I love First Dates. I don’t need to explain what happens on First Dates as the title gives it away. In a restaurant near St Pauls cameras are set up to document how a series of couples get on, on their first, blind date.
Everyone is shown in an extremely positive light. If a date doesn’t work out, there is no soul searching. Just a gentle shrug of the shoulders and we all move on. The staff in the First Dates restaurant are key to this. There’s Fred, the French maître d’. At the start of every episode, he philosophies on what is necessary to have a good relationship. He somehow gets away with this merely by being French. This seems to give him some weird kind of authority on how relationships should be.
When the daters first arrive, after they have checked in with Fred, they are taken to the bar to get a drink. This is where I would come unstuck, if I went on First Dates. I would have no idea what to order from the bar. Everyone on First Dates seems to know all these elaborate cocktails, that the barman mixes up. You see such disappointment when someone orders a beer or lemonade.
First Dates is great because it peels back all the layers. It doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, gay, straight, bi, trans, old or young. If you are single and looking for love, the First Dates restaurant welcomes you. Strangely it’s a bit like that with illnesses too. Once you are diagnosed, you are all treated the same regardless of where you have come from who you are.
There are some differences. In First Dates, everyone’s individuality is celebrated. In healthcare, your individuality is frowned upon. In First Dates, there is always hope that the date will turn out well. In healthcare, there is hope, but it gets lost in paperwork and poor communication.
At the end of the date, each couple is asked if they would like to see each other again. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. As for cancer, you don’t get a choice. You know that you will see each other again.
Finally, the eighteen weeks were up. I couldn’t bring myself to buy any chocs or pressies for the chemo nurses. I think it was because I knew that deep down, I would be back.
And I was. Three weeks later in fact. Only this time I wouldn’t feel like a zombie. Yes, this time I was only to have the Herceptin, not the toxic Paclitaxel and its terrible pre-meds. There was also even better news on the timing front. Somehow the time it took to administer the Herceptin dropped drastically. Instead of taking ninety minutes, it would now take thirty minutes. Fantastic. However, with every good thing that happens, something annoying must happen to counter it. The annoying thing was that after the Herceptin was given, I would have to hang around the chemo ward to two hours in case I got a reaction to it. Oh well…
The first day of the new regime went well. After the Herceptin was administered, I took my place in the waiting room to wait for the allotted two hours. What our chemo ward was quite good at, was to get the people who were on the same kind of treatment in on the same day. This meant that there were about three other patients who were also on Herceptin at that time. We all started chatting away in the waiting room, mostly moaning about having to wait for two hours to anyone who was interested.
After about an hour, a harassed looking nurse came running into the room.
“Does anyone have any objections to the media coming in? We have an MP visiting one of the patients and we have been told that there are some media coming in. I repeat does anyone have any objections to this?”
We all shook our heads and I could see a few of my compadre getting a bit excited by this. There was a lot of hair brushing going on and general make up checks, just in case we might be in the background of something.
In the end, it was a bit of a let-down. The MP just popped her head round and said hello to us in the waiting room. She really wanted to see her constituent, who was in one of the bays receiving treatment. The “media” consisted of one photographer who seemed more interested in taking photos of the rather photogenic MP than of obviously ill cancer patients. So, we soon relaxed back into the monotony of daytime TV.
I think the reason why we all got a bit excited was that at last, our secret little world could be getting some publicity. When you get cancer, or any other life limiting illness, people tend to shut it away. Of course, people need privacy but strength can also come through discussion and publicity. With illnesses, there seems to be a lack of discussion. Whether it’s because people feel that if they talk about the illness, they are more likely to catch it, I don’t know. However, it is through communication and listening that acceptance can be reached.
I had two lots of thirty minute treatments of Herceptin, when something strange happened. I came to the chemo ward and my name was called. Instead of going to a bay, the nurse took me to the room where they took the patients’ blood. It was explained to me that I was to have my Herceptin by sub cut.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“By injection. Basically, I will administer the Herceptin to you through a syringe over five minutes. You’ll still have to wait for two hours in the waiting room in case you have a reaction, but there will be no cannulation.”
This was music to my ears. No cannulation. No more warm rice bags on the back of my hands. No feeling guilty every time the nurse though she/he had got a vein, only for it to “blow” or wriggle away. Although it still involved needles, at least this one would disappear after five minutes.
I took off my jeans and sat on the comfy chair while the nurse filled the syringe with the Herceptin and set the timer on her phone.
“Are you comfortable?” she asked. I nodded and she started to inject me in the top of my thigh. At first it stung a little, so she slowed down her flow. But after about a minute, it felt fine. It takes great skill to slowly inject someone with something. I could tell that after the five minutes, the nurse looked more relieved than I did.
“Great!” she said. “Now off you pop to the waiting room. It’s eleven thirty now, so you’re free to go at half past one.”
I bid her thanks and farewell and made my way back for the conclusion of This Morning.
I had two further sub cut treatments at the hospital when another nurse came up with a suggestion.
“You know, you could have this treatment at home…” she said about two minutes into the injection.
“Yes. We offer this treatment at your home. The nurse who gives you the treatment must hang around for two hours, but at least you would be at home. You wouldn’t be stuck here…”
It sounded quite good. At my next appointment with Dr H I mentioned it to her.
“That sounds like a great idea. I was going to recommend it for you…”
So, that is how it was supposed to be and how it is now. Every three weeks a nurse comes to my house and injects me with Herceptin. Then we have a cup of tea and a natter in front of the telly for two hours. It’s been two years since we started this arrangement and so far, it seems to be working.
I still have cancer. It’s there, smack bang in the middle of my head or base of my skull if you prefer. My tumour is small and the Herceptin prevents it from growing any larger or spreading. Soon the Herceptin will stop working. When that will happen, no one knows. Some of the nurses who come to my house say that they have been treating patients with Herceptin for decades. I’ve met someone who has been on it for about fifteen years and it’s still working. But that doubt is there. One day it will stop working.