Sunday, 30 March 2014

Second Chemo

It's been over a week since my second session. I wanted to let things settle down before updating this.

In the week before the session I had to provide a blood sample and following that, a consultation to discuss how I was affected by the chemotherapy. The blood sample showed that things were okay to go ahead with the next session. This will be repeated before each new session.

This time, the process itself was easier, knowing what to expect helped and it only took two attempts to find a vein this time. Obviously, this time there was no need to go through all the possible side-effects but there was still a need to keep me under observation in case of an allergic reaction. Apparently, the risk of reaction passes with the second session so next time I won't have to be kept under obs in future.

There was a little discomfort when the chemo jollop was going in. It was solved by a hot blanket applied to my hand. Apparently it's caused by the fact that the chemo solution has to be stored chilled and the temperature difference is what causes the discomfort.

I took my iPod and sat reading for the two hours or so that the session took. I felt no real effects for several hours and then it was mainly tiredness that struck. Within twenty-four hours I felt washed out and my taste buds once again disappeared entirely.

The tiredness was exacerbated by my inability to sleep more than an hour at most. The bladder issues have been going on for a long time now and the pain was becoming worse. On top of that, the need to urinate was becoming more insistent and urgent. It just seemed a vicious circle, the more my sleep was interrupted, the more tired I became, the more pain when urinating, the less I was able to get back to sleep and it has to be said, the less inclined I felt to go back to sleep because I knew that I'd wake in an hour at best for it all to start again.

The loss of taste was pretty unpleasant again. At one point I thought that perhaps some spicy food would be an answer. I had a curry delivered and it smelt wonderful. Alas it tasted of nothing and I gave up after three mouthfuls.

Oddly, I found myself fantasising about food.

I've been disinclined to get too hopeful when things started to improve around five days after the session because so far improvements have often been short-lived. However, since Wednesday, there's been a massive change for the better. It began that night, I woke once and that after four hours. It was my bladder that woke me but without the degree of pain and discomfort. It wasn't without discomfort but it took a lot less time to feel able to go back to sleep. What's more, I did go straight back to sleep and for another uninterrupted three hours.

Knowing that in the past, this sort of improvement didn't last more than a couple of days at best, I've been reluctant to get too enthusiastic. Well now I feel able to report that things have steadily improved day-on-day and night-on-night come to that. I haven't woken more than once since. Emptying my bladder isn't normal but it's largely pain free, still some discomfort at times but not so that it wakes me so fully. The urgency is still there but the period between needing to urinate is getting longer.

I don't know if it's the accumulated loss of sleep but since Wednesday, I've slept and slept. It's not that I feel as tired or weary as I was, more that I just want to sleep. Between sleeping I feel pretty perky but then suddenly, after a few hours I can sleep instantly and no matter how long or often I sleep during the day, I still sleep at night and wake up feeling nearly refreshed. My sense of taste has been returning steadily too.

I haven't felt this good since I don't know when. If the price of each chemo session is a week or so of feeling rough and total loss of taste followed by this level of improvement, I'll be happy with that. If it gets better with each session, that would be a huge bonus.

I'm due another dose of the hormone blocker on the 2nd of April, provide another pre-session blood sample on the 8th, an oncology consultation on the 9th and chemo number three on Friday 11th.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

First Chemotherapy

It's been a few days since I submitted to my first chemo session. I thought that I'd leave it before detailing the experience to allow things to settle.

On the 28th February, I presented myself at the allotted time and place. There was an hour delay but eventually I was taken into a treatment room, seated and taken through the procedure in some detail and the all the possible side-effects. These were not news as I'd read and re-read the information given to me when I first signed the necessary paperwork. It was still good to hear the details and to be able to get clarification where required.

Although the information states that the chemo takes about an hour, this doesn't take account of the other parts of the procedure.

Initially the problem is a perennial one for me, finding a vein, or at least a suitable one. After three different members of staff, two sessions with my hands in bowls of hot water and at least five attempts to get the drip to work, a suitable connection was made on the back of my right hand.

First off was a saline solution. This took about 20 minutes to be pumped in. Next, a large syringe of a steroid was manually pumped in and then the chemo solution was hooked-up. The chemo itself is what takes about an hour to be pumped in. In my case I had an extra ten minutes to fully empty the bag. After that a second saline drip was administered.

The actual experience wasn't uncomfortable, it was just a bit strange to be hooked-up to a machine that was whirring and pumping.

At one point when searching for a vein, it was discussed that it might be better to send me away and return at some stage to fit a PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter). This would be in an upper arm and allow the connection to be made and re-made over the chemo course.

I wasn't happy to do this because it needs regular, weekly cleaning at the oncology department and much messing about with dressings etc. I'm happy to let the staff dig away for a vein.

In addition to the three-day course of steroids I have to take (on the day before, the day of the chemo and the day after), I was given a supply of more top-up pills to take between sessions. I was also given something to counter sickness or vomiting (not used so far).

So how's it been?

Well I can say that so far even the most common side-effect, tingling fingertips and toes, have not manifest. The only noticeable effects are that my appetite has disappeared along with my taste buds. It's not a total loss, it's more like eating food in its wrapper. There's a hint of flavour but my tongue and mouth feels as though it's coated in plastic. There's also a strange, slightly unpleasant taste in my mouth the whole time. All this adds to the lack of interest in eating.

It's still early days. Some of the other side-effects may appear, the loss of taste may dissipate. I have an appointment with my oncologist on the 18th of March. This, if my memory serves me correctly (there was a lot of information to assimilate) is a review of the treatment. I think that it was mentioned that the dose of chemo might be reduced if the side-effects were particularly strong. I don't know if the reverse is true.

There's also a blood test to do before the next chemo session which is set for 21st March.

I've invested in a digital thermometer to monitor my temperature. I've been given a temperature above which I must call oncology in normal hours or dial the emergency number at any other time. This is because the chemo weakens the immune system and what would normally not be much of an issue can become quite complicated.

Well that's the nuts & bolts of the procedure. I'm not feeling much different, not that I expected to suddenly feel better at this stage. It may be a temporary thing but I've found that I need recourse to the pain killers a bit less frequently. Sleep is still the most obvious issue or lack of it to be precise. The chemo can disrupt sleep but my main problem is still the need to pee at very short notice and sometimes as frequently as every fifteen minutes. That's the extreme. Usually it's hourly and it wakes me almost on the dot.

I'll admit to finding it pretty dispiriting. Nights are becoming something I approach with a little dread. The main reason why I've opted to take the chemo route is that I'm hoping that a few sessions might just start to offer some relief in this aspect. I really hope so.