The first chemo

As Elodie turned one week old and there was no sign of her or Paul returning from Sheffield, my mum stepped in to accompany me to my first chemotherapy session. It was a big day for our family. I had to be at the hospital for 8.30am and could expect to be there for most of the day. Meanwhile, my sister Rachel was at a different Leicester hospital, waiting for her planned (but postponed from the previous Thursday) C-section.

A nurse called Kate showed us to a small, private room with a bed for me and a comfy chair for Mum. She talked us through various things, like side effects and the chemotherapy infusion itself. The first step was to have a port surgically inserted by my collarbone. My oncologist recommended this as the way for the chemo to be administered, because the drugs can be very tough on the veins.

And so, seven weeks after my lumpectomy, I was lying on my back in an operating theatre again. Only this time I wasn’t going to be knocked out. Kate stood next to the bed and held my hand throughout the procedure. The surgeon explained everything he was doing as he did it, and in between, he hummed merrily. I was nervous, but it wasn’t too bad. Everyone in the theatre said I was a model patient. I said I thought all patients should be made to give birth a week before having the procedure to put the pain in perspective.

As Kate and I made our way back along the corridor, I wondered fleetingly whether Rachel might have been in theatre at the same time as me, but when we got back to our room, Mum confirmed that there was no news. I thought about what a tough day it must be for her, with both her daughters in hospital. She didn’t show it.

I’d decided to try wearing a cold cap, which is intended to minimise hair loss, throughout my chemo. There are no guarantees, of course, and I’d heard a lot of people couldn’t tolerate it, so I just planned to give it a try and see what happened. Kate fitted it to my head and turned it on, and I got a headache immediately. I’m stubborn, and I didn’t want to give up too soon, but part of me was thinking about how annoyed I’d be if I put up with this for every long session and lost my hair anyway. But then, after ten minutes or so had passed, I must have gone numb, and the headache disappeared, so I stuck with it.

The infusion was made up of five large syringes of drugs and took about an hour and a half. Mum and I ate huge portions of cottage pie followed by maple syrup pancakes. And afterwards, I felt suddenly exhausted, and I dozed off for a while. I’d taken my book with me, but I couldn’t settle to it. And then it was over (although the cold cap had to stay on for another hour). One down.

Before we left, a pharmacist came in with a huge bag of medication for me to take home. She went through each item patiently, explaining which I should definitely take and which they were just giving me in case I experienced certain side effects. She explained that I would have to inject myself every day to reduce my risk of blood clots, and I ignored the part of me that protested. I’ve always thought that I could never inject myself, but I’m learning that I’m stronger than I thought I was. I did my first injection under Kate’s supervision in that room, and it was fine. Now, a few days later, I can do it in the few seconds that Joseph’s back is turned, so he doesn’t see.

After about seven hours, it was finally time to go home. We still hadn’t heard anything from Rachel. We wondered whether she’d be sent home and asked to come back the next day. It was a shame, really; we could have done with some good news just then. And we did get it, just a little later. I’d put Joseph to bed by the time the message came through that Rachel’s second son, Jay, had been born late that afternoon.

In the days following the chemo, I waited for the side effects to kick in. I expected to be incapacitated. To be vomiting and feverish and too tired to get out of bed, but none of that happened. I took Joseph to playgroup, I visited my perfect new nephew in hospital and back at home, I made two trips up to Sheffield to see Elodie and Paul, and I waited. Four days have gone by and I’m still feeling fine. I’ve been told that the effects are cumulative, so I might just have got off very lightly this time. Or it could still be on its way.

Four nights this week, Joseph has told me at bedtime that ‘someone is poorly, someone is hurt.’ I tell him that everyone is fine and he denies it, shaking his head furiously. ‘It’s Mummy,’ he says. ‘It’s Elodie.’ I reassure him that I’m ok, and then we go through everyone we know and love until he’s sure none of them are hurt. ‘It’s my train,’ he says, then. ‘It’s my teddy.’ I wish I could put his mind at rest, or at least understand how he thinks.

Elodie is getting stronger every day. She’s been moved from intensive care to high dependency to special care. Today, my parents held her for the first time and we were allowed to take her out of the hospital for an hour. The nurses lent us an enormous Silver Cross pram that had been donated to the hospital, and we wheeled her around the park. She didn’t open her eyes once, but if she had, she would have seen sunshine, and ducklings, and two very grateful parents looking in at her.

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