“Do you drink alcohol?”

It’s a question I have been asked a number of times during this whole process. The response usually results in a snigger from whoever has joined me for my appointment, followed by myself giving a quick glare to said “sniggerer”.

Erm…yes, on occasion.

*another snigger*

The fact is, once this whole adventure started, my desire to drink had gone down. I was still partial to a glass or two of wine, but whether it was the exhaustion of running around for appointments, or being home bound post surgery; I just wasn’t feeling it as much.

“The side effects of chemo…some are like dealing with a hangover.”

Really? Well, then I know what to expect.

*another snigger*

Suzy was prepping me as much as possible to know exactly what would be coming my way. A hangover? I’d had my fair share. This would be familiar territory.

The chemo hangover

Dry mouth. That was the first thing I woke up with the morning after chemo. My entire mouth was as dry as the Sahara desert. I knew dehydration was a side effect, but this was different. Even my teeth felt slightly odd. I grabbed the full glass of water on the side table and gulped it down. I was shocked by how much my mouth was dry, even after drinking the water. It’s funny how much of a difference a bit of saliva can make.

The oncology team had told me that I would need to consume a minimum of 2 litres of water a day. I would need to moisturise more than usual, as my skin would be dry. I had my water bottles lined up and ready for rotation. My time would be spent drinking water, applying body cream or being in the bathroom peeing! Yay!

I’d mentioned the E drug was cranberry juice red. What I hadn’t mentioned was for the remaining 48 hours after chemo, my urine would also be cranberry juice red. That’s right. Cranberry juice red. If there was ever a reason for me to flush this drug out of my system pronto, it was to drink as much water as I could to have normal coloured urine. Never did I think that would be my goal, but for the first couple of days, that was my goal!

The meds

Delph had stayed over the night of chemo. She was my carer for the following 24 hours. The nursing team said it would be best to have someone with me the night and following day of chemo. In our heads, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would I be bed bound? Would I be throwing up? Would I want to eat anything?

I was given instruction to call a 24 hour number on the occasion that my temperature were to reach or exceed 38 degrees celsius. As my white blood cell count would drop over the next couple of weeks, I would be more prone to infection, and fighting this would be harder – chemo couldn’t have started at a better time. Smack bang during winter!

The medical team had also given me a goody bag full of meds to take home in between chemo sessions. They consisted of:

  • 12 anti-sickness tables to be taken after breakfast and lunch for three days.
  • An immune system booster injection to help encourage white blood cell production.
  • Emergency antibiotics if I was struck down with illness.

I was all set in the eventuality that I would need to be looked after.

The reality was, I felt perfectly fine. I know I have a habit of saying this, but I was actually ok. With the exception of dry mouth, and red urine, everything else was normal. I was up early, I was making tea, Delph had done a food and supplies run. I had taken my first set of anti-sickness tablets; my appetite was good; I was alert – the tablets were steroids, so it was a given I would be alert. I had hand sanitiser at the ready. Netflix was on; we were just chilling. It was a pretty decent Saturday, all things considered.

Catching up

It was actually the first time I was filling Delph in fully on the specific details of what had been happening since September. Everything prior to that had been updates on the phone; usually within a fixed time frame. This time we talked for hours, and it was a nice change to the FaceTime chats and Whatsapp messages. Nothing actually beats having conversations face to face, and in person.

We spoke about support groups; about counselling and therapy. I told her about my medical team who I loved and trusted implicitly; my entertaining appointments with Katy at the Breastitute. We talked about where my head was at; what I wanted to do in between treatment; how I would make something shit be less shit. I showed her the piles and piles of information material I had. I covered everything that I could think of. And then every now and again I would pause; and it would hit me. The magnitude of all the things that had happened over the space of 3 months.

  1. Mammograms and biopsies
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Scans
  4. Consultations
  5. Mastectomy
  6. Pathology results
  7. Fertility treatment
  8. Egg retrieval procedure
  9. Second surgery
  10. Pathology results
  11. Blood tests
  12. Portacath procedure
  13. Chemo

It’s crazy to think that so much can happen; that a person can just manage all of these things, and yet there I was relaying it all as if it were nothing; as if this was all normal.

I guess that’s the thing when you’re “in it”. You are just on this treadmill that never stops; and things just happen because they just have to. This cancer treadmill had become my normal, and all I could do was keep running.

I had to run from one thing to the next, because I couldn’t stop. The sooner I started things, the sooner I would finish. And at the point that it would all finish, I would then be able to get off this treadmill and get back to my normality. I knew this. Everyone knew this; but yet as I was on my sofa talking to Delph about this new normal, I broke down.

The trigger was fertility; and the whole process of that step. I hadn’t spent much time talking about it to many. I had deliberately skimmed over it. It was too personal; but as this topic came up, I just cried. I cried about not knowing if I was making the right choices, whether people really understood why I felt the way I did, whether I knew what I was doing. It was a lot to take in, and a lot to think about in a short space of time. As much as I trusted the experts, and I had to, I still felt like I didn’t know what the hell was going on, and that scared the crap out of me.

I guess Suzy was right. Dealing with chemo is like having a hangover. Dehydration, feeling sorry for yourself, not really wanting to do anything, being emotional.

We sat there for a while as I talked in between tears. My crying had lessened over recent weeks, but whenever I did cry, it felt like a release. I still needed to cry. The talking had allowed me to process slightly, and it was something I hadn’t allowed myself to do at the pace I was running at.

Sometimes you need to just take a moment to slow down. And if there was a time to do it, it was 24 hours after chemo, on my sofa, with my best friend, some tears, and a cup of tea.