Three: It’s a magic number

This morning I woke up with a Jack Johnson song in my head: The 3 R’s. The opening line goes like this:

Three it’s a magic number
Yes it is, it’s a magic number

I don’t actually know the rest of the song, so all day I have been humming those two lines in my head. Why? Well, today was round three (officially / unofficially). I also squeezed in a 3 km run this morning and it’s exactly three months since my first round of chemo. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to numbers, which is surprising as I’m rubbish at mathematics. As you know, seven is not a good number for me. Let’s see how three goes.

Mother decided to show off her new baking skills and whipped up some sticky cinnamon rolls for the nurses and other patients. There is always a selection of treats and snacks on offer provided by a patient. Well, the rolls were an absolute hit! One elderly Dutch lady came over when she found out mother had made them.

“Are you European?”

“No, I’m from New Zealand.”

“I haven’t had anything this good in thirty-two years.”

The lady went on, and on, and on about the rolls to every nurse. Well done, mother. Unfortunately for me, the new combination of drugs makes me feel nauseous instantly. The only thing I can stomach is fruit or dry biscuits. No sugar-laden rolls for me.

Mother was also given a gift today. She’d won a prize in the Christmas raffle. Could the day get any better! As usual, I reluctantly walked over the scales to weigh myself. I took off my shoes this time (every bit helps!). 66.9 Kg. Woohoo! I weigh less than before Christmas, the day IS getting better and better. Next stop: Dr Oliveira. What is usually a quick five-minute chat to check my WBC levels, turned out to be a very interesting meeting. We were discussing my final treatment and she asked if I wanted to continue to use Zoladex for the next two years – Zoladex is the injection that keeps me in menopause.

“Why,” I enquired.

Apparently it’s not recommended to have a child within two years of treatment. That’s the first I have heard of this (research to follow..). Not that I am planning on having a child right now, but I hadn’t considered that it’s not recommended.

“I guess I have two years to train and race Ironman instead,” I justified.

As it turns out, my doctor is currently training for Ironman! I wish I had know this three months ago. I informed her I was about to register for (half) Ironman 70.3 before I was diagnosed.

“There are still spots available for the 70.3 in Cairns,” she informed me.

“When is it?”

“June.”

“June? That’s a bit soon, isn’t it?” I joked.

“Why not, you can train for it now.”

Did that really just happen? Did my oncologist just encourage me to train for Ironman. She agrees the more active you are, the easier treatment is, and the easier you recover.

“I love you.” Yes… I told my oncologist that I love her.

Now before everyone starts panicking that I am going to head out tomorrow and throw myself into a crazy training regime, relax. I know my limits. At the moment, I struggle running 5 km continuously. I’m not going to start training now for a half-marathon distance. I think I was destined to have her as my oncologist. The nurses, on the other hand, were a little stressed by her encouragement.

Next step: get set up in the chair. This morning I had my pick between chair 3 or 4. I decided to continue with my magic number of the day. Mother wasn’t impressed as chair 4 is ‘The Corner Suite’. I also realised that today is the 9th. 9 is divisible by 3. Sold.

I won’t lie, receiving the drugs is getting harder and harder. I knew it was going to be a tough day when I went TO the oncology ward feeling nauseous. I can no longer look at the bag of drugs, or watch them inject it through the IV. Thinking about chemotherapy, even the word, sends my gag reflexes into overdrive. I sat there patiently trying to think of anything but chemo. The lunch tray came around, no thanks! I stuck to my fruit and carrot sticks. Mother decided to try the sandwich and informed me it was tuna… TUNA *GAG*. I think it’s a bit mean of the hospital to send tuna sandwiches to the oncology ward. People already feel sick, don’t make it worse. The treatment passed without any hitches and I am back home resting in bed.

One more down…One to go.

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could’a, should’a, would’a

I know a lot of people think I have positivity oozing through my veins – probably because I’ve told you I do. Today was a day I found hard to remain positive. The nasty soul-crushing thoughts worked their way from the back of my mind to the front. Why? Today should have been my last round of chemo. I am nearing three months of chemo; a timeframe I had accepted and was prepared for. The front of my mind has accepted the extra six weeks. The back of my mind spent all day invading the front, saying “should’a, could’a, would’a.” I think it’s normal, no need to send over a straightjacket.

Today’s appointment wasn’t until 10:00 am. The late start was perfect as I hadn’t finished packing – tomorrow we leave for eight nights on the Gold Coast! Whoop! I also had Uni work to finish (of course I decided to do online study during chemo, standard). It was a quietish morning at the oncology ward, after only a 20-minute wait, I was called to see Dr Oliveira. Nothing to report from me: I had a fairly easy last round with minimal side effects. Nothing to report from Dr O: I was fit to have chemo.

There is one thing I really don’t like about chemo day: weighing myself. With mother standing over my shoulder I watched the number creep up, and up, and up…  “The scales must be wrong,” I said to mother. I’ve put on 3 KG! I went back to the waiting room thinking of all the treats I’ve had over the past few weeks, trying to work out HOW I put on 3 kg’s… “I didn’t take my shoes off before stepping on the scales, that must be it!” Problem solved. Relax.

They were finally ready for me and I was called through to the ward. As I walked in, I saw the nurse setting up at chair seven. Really, SEVEN!! She quickly remembered (after I reminded her) that I am not allowed in chair seven. Eight was free, phew. As she was preparing my chart she asked my weight. “68,” I said reluctantly, informing her it was with shoes on. She laughed and pretended to write “with shoes on” on the chart. It’s the small things… Next step: cannula. I was unlucky and the cannula didn’t go in with the first attempt. It was the same vein that was also a failed attempt last round. We have decided to never attempt that vein, again. Good decision.

The pre-meds were delivered, and I have come to the conclusion that this is the part I hate most – feeling the drugs travelling through my body and the rush of the steroids. People pay big money for that kind of rush, I think… It’s a strange feeling (I should try harder to describe this, considering I’m doing a creative writing course!). After the pre-meds had settled into the system the nurse sat next to me and started administering the chemo drugs. The photo below is the Epirubicin – one of the three drugs I receive. I find it quite fascinating and sit there, eyes fixated on the colourful liquid entering my bloodstream. Time passes quickly as I jibber away, talking the nurses ear off. The last bag was attached and it looked like we would be out in record time.

The final piece of the puzzle was completed after I received my Zoladex injection – another four week holiday for the ovaries. After a round of “Merry Christmas” wishes in the ward, we departed. And we did in fact make it out in record time: four hours!

Back home at Casa Macrae and I’m prepared with a stash of anti-nausea drugs. I have a few new concoctions I can start taking today, if I start feeling a bit icky. My motto is: Why wait! Take them all now.

Normally, 24 hours after chemo is completed, I go back to the hospital for my Neulasta injection (WBC booster). I have decided this week to give the nurses a break and self-administer (read: more time on the Gold Coast). Just when I thought my days of jabbing my stomach were over…

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The New Regime

Since when do you need a Plan B for chemotherapy! I wish I could muster up some statistics as to how often this happens, but given how varied the world of chemotherapy is, I wouldn’t even know where to start.

I would be extremely grateful if Plan B was completely out of my hands and I could sit back and let the specialists make all the important decisions. I am not ashamed to admit: I hate making decisions. Big or small, I cringe when faced with options. My decision-making skills have been put to the test in the past few months: where to have treatment, what type of surgery to have, and how to live life during treatment. Every day I wake up and have to decide how I wish to live the day: couch potato, or the naughty-girl-pushing-limits. I will be honest and say that couch potato has won more often than not lately, I’m learning to be ok with this.

It’s not only major life-changing decisions that can unrattle me: a simple meal can cause sweaty palms. Ordering a meal with friends proceeds in one of three ways: someone orders for me and I am pleasantly, or not so pleasantly surprised with the meal presented, we pick a few options with the intent to share (I have friends who were not comfortable sharing in the past. We’re still friends, they now share.), or I need to know exactly what everyone else has selected before I make my executive decision. “Food Envy” is a an issue not to be taken lightly.

I think you can grasp how I feel about decision-making.

So back to treatment…

I have tried my best to be the good patient. I was happy to sit there quietly, for 4 rounds, every 3 weeks…but alas…it’s wasn’t to be. Just when I thought I had all my ducks aligned in perfect formation, with one sweeping hand-bomb-dive, the naughty big brother, Life has pushed them back into the bathtub. A little dramatic?

So what now…

Fast-forward to today. I have just received news about my new treatment regime. My oncologist has kindly taken time out, in Paris, to review my situation.

Her recommendation: 9 weeks of Taxol (the gentler of the T’s). It has the same properties as the drug I was reacting to previously, but smaller doses, weekly, should eliminate the issue of my blushing *laughs*. Let’s see…

The only forseable problem, for me, is my oncologist doesn’t feel it necessary to have a port implanted. As the port may not be implanted until next week, it wouldn’t be usable until the following week. She feels it’s a ‘big’ commitment to have surgery, and a possible scar for only 6-7 weeks of usage.

How do I feel about this? My veins are silently crying at the thought of 9 weeks of needles, twice a week – at least (if they get it first go!). I have an appointment today with the surgeon who would implant the port. I will see what magical advice he can enlighten me with. A good friend once told me, if you are struggling with a decision, you need more information. Let the research begin.

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