First cancer, now for the menopause...
As the oncology nurse was giving me my first intravenous chemotherapy drug she went through a couple more side-effects that I might experience. "Mouth ulcers, arthritic like pain from the cell boost injection, a decrease in fertility and menopause-like symptoms," she listed.
"As if I hadn't enough to be worried about!" I laughed. "Well, there is another thing," she said. "Give it to me," I sighed. "You will feel extremely tired, which will make you very cranky and you could get mood swings."
I was starting to get a headache at the back of my eyes. I looked over at my husband who was sitting very quietly, as the colour slowly drained from his face. The truth is, in our earlier years of marriage, I had been known to throw the odd strop.
This could have been anything from a banshee shriek to a foot-stamping episode to the throwing of a plate which just missed the side of his head. I thought it had all been long forgotten but, as I watched him mentally rearranging the delph to where I couldn't reach it, I realised he still bore the scars.
"You may also feel a little paranoid," she added. "Imagining slights and reading into things that aren't there at all."
My husband slumped to one side, fully resigned to his fate.
After an hour of intravenous, the first session was over. I felt a little jittery and my head was sore but nothing more. As the day wore on, I began to feel more lightheaded and 'out of it' and my head started to pound. Then my stomach started to turn over as if I were about to retch.
I feared the worst -- that this would be the pattern and I would spend the next 16 weeks hanging over the toilet bowl. However, those symptoms lasted 24 hours and, by the next day, both were gone. I still felt a little giddy and for the first four days I was hit by a tsunami of fatigue in the afternoons.
Chemo Brain also set in early when, two days after the therapy, about to drift into a nice nap, I suddenly remembered I had a child that I was supposed to pick up from school. A quick phone call to the neighbours solved that one.
On day six I paid a visit to the 'wiggery'. Roches Hair Solutions on the Kimmage Road opened in 1986 to deal specifically for people with hair loss through chemotherapy, alopecia or hair thinning.
Anne Roche gave me a whole hour to indulge myself. I brought one of my coffee morning brigade friends to stop me from doing anything mad and I was glad I did. At one stage I was veering between a blonde spiky rock chick wig and a short, round, black bob. It must have been the effect of the drugs because I thought I looked gorgeous in both. Luckily, my friend had brought her digital camera and she took a couple of snaps. It was only when I saw the different angles in the photos, rather than looking in the mirror, that I realised how easily I could make a mistake. Depending on which wig, I looked like a drug dealer's mot or Mahatma Ghandi's mother.
In the end I settled on a layered look that is similar to my own and, as soon as my hair falls out, I can phone up Roche's and it will be ready for me. The oncology nurse also suggested that I get my hair cut short as it would be less distressing for me when it started to fall out. Another coffee morning friend, who also moonlights as a hairdresser, arrived with scissors.
The fear that I would burst into tears, as I watched my hair gather around my feet, never materialised -- not even when I looked in the mirror and saw that I looked like a toilet brush.
A visit to the radiotherapist last week told me that my radiotherapy would start four weeks after my last chemotherapy treatment. I will receive 25 radiations, one every week day for five weeks, lasting about 10 minutes each. The radiotherapist also gave me a physical examination and let me on my way, which was straight to the mechanic to pick up my car after a service. I know the mechanic well and, as he was telling me something funny, I put my hand to my chest as I laughed. Yikes! I suddenly realised there was a hollow on my left side. My foam breast was not in my bra. Mortified, I did a quick scour of the yard but nothing.
I got home and rang the hospital and the receptionist went off to have a look. She came back saying she had found something behind the chair in the radiotherapists' office. "It's so small I thought it was a piece of Elastoplast," she said.
She didn't actually say that but I know that's what she was thinking -- or is that the paranoia at work. . .