Thursday, 23 February 2012

starting treatment

What a wild month. Days of feeling like this is the worst thing that could possibly happen to me. Days of thinking this is going to be the most amazing year of my life. Swimming in the depths of utter despair. The blackest of times. Understanding what it is like to not be able to get out of bed in the morning. The tears, how they have fallen. Hugs. Hugs like no other hugs I've received. I haven't been able to feel my own mother's arms around me, but the arms of many mothers have held me this month. I have sobbed into their necks, wetted their hair with my sadness. And though my dad is too far away to make it all better, I have felt the strength and protection in the arms of the fathers I know here.

When you stare Death in his beady little eyes, you have two choices: curl up and give up, or Live. I have chosen the latter.

Today marked the start of treatment. I have opted to have neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. Three cycles of FEC followed by three cycles of docetaxel. You can read about this regime here. This will be followed by surgery and then radiation and then five years of Tamoxifen. The reason I have opted to have chemo first is that there is a chance it could eradicate the cancer cells in my lymph nodes, reducing the chance that I will need to have all my axillary lymph nodes removed. This in turn will lower my chance of further life-long complications in the use of my dominant arm.

Today's visit to the hospital involved, firstly, the insertion of a PICC line. My nurse was very chatty but not dippy, which I appreciated. I respect intelligence and she came across as very capable indeed. Aside from having to hold my head in an odd position and wave my arm about up in the air, it went without a hitch, and a chest x-ray confirmed the end of the line was in the right place. Phew!

We made our way back up the chemo unit, where my cold cap was chilling like a good chablis. Well, the cap was hot pink, so maybe it was more like a cheap Pinot. Anyway, the nurse helped me put it on. I can tell you one thing: It is most definitely NOT the new black! I looked like the biggest dork on the English Riviera, but it was worth it just for the laughs. The first 20 minutes were pretty uncomfortable. More of an ache than outright cold. But the worst bit was the chin strap (the cap looks very similar to a riding hat, but must be very snug-fitting to work). This strap pulled my lower jaw out of its usual position and I spent the whole three hours trying to relieve the pressure by tugging on it with my right hand.

After I'd cooled for about 40 minutes, I was taken to my private treatment room. As soon as I entered this 'safe' space, my fears bubbled to the surface. My chin wobbled and my body shook uncontrollably under the fluffy blanket I'd brought from home. I was scared. Terrified. I felt like I was facing my own execution and needed to consider for one last moment whether this was the right choice. The nurse held one of my hands and Rob held the other, and I focused on all the love and support that have been coming my way for the last few weeks. I breathed, and I gathered myself, and said I was ready.

My particular chemo cocktail requires the nurse to push the syringes full of drugs manually into my PICC line, so I got one-on-one attention the whole time. First she flushed the line, then gave me an anti-sickness drug. Epirubicin, a dark red fluid was next on the menu. This is a very harsh drug. If it accidentally escapes from the vein it damages tissues. It has to be pushed in alongside saline to dilute it, so this infusion took the longest. Next came my fluorouracil. Finally, the cyclophosphamide. This one gave me a slight tingling feeling in my nose, like I'd eaten wasabi, so not entirely unpleasant.

I had to sit with the freezer on my head for another hour. The nurse took this time to explain all the pills and gear I was taking home. Lovely husband gets to give me an injection tomorrow. That one is meant to help my blood count recover faster. I've got two anti-sickness drugs and a steroid to take for three days. This is more drugs than I have put in my body for the whole of my life so far! I also have a bag of supplies the district nurse can use to flush my line out each week and to take bloods just before my next chemo in three weeks.

It was a relief to be finished. I dried the melting ice from my hair and gathered my things. We left. I felt slightly giddy, but not bad. My wee was indeed red! But I felt ok. We collected the girls and came home. I told my two bigger girls a bedtime story about an evil witch who cast a spell on a mummy because the witch was angry that the mummy was so happy. The spell caused bad cells to grow in the mummy's boob, so she had to go to hospital to have poisons put into her body to kill the bad cells. The poison also killed some of the good cells, so her hair fell out and she felt tired and sick and grumpy. But soon, the poison did its job and killed the bad cells, and after a little while, the mummy was better and could go back to being a happy mummy.

I think they understood.


  1. Carrie, you amaze me, you really do. I am proud to say that I 'know' someone as great as you xxx

  2. Do you know? It's always the loveliest people that the bad witches pick on because they're so damn jealous of how happy they are, and the bad witches ALWAYS lose in the end xxx

  3. Wow I second what Vyx said, I never realised what the procedure involved! I'm not really good with words but I really am in awe of you Carrie :))) x

  4. Wow, I never ever knew that the treatment was so detailed and massive but the way you've explained it makes it so easy to understand, more than any medical book could,

    I wish you a massive get well soon message and look forward to your next blog.

  5. Thank you for sharing this Carrie. Like so many others I have no idea what is involved, and am fascinated. Stay strong xx

  6. What a strong woman you are Carrie- we're all with you in spirit as you fight this nasty witch's spell. (((()))

  7. One in three of us will go through the exact same experience. I love that you are using your beautiful and capable mind to touch the rest of us, in ways that aren't too easily explained. I can only say that I love you dear friend, and thank you for sharing, thank you. x

  8. Thank you for reading and for all your kind words, ladies. I think the stats say that over a lifetime, one in nine women will get breast cancer, and many of those won't need chemotherapy. But it still means that by the time we are old ladies, most of us will have been touched quite closely by breast cancer. I only hope that by the time my girls are my age, the detection and treatments will be even better.

  9. Your strength is quite something, I am currently struggling with depression ( for the first time in my life- probably over-work) and all I want to to do is be non-comunicative and yet you find the power to share- my admiration is total, it really is! John's helping India with her IB exam in art this week, but as soon as that's over he'll be in touch. He's been running two jobs, hence I have not had access to transport and he has been touching the ground running/As soon as he has an opening for the mounting of the cupboards he'll be over like a shot! Love you, Becky x