In the blink of an eye

In life, a week can feel like eternity, or it can feel as though you’ve blinked and missed it. For me, this week has been the latter. Given all the dramas from last week’s attempt at chemo, and the uncertaintity of what was to come, the days melted away before me.

As the morning light filtered through my bedroom blinds, and the kookaburras sung their morning chant, I realised, today was Thursday. Today was chemo day. This was definitely a week where I blinked and suddenly I was transported seven days further in the future.

I’ve had a challenging yet extremely satisfying week: a lovely visit from another interstate visitor (and another beautiful present), a lot of phone calls, emails and brain power getting parkrun moving forward, time spent perfecting my Pho recipe, and as most of you would have seen, I stumbled across a perfect ‘healthier’ treat to satisfy my chocolate and peanut butter addiction. A big shout out to Belle Gibson, and The Whole Pantry app for this treasure. There have already been discussions within the house about alternative filling options – raspberry filling is the next request.

For the first time, in a very long time, routine is present in my life. The new proposed regime means: every Tuesday I have a blood test, and every Thursday I have chemo. I am considering making Wednesday my ‘Ladies who Lunch’ day. For seven years working as cabin crew, the start of the working week could be Monday, but it’s most likely Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Can you see why I’m feeling extremely chuffed with my new schedule.

Let me rephrase: I WAS feeling extremely chuffed.

Today’s chemo was NOT a success, again. Instead I graduated: How to Fail Chemo 101. If there was an actual award, I’m sure I would have received a high distinction. Maybe my body is having “Chemo Envy.” It wants to try all the possible combinations.

I am not going to bore you with a minute-by-minute description of today’s events – it was no different to the other times. Actually I lie, it was worse. This time I was physically sick (I swear it was karma from my hips for eating hot chips for morning tea…).

Here is a summary: went to the hospital, saw my oncologist (she’s back from Paris), sat in the recliner chair (not seven), had cannula inserted (first attempt), watched the white liquid drop-by-drop move through the tube inching closer to my veins, blushed, passed out from Phenergan, talked about the alternative, then came home. Goodbye five hours of my life.

What now? The regime needs to change, again. Say hello to: FEC. It’s a combination of three drugs – the ‘C’ is the drug I have been receiving in my original TC combination. This was the sole drug that made it through my veins without throwing a hissy-fit last week, after I recovered from my T reaction.

This is an older style chemotherapy combination. It has the same effectiveness as my original prescribed TC combination. Dr Olivera informed me that people do not have allergic reactions to FEC – but she’s coming prepared incase I decide to be difficult again. FEC is usually administered every 3 weeks, for 6-8 rounds. Since I have already received some chemotherapy, she’s only prescribing 4 rounds. It does mean I go back to a 3 weekly cycle. Goodbye routine. Hello waiting around, again.

If you wonder how I am so relaxed and tolerant with all the changes, look no further.

Working for Qantas, crew are given a two-month roster – life is planned in 2 month increments. Even when you think you have outsmarted the roster gods, and operations, there still a chance things can change: erupting volcanos, airline strikes, standby days…all can alter and change your life. Getting in a huff gets you nowhere when things are out of your control. This is definitely out of my control.

At least I can be certain of one thing this year – I am guaranteed to be feeling like a five-year-old, opening perfectly wrapped presents, and counting down to midnight with family and friends this Christmas and New Year’s. Oh the luxury. (Sorry to all the crew out there yet to learn their fate for the festive season. I do empathise, really.)

My next chemo is booked for November 28th. I hardly had any drugs administered today, and last week I only received half – just the C. I am experiencing zero side effects and feeling like I could race a triathlon.

Mother suggested I go away next weekend. “Maybe you could go down to Melbourne for the weekend,” she said.

Do I need a hearing aid? Did those words actually come out of her mouth?

Before you start dialling DOCS and reporting her for bad parenting (can you still report a parent if their child is 32?), mother has asked my oncologist in the past if flying during chemo is allowed (we were supposed to go to NZ for Christmas this year). Obviously, if any new side effects make themselves present, I won’t be travelling. I’m not daft (as Kim Barnes would like to say). But kudos to mother for making the suggestion.

For now, I am back home. Back in the recliner chair, back at stage one. I feel as though this process hasn’t really started. Every speed bump and set-back is pushing my end date further and further into the future. How do I feel about this? So be it. Another six weeks now is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

I don’t mind if life keeps throwing me lemons. I like lemonade.

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Round 2… DING DING

Are you aware that each course of chemotherapy is referred to in ‘cycles’ or ‘rounds’? I tend to use the term ‘round’ more often than not when discussing chemotherapy with others. One round is from when you go to the Oncology Ward and are injected with the nasty-cell-killing drugs, until the next time you repeat this process. It also includes the period of time that is considered your “rest” between each treatment. The rest period and the number of rounds varies from person to person and from cancer to cancer. For me: it’s 4 rounds, every 3 weeks.

In other cancer patients, this treatment plan is considered “lucky” – there is enough time to recover and feel “normal” before the next hit, and 4 rounds is the minimum treatment used. WIN, WIN.

It’s very hard to know what to expect when you start chemo. You may experience all of the side effects, or only a few (nausea, vomiting, body aches and pains, tiredness, mouth ulcers, digestive problems, taste changes…just to name a few). You may feel the effects immediately, or in the later stages. Chemotherapy drugs can have cumulative effects – the first round you still feel healthy, the next you don’t recover as quickly – your energy levels are affected a fraction more, the next is a little worse again, and the next…etc..etc

So if you’re wondering why I am still cycling and running hill sprints – this is why…the first round hasn’t hit me too hard. Although we all know now I need to be more cautious of my physical activity when my WBC’s are low. *smacks hand*.

So, taking all this into account, I can’t help but make a comparison between chemotherapy and boxing. Boxing? YES, boxing…

To ensure I wasn’t going completely bonkers by making this comparison, I spent some time with my trusted old friend, Google. I found this description of boxing that I feel cements my theory.

“In the early rounds of a fight, boxers figure out what their opponent’s strong points and weak points are, and then try to find a winning strategy, taking into account their own strengths and weaknesses as well. As such, boxing is very much a “mental” contest as well as a physical one…”

Ok, maybe I haven’t quite convinced you just yet. Let me continue…

Although I have never been in a boxing match, I have considered it in the past, and trained by some extremely talented boxing trainers. I learnt all the moves: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, duck, slip (is there any moves I have forgotten?), but unfortunately for me, I don’t have a desire to punch someone in the head…and let’s not mention my two left feet.

If, however, I was a boxer…I hope this is how a typical first round would play out…

Round 1 – full of energy and a few nerves, quick on my feet, moving easily, alert to my opponents’ moves – what combos they use, defence is still strong – I react quickly to their attacking 

DING DING

Break – pep talk from my support, a quick rest and re-hydrate

DING DING 

For me, the first round of chemotherapy was much the same. Every day I felt I was alert to what was happening to my body. What moves did my opponent have in store for me, and how would I react.

So what happens next?…

I go into round 2 with the same mindset as would a boxer. I will accept the knocks to my body, but keep mentally strong. It may be harder than the previous round, but with determination I can make it to the next.

Side note: If any of my ex-boxing trainers are reading this, I hope I have done it justice. I may have to get out my gloves and dust them off.

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