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Newcastle, NSW, Australia
The big ‘C’ – cancer: it was always something that happened to someone else or someone else’s family, not me. That was until the 4th November 2009; the day I was told I had breast cancer. I remember being told by my GP and feeling disbelief. I am a 35 year old photographer with a beautiful husband and four gorgeous children: I am happy, I am healthy and have no history of breast cancer in my family. How could this happen to me? Since that day I have been on a very strange journey filled with weird, worrisome but also wonderful moments. I know many of you must be thinking ‘Wonderful? How can you have wonderful moments when you are fighting cancer?’ My answer is we all have options and choices and if we look for the good in people and life, we will always find it. I have created this blog to share my experiences with others, especially women who may be on their own breast cancer journey. Along my particular path, some beautiful women, who have beaten cancer themselves, have been very generous in sharing their stories with me, which has appeased some of my fears and worries. Maybe I can help others by sharing my own unique story… Love Mel xx

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chemo Diary Entry 2

Tuesday 12th January 2010 – Day 2, day after first chemotherapy session

I woke up this morning looking like I had spent a leisurely day at the beach without sunscreen. Not quite the infamous cooked lobster look I am prone to, but I think I’m going to call my skin colour this morning ‘fairly flushed fairy rose pink’ (sounds a bit like an OPI nail colour)! Besides my skin colour, I noticed a weird taste in my dry mouth.

My first night home from chemo was not uneventful. When I went to bed last night my elbows and shoulders began aching. It took me a while to register it was a chemo side effect I had read about in one of the many information books bestowed upon me by the hospital. Neurofan Plus fixed that though (and led me through to a lovely slumber).

In the wee hours of the morning, though, I woke with a throbbing pain in my upper body. The throbbing kept moving to different points around my torso and it felt like ice was coursing though my veins and organs, but again, only in my torso. My first reaction was to panic. I have never had a sensation like that and I had images of the movie ‘Alien’ flash through my mind. I felt a wave of fear overcome me and I began to writhe around the bed as my panic heightened the throbbing sensation. I took a moment and realised it wasn’t actually that painful, just strange and uncomfortable.

I began the breathing exercises that my fabulous kinesiologist, Kartia, has taught me. I breath in deeply, hold my breath, count to14 or 21 and then expel the air through my mouth. This exercise slows down a person’s breathing, reduces oxygen to their brain and allows the person to slip into an alternate consciousness. It certainly worked for me. After a few minutes I ‘drifted away’ from the throbbing feeling and found peace again. I then began to visualise a white light moving through my body’s organs and veins until I felt totally relaxed and calm, and then drifted back off to sleep.

Doctor Craig Browning, my wonderful husband, has taken it upon himself to ensure that I follow the hospital’s instructions to a ‘T’ regarding post chemo care. He bounded out of bed just after 8 o’clock this morning to make me fresh watermelon, ginger, orange and mango juice, served me up my anti-nausea drugs and steroids for the day. Then after I had eaten some wholemeal toast, he prepared a warm bi-carb soda solution for me to wash my mouth out so I don’t get mouth ulcers (another chemo side effect). Talk about dedicated!

The anti-nausea drugs are certainly doing their thing: I haven’t felt nauseous at all during the first 24 hours. The steroids have helped ease my flushed skin and kept any other allergic reactions to the chemo drugs at bay. The steroids have kept me awake and enhanced my appetite somewhat, which I’m not so happy about - I want to be satiated already! At the moment I am eating on the hour, but limiting my food intake to watermelon, cherries and a low-fat cannellini bean dip I made spread on wholemeal bread.

A week before I began chemotherapy, I had an information session with a nurse educator who went through the side effects that the chemotherapy drugs could cause my body. I was also given folders and books of information to read: I didn’t actually open those things until the night before my chemo (ignorance is bliss sometimes).

I am not sure what lies ahead for me in the side effect department, but I will post another entry in a week or so with further side effects that I experience!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Chemo Diary Entry

Monday 11th January 2010 – Day 1, day of my first session of chemotherapy
Craig and I arrived at the hospital for my first chemotherapy session at about 9am. I was feeling surprisingly calm; maybe because I have tried not to give this impending day much head space: don’t worry, be happy!

We made our way to the Oncology Unit at Lingard Private Hospital and were greeted by friendly staff who led Craig and me to my little chemo room. I say little because it is only about 2.5m wide by about 5m long with two ‘injection chairs’, a TV, a bathroom and some extra chairs for any guests (though we are only allowed one support person with us at any time).

Another lady was already in one of the injection chairs with her arm in a heating pad waiting for her dose of drugs. I introduced myself to her by asking her, ‘What are you in for?’ Ok, maybe a bit blunt but I thought it was kinda funny – haven’t we all been served some sort of sentence at this place? ‘Sarah’ (not her real name) looked at me blankly so I clarified with, ‘What cancer do you have?’

‘I had breast cancer’, Sarah said.
‘Me too,’ I replied! Another lady of my kind…

Sarah looked about 55 years young and had a full head of hair so I guessed she was either starting her chemo like me or was having some other treatment. When I questioned her again (yes, I can be a busy body at times), she told me that she had finished chemotherapy treatment some time ago but still comes into the hospital every three weeks indefinitely for Herceptin injections.

My lovely chemo nurse Amy came into my little chemo room, introduced herself and explained to Craig and me how my chemo session would run. To start with, I needed another blood test to check my blood count was okay prior to starting the chemotherapy drugs: it was fine. Amy then came in and placed a heating pad on my right hand and arm just to warm up my veins a bit so they are easier to jab with the needle.

When it came to jabbing time, I stated my personal stance on needles to Amy; I hate them immensely and they should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, when you are receiving chemotherapy and have big juicy veins, as I do, it’s tough sh*t – you’re getting a needle. So, I asked very politely if she could use a little needle and not one of those big horse needles I was jabbed with when I had to have my pre-treatment heart-scan. That baby brought me to tears. So Miss Amy was very kind and offered to use a children’s needle, which I cordially agreed to (like I had a choice)!

Funnily, Amy offered me the option of having my finger nails and toes dipped in ice buckets while I received my first chemo drug ‘Taxotere’. Apparently, it can cause a side effect whereby your finger and toe nails can lift and get infections under them. I am all for minimising any future side effects and pain, so into the ice they went for about two hours while the Taxotere dripped into my veins. To distract myself from the coldness, I watched ‘The Love Guru’ on DVD; nothing like a comedy as a great distraction from the numbing cold. Mike Myers is a genius I tell you!

The Taxotere drug was administered to me slowly at first so the nursing staff could watch for any allergic reactions that I may have. I didn’t have any reaction so it was full steam ahead for administering this drug. My veins were then flushed out before starting the next chemo drug on the menu, Carboplatin. As this drug started to drip through slowly, I began to panic. It felt as thought my heart was pounding, my chest felt tight and I started to cough a bit. To be on the safe side, I was given Phenergan and Hydrocortisol intravenously, which made me drift off to sleep. So I spent the rest of the afternoon in a lovely slumber, waking only briefly when my IV’s were changed to flush out my veins and then to give me my third drug, Herceptin.

By the time my chemo session had ended and my veins were flushed out for the last time, it was about 5.15pm – a very long day at the hospital.

I feel really blessed that the nursing staff that looked after me – Amy, Ann and Bev – were so attentive, warm and informative. They took the time to explain how I needed to look after myself when I got home to minimise any side effects over the next few days and clarified how the anti-nausea drugs and steroids I need to take over the next few days may affect me, such as the steroids causing sleeplessness.

All-in-all, my first chemotherapy session was not as traumatic as I may have initially thought, again, I think, due to the wonderful staff and having Craig with me throughout the day for moral support (poor love was bored out of his brain though)!