have pee looking like sickly alcoholic drinks. I'm gradually forming a list of booze I can never quite look at in huge same way again. Sigh.

So, I was sent home with a huge goody bag. Unfortunately it wasn’t filled with birthday cake and party hats, but various different anti-sickness medications, steroids and bottles of 
Difflam mouthwash (awesome stuff). In the same way I would to try and stave off a hangover, glugged a large amount of water over the next couple of hours as I'd heard this would help flush the drugs out and minimise any side effects. Apart from feeling quite nauseous over the evening I was ok - not vomiting yey! I cleaned the toilet though in advance just in case I would end up having my head down it.

Since then I’ve mostly just had this weird floaty feeling occasionally, a bit of a sore mouth, which was sorted by the Difflam, and feeling a bit tired. I’ve still been running but its felt a little more difficult. Oh, and I did get a stinker of a cold which led to me being in hospital for a night whilst they checked me out. The Canxiety has hit now and again but I’m trying to learn to control it with the help of my friend citalopram. Round about now is the time I’d expect my hair to start falling out if the cold cap hasn’t worked. But it’s still there so far although it feels like there are more hairs in my brush than normal. But FEC it! Bring on the next one!!

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