The second chemo

A couple of weeks passed. Things were a mess and we were just about coping. Each day, there were logistics to deal with. Who was visiting Rachel in hospital? Who was looking after the babies? Who was taking the older boys to nursery and picking them up? Friends (mine, Rachel’s and my parents’) had descended, bringing food and offering to hold newborns. Everything felt chaotic and unsustainable. But cancer doesn’t care about any of that, and it was time for my second dose of chemo.

Paul came with me this time. He’d missed the first one because he was up in Sheffield with Elodie. I wasn’t nervous; the side effects I’d been dreading after the first round had never materialised. I’d been tired, but I had a new baby, so that was hardly unexpected. We settled in. I was ready to get another one ticked off. But then one of the nurses accessed my port to take blood, and I started to feel really strange. Dizzy and spaced out. I’d been on medication for high blood pressure since Elodie’s birth, and it seemed it had done its job a little too well. My blood pressure was alarmingly low. A doctor was called in and I was told to drink as much water as I could.

I recovered quickly, and the doctor and my oncologist were happy for the chemo to go ahead, but it was a stark reminder of how easily this whole process could be derailed. I was moved to a room with a bed so I could get more comfortable, and the cold cap was fitted. Things went smoothly from there.

A week later, however, I’d developed a nasty sore throat. I’m supposed to report any illness to my chemo team, so I phoned them and they asked me to come in. I had tonsillitis, and I was sent home with antibiotics. Three days after that, I was suffering with terrible stomach cramps and diarrhoea. It was late on a Friday evening, and I didn’t want to call, because I didn’t want to go to hospital. I stayed in the bathroom, in tears, while Paul called for me. Half an hour later, my parents had arrived to look after Joseph and Elodie, and we were on our way in.

A blood test revealed that I had dangerously low neutrophils (a type of white blood cell), which meant I was very susceptible to infection, so I was kept in. It ended up being a three-night stay. I’d really wanted to avoid being admitted to hospital, because I couldn’t bear the thought of my parents having to visit two daughters in two hospitals at the same time, but there was nothing I could do about it. On the Sunday, I asked Paul to bring the kids in to cheer me up. ‘I’ll bring one of them,’ he said. ‘Which one do you prefer?’

I’d reached out to a charity called Mummy’s Star, which supports women who are diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy or in the first year of their child’s life. Pete, who runs the charity, happened to call me while I was in hospital. He asked me some questions about my situation and, as I tried to fill him in, we were cut off several times. ‘Shall I come to see you at home?’ he asked. I was astonished. I’d reached out to a number of organisations seeking help, from social services to cancer charities, and each one had suggested I contact someone else, and I’d pretty much given up.

A couple of days later, Pete turned up on my doorstep and spent a couple of hours listening to the story of what had happened to my family. I told him about the cancer, about Elodie’s birth and subsequent health problems, about Rachel’s stroke. It was cathartic, telling it all like that. He talked to me about the ways in which his charity might be able to help me; financially, emotionally. But, in truth, he’d helped me enormously already, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

The run of health problems continued in the week that remained before my next dose of chemo. I was back and forth to the hospital with various minor problems. I thought my port was infected. I thought I had cystitis. Both of these turned out to be false alarms, but it was all so tiring, and I believed it was a sign of things to come. I had four more rounds to go, and it was probably going to get worse.

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