Neutrophils, Neutropenia and Neutropenic.

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I like learning new “big” words. My vocabulary has increased significantly since being diagnosed. My whole life, I have always been rubbish at word games – I would choose a game of Backgammon over Scrabble any day! Maybe in six months time, I will feel more confident in the Scrabble arena. Let’s just hope “chemo brain” doesn’t get the better of me.

So, some further insight into why I ended up in hospital on Sunday. The purpose of chemotherapy, is to kill cancer cells. Unfortuantely, along with cancer cells, white blood cells are also affected – this is not a new development…it’s a heavily researched and proven fact.

Ten days after your first round of chemotherapy, a blood test is taken to measure your ‘neutrophil’ levels – neutrophils are a type of WBC, whose job is to fight off bacteria and infection. If they are dangerously low, you qualify for an injection that will help boost your WBC’s, so they don’t get dangerously low again. This is all well and good, but you have to get through your first round to see if you qualify, and I had to learn the hard way about HOW dangerously low your WBC’s can get. I ended up in hospital ON day ten! When I went to hospital with a fever, my neutrophil levels were ZERO! Zip, nil, cero, nada…my body had no defence mechanism to fight off any nasty germs or bugs. I was told many times I was suffering from ‘neutropenia’, or I was ‘neutropenic’…same same. Two more big words – tick.

So how many neutrophils does a healthy person have? In the context of the figures I am working with, a healthy person should register with a count between 2.0-7.5 (there is an equation to work out per litre…but let’s keep it simple). After 24 hours in hospital my levels had risen to 0.16. You are usually kept in hospital until your levels reach AT LEAST 0.5, as this is the minimum your body needs to be able to do their job of fighting infection (this could take another 48 hours!). After much discussion, and since I was “feeling well” they decided to let me continue my isolation at home, and the medical team would come to my house to continue with blood tests and monitoring. Minor Win.

After another 24 hours at home they had risen to 0.4, let’s hope by tomorrow they have surpassed the 0.5 mark, and I will hopefully be discharged from my house arrest…just in time for the weekend.

Although it was very worrying for a lot of people to know I was in hospital, it’s all too common after your first round of chemotherapy – my Oncology team came to visit and assured me of this. There is no way of knowing exactly how your body will react to chemo, the first round is the “guinea pig round”. It’s safe to say I definitely qualify for the WBC booster – hopefully this shouldn’t happen again.

Lesson learnt for myself: Day 7-10 – stay away from public places as much as possible.  This is when your WBC’s are at their lowest. They tell you these things, but it’s hard to grasp to what extent you need to be cautious, especially when you are not feeling sick!

I had started to think that maybe they hadn’t given me enough drugs during my first round, as I hadn’t experienced many major side-effects. I can banish those thought now. It’s secretly nice to know that the drugs are working and killing any nasty cells that may be playing hide-and-seek.

Side note: I hope this blog gets the tick of approval from all my medical friends.

Hospital Stays VS Long-Haul Flights

After 56 hours and approx 8 unfinished movies (I always fall asleep before the end), I couldn’t help but feel I could have completed a round the world journey. There are many similarities to being stuck in a hospital and stuck in an airplane.

Apologies to my non-flying friends if you don’t get as much amusement from this as the others.

My observations on both…

The Cabin: In hospital you are provided with a nice comfy bed, a touch of a First Class no matter what your budget. I was a private patient in a public hospital, I am not sure how beds would differ if I was in a private hospital – better quality plastic covering? My bed was so old-fashion that it had to be wound up and down with a lever at the end of the bed, technology upgrades definitely required. As I was in isolation, I was lucky enough to have my own room…oh the luxury!

The Food: Hands down hospital food is economy class standard…actually worse. I would happily eat (and I have many times before) a tasty economy curry, however in hospital, I found it hard to finish my meals. People know I like to eat, and I’m not too fussy either, so that’s saying something! Also, a drinks trolley came around between each meal service – this is what Qantas likes to call “continuous refreshment”.

The Call Bell: There is a rule of thumb about using the call bell on flights – unless you are stuck by the window, with an inability to get out, or having a medical emergency, then it is advisable to stretch your legs and take a walk to the galley to make your request. We honestly do have your best interest at heart, DVT is a serious issue, you really should move around more. Well, in hospital, I was forced to press the call bell. It goes against everything I believe in, but when you are in isolation, you don’t have a choice. I did feel for the nurses when I could hear the call bells going off all through the night..

The Entertainment: Having entertainment issues on a long-haul flight can really make-or-break the journey. Hospital stays are no different. Since I have private health (thank you Bupa), my TV usage was free. The 5 movie channels plus standard TV made the 56 hours fly by. The picture quality wasn’t the best, and the sound would randomly stop every now and then – complaints I have had to deal with many times before. I was a little jealous when a nurses told me Ward 5 had flat screen TV’s! Say WHAT! I was hatching a plan to get transferred to Ward 5, until I found out Ward 5 was ICU and CCU…NO thanks!

The Service: We all know this is the backbone of it all. I had a rotation of 7 different nurses care for me during my stay, and all but 1 were amazing. I know this is no different with cabin crew – there a lot of people still in the profession that really don’t want to be there, and if you are their passenger, you’ll know about it. The rest of us, are happy to look after you.

As much as I would have preferred to fly around with world instead of lying in a hospital bed, I am happy not to have jetlag, cankles or suitcases to unpack.

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Unlucky Seven

Warning: the following may cause people to worry. This is not the intent. Just facts.

If you had read my blog about my horrible first round of chemo, in chair 7, you may remember that 7 was forever going to be known as my unlucky number. Today has cemented this.

Firstly, here are a few facts for you.

Fact #1: 10 days after chemo is when your white blood cells are lowest. That is today.

Fact #2: if everyone is wearing summer clothing, and you’re in jeans, jumper and scarf…and shivering…something’s not right.

Fact #3: if your temperature reaches 38 deg during chemo, call the ambulance.

This morning I went for a lovely brunch with my girlfriend. I was feeling Ok, just couldn’t get warm. I knew when I got home I should check my temperature. 37.9. Mum and I decided a trip to Emergency was probably wise.

Emergency on a Sunday – no need to say more. I was given a mask to wear and a seat away from everyone else to ensure I didn’t pick up and extra germs while waiting. The wait wasn’t too long until I was seen too – wristband on, gown on. Looks like we will be here for a while. My temperature spiked to 38.7 and I could feel every decimal of that.

To cut the long story short, I have been given some antibiotics and my temperature is slowly dropping. Unfortunately I have to stay overnight to be monitored. It’s very common for this to happen, just unlucky.

Getting back to my point about number 7 being unlucky. My first round of chemo was 17th, today is the 27th and mother and I had a chuckle when we realised I was in cubicle 7 in Emergency. The joke continued when we heard the Doctor say I was going to be transferred to ward 7B. My next round of chemo is scheduled for November 7…should I be worried?

Please know that I feel fine, just a smaller bed and TV than I’m used to tonight. We were supposed to cheer my sister on as she completed her 60km walk today – sorry, Anja.

Reality check #2.

(Oh, and for all those who have been sending positive vibes that I get a hot Nurse…they worked! Hunk-a-Rama)

ice, ice, baby…

Ice Ice Baby, Ice Ice Baby

(Apologies in advance if you get Vanilla Ice stuck in your head)

Following on from my last blog, I have been spoilt a little more. In today’s loot was the most amazingly timed present (I would like to say EVER…but I don’t want to offend others).

MUJI, ICE BALL MAKER!!!!!

For those of you with no idea what an Ice Ball Maker is, listen up…it will change your life. I say this in all seriousness – these wonderful devices will change the way you think about cold beverages.

IBM (Ice Ball Making) was serious business in our London flat. When having guests over you always offered an “Ice Ball” – in a drink of course…not just on a napkin or side plate – you were sure to impress. I think IB’s are the reason for my love of Whiskey…first came the IB, then the Whiskey.

The reason I am so over-the-moon about today’s package, is, as of yesterday, ice is my new best friend.

The worst side effect I have experienced from chemo is the acid taste that has taken up residence in my mouth. You can brush to your little hearts content and guaranteed 5 mins later, it’s back. Now don’t go feeling sorry for me, it’s just part of the process. I am just happy I have a solution – breakfast, lunch and dinner – “Would you like some ice with that?”.

Vote of Thanks

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Noun: a formal public speech that thanks someone for something that they have done (Macmillan Dictionary)

There are many ways to express thanks for services received or gifts given. In a large or formal setting, one of the best ways to acknowledge the efforts of those responsible for the event is the vote of thanks. The vote of thanks is a brief speech given on behalf of the organization or group as a whole to a specific person or persons.

…Ok…enough with the English lesson.

The Vote of Thanks is usually given at the end of an event. However, I have never been one for tradition, plus I have so much to be grateful for now. I am utterly and wholly overwhelmed by the support and kindess that I have received. I am choosing not to name names – you know who you are. I want to acknowledge all the acts of kindness I have received. It may be a bit haphazard, but here goes…

Rochelle’s Vote of Thanks

  • To my family: for your support – physically, emotionally and financially, for cooking and cleaning for me while I was/am ‘poorly’ and ‘unable’, for phone calls and emails from overseas family to wish me well and check my progress, for letting me borrow the car – even though I annoy you by changing the seat position and the radio station.
  • To my amazing friends: arranging Skype calls at ridiculous times of the day/night to check on me pre&post each obstacle thus far, for the interstate visitors for making the journey to Ipswich – and those in Brisbane (I know it’s a journey…). For all the coffees, lunches, dinners and movies I have been shouted to alleviate the stress while not working.
  • For the gifts I have received: a beautifully framed photo, skincare and beauty products to help with chemo, a hot water bottle (exactly what I needed post IVF procedure), tea cup and T2 brewer, a voucher for my favourite organic cafe, candles, a cookbook all the way from London from my favourite cafe, SWIMMERS!!!! – to cope with the QLD heat, top-of-the-line juicer – my body is loving all the juicy vitamin goodness it receives.
  • For the 30 year old silk scarves I have been lent to rock the shaved/bald head, and the scarves made JUST FOR ME! I swear SS13 will be all about the scarves – I’m very on-trend.
  • For my own personal Pinterest board – RLV Inspiration.
  • For the beautiful flowers post-surgery & chemo… I am sad to report the heat finally won the battle against the Orchid…sorry Eli.
  • For my super fit friend who dedicated their triathlon win to me.
  • For all the cards, emails, texts, whatsapps and snapchats to remind me I am loved, supported and thought of daily.
  • For all the offers from friends and family for somewhere to escape too – I know I could knock on your door and would be spoilt rotten.
  • For the support from people I have never actually physically met! I have one special person who is my go-to girl as she has just experienced this first hand!
  • For the proof-reading of my blogs to give me confidence in sharing my journey (most times now I wing it)…can you tell the difference? Actually, don’t answer that…

Ok. I am sure you are all bored of hearing about all the AMAZING blessings I have received. Every day is like Christmas and I receive more mail in the house than my parents now….albeit some of it bills.

I know this Vote of Thanks is only the beginning…

Hookin’ Up…It’s just not what it used to be.

It’s not all stilettos, wavy hair, bodycon dresses and too many Negronis these days. Ok, let’s be honest…I wouldn’t wear a bodycon dress. Now, hookin’ up involves slippers, pajama pants and Love Tea.

As everyone was aware, today was Round #1. Time to get hooked up and have some not-so-nice chemicals pumped through the body. Sorry, there is no sugar-coating it. It sounds daunting, it is, it has to be done, so let’s not get all sooky about it.

I was in good spirits this morning. Mother made me some lovely poached eggs for breakfast – I did have a mild regret about this suggestion, will I be turned off eggs forever now? Ekk

My appointment was at 9am to meet with my Oncologist. There wasn’t much to discuss as this was the first round. All systems go.

Today I was positioned in Suite 7 – if things had gone to plan I could have adapated this number as my new lucky horse-racing-omen-bet…but definitely not now!

I made myself at home in my chair – shoes off, slippers on, lunchbox out. It was nearly 10:30, time for some morning tea. The nurse was very impressed with my homemade veggie tarts that we all devoured. Prep – success!

So, then came the first hiccup…

The first attempt to find a vein – FAIL. Needle in, needle out. Lucky I’m OK with needles…or do I just keep telling myself that? They are limited to the range  they can insert the catheter in the arm. I told the nurse I have lots of great veins in my legs…she wasn’t too keen on this suggestion.

Ok, job done. Needle in. Phew…

They give you anti-nausea drugs through your IV – wait 20 mins – then I was set up with ‘THE DRUG’…docetaxel. I was warned, if you are going to have a reaction, it will happen within the first 15 mins, so they keep a close eye on you. Sure thing. I grab my book, chill out…then NOOOO… I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it, but it was happening….I was having a reaction. Classic symptoms of tight chest and flushed face. I am not going to lie, it was a little unnerving when the nurses start yelling REACTION and everyone rushes over with counter-drugs in hand. I did get a little teary, just from the shock of it all. Things don’t go wrong with me! I am a Grade A patient!

It’s very common to have a reaction and easily fixed. I was pumped through with Phenergan and something else. Within 5 mins I felt drunk and sleepy and pretty much slept through the next few hours. As I had a reaction, I will always be given Phenergan prior to the chemo drugs.  At least now I know not to bother packing a book or DVD! I will be asleep for every round – not such a bad thing actually.

So, after 6 hours, I am back home. I have been spoilt with more flowers and mother is waiting on me with cups of tea.

The next few days I have lots of prescription tablets to counteract any possible side effects. If i’m going to crash, it won’t be until Sunday or Monday. Until then, life goes on.

That’s all folks. A day in my life at the Oncology Ward.

Note: I have to give credit to my good friend Rebecca Carr for the heading suggestion. Clearly she knows me too well. Thanks Bec X

OCD and Chemotherapy

“Hi, my name is Rochelle, I have OCD”

It’s no secret I have OCD. I am not embarassed about this diagnosis – like everything else, I embrace it. Yes I have to check the hair straightener/iron/oven/stovetop is turned off about 5 times – even if I haven’t used said items. If I had my way, all the labels would be facing the same way and food would be organised into respective groups – tea & coffee, sauces, baking etc. In our London home I was given the title The Cupboard Whisperer, if you needed to find something, I was the go-to-person. I am clearly a creature of ‘nurture’ because if you look in my parents pantry, you will be biting your lip to stop yourself making a comment about an apple and a tree…

Anyway, I suppose I should get to my point about OCD and Chemotherapy.

Tomorrow is Round #1. Therefore, today is PREP DAY.

What do you need to do to prepare before chemo? There are lots of articles talking about food and chemotherapy – people speaking of personal experiences, Dieticians, Doctors etc. The main piece of advice I have taken onboard is to have some homemade soups ready to go in the freezer. Word on the street is you usually only feel like small meals, so I think this is a sensible option to have ready to go.

I have taken over the kitchen and have batched up 2 different veggie soups: sweet potato and pumpkin and cauliflower and potato..lets hope I don’t develop an aversion to these particular vegetables. I have also prepped some chia seed puddings and some healthy protein bars.

I also read that ginger is advocated as beneficial to relieve symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Ginger Tea, Ginger Lollies – check!

I have been warned that tomorrow may be a long day – up to 5 hours! Lunch is provided  at the hospital, but I think a few extras will be required. I let my OCD run wild and I have prepared a lunchbox, that’s normal, right?

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Contents: T2 filter mug (new present from Sam & Tash Velic), bag of Love Tea Herbal Tea, Almonds, Bobble water filter…it’s still a work in progress.

Ipswich Hospital Oncology Ward won’t know what’s hit it. Shaved head & lunchbox – how much more prepared could you be!