We arrived at my chemo induction in good spirits. I was going to be treated! Hurrah! I checked in at reception. My husband and I made our way to the waiting room. Like all waiting rooms connected with cancer it was packed. There were people in there waiting for treatment as well as newbies like me, waiting for the induction.
Just as my husband arrived with a rather full milky coffee for me, a nurse appeared in the doorway and read out a series of names of which mine was included. We squeezed passed the huddles and were shown into a room with about five rows of chairs in it, all facing a presentation screen. There were about fifteen of us in the room and the nurse who had read our names out.
“Good morning everyone. My name is Sue and I’m a chemotherapy nurse here on the Day case Chemotherapy Ward at City Hospital. Today I will outline to you what will happen during your treatment with us. Then I will see you one to one to talk about your specific treatment and answer any questions that you may have. Ok, let me begin…”
She then began a presentation about chemotherapy in general. I can’t really remember what she said as it all a bit general. She did say that we would get a £70 voucher for a wig which sounded good.
After she finished the presentation, she then gave us the times for our one to one appointment. Luckily I was the first one. All the others filed out of the room to catch the end of Homes Under the Hammer and it was just me, my husband and Sue.
“So… Anna Read… I see that you are on Herceptin and Paclitaxel right?”
“Well your first appointment will be with us next Wednesday. In that appointment, you will only receive the Herceptin but not the Paclitaxel. The Herceptin takes 90 minutes to deliver and as it’s your first time you have to stay in the unit for six hours afterwards, in case you have a reaction to it.”
Six hours!!! I didn’t say this but nodded.
“The type of reaction is something that feels a bit like flu. If you experience any of these symptoms you must tell a nurse immediately. Where do you work?”
I told her the name of the college.
“You can’t work at all during treatment. The chemotherapy weakens your immune system so any coughs and colds that you could get could be extremely dangerous for you. It’s vital that you monitor your temperature daily and if it gets too high phone this number immediate.”
She outlined my treatment further. I would have the treatment weekly for 18 weeks. I would have 6 weeks of treatment, then a break of two weeks, then a further six weeks, then another break and then the last round. I would have to give blood for a blood test a couple of days before my treatment. This would be to check that my body was still coping with the treatment. I would see my oncologist once a week to check that everything was OK. If I needed any further medication like anti sickness tablets, I was to let me oncologist know who would then add to my prescription.
Both my husband and I nodded. It was a lot to take in. Although we knew all the facts, you can never prepare for it. We bid our farewells to Sue and made our way to the reception desk. My first appointment was made for 10am the following Wednesday.
Wednesday rolled around and soon I was stood in front of the receptionist ready for my first bout of Herceptin. My husband came with me. We decided that he would wait until I was hooked up and then I would call him once it was finished. If anyone was going to hang around for six hours, I would rather one of us do it rather than both of us.
I was called through and was hooked up quite quickly. After my husband left, I got chatting to people next me. It was a mother/daughter combo and the mother was receiving treatment for bowel cancer. Her treatment was pretty epic. She would have to be there for eight hours. Blimey. However, neither her nor her daughter seemed that bothered by it. In fact, as it was the last week in November, they were both manically making Christmas cards and decorations.
“Chemo… It hasn’t been that bad has it love?” said the mother after finding out that it was my first time.
“I’ve been as fit as a fiddle. It’s my last treatment in three weeks and I’ve even still got my hair…”she added while making pom pom baubles.
I smiled and looked around the room at the rest of the patients. The lady opposite me sighed and shook her head as if disagreeing with the mother’s remarks.
After 90 minutes, my machine started bleeping and I was told to go back to the waiting room and stay there for six hours. Lovely. The six hours went past quite quickly as the waiting room was a fantastic place for people watching. There were some people who reminded me of the Monty Python skit about Yorkshiremen who try and out do each other about how bad their situation is. A typical conversation from these types would be as follows:
“I’ve been here since eight this morning for bloods, they can’t find my consultant so I’m stuck here not knowing if I’m going to have my treatment or not.”
“Can’t find your consultant? You’re lucky. We’ve been here since six this morning as his temperature went up. Had bloods but we’ve only just found out that our consultant is on holiday so they are having to try and find his registrar…”
“Can’t find their registrar? You’re lucky…” And so on…
The next type of people would be the outwardly jolly people. They would be wandering around with their machines, cracking jokes, making cups of tea and generally acting like that it having chemo was a completely normal thing to be doing on a Wednesday. If you looked closer though, you could see that they seemed to be in some kind denial by the way they were calling out for people to recognise them for joking around.
The final type I noticed was the silent type. There were either in a couple or just be the patient themselves. They would quietly sit in the waiting room, reading a book or magazine. You could tell that they were trying to block out what was happening around them. Over time I would definitely evolve into the silent type.
When the six hours were finally up, I called my husband and went home.