Friday, 19 May 2017

The final countdown...

Whilst I have been quietly SO excited about my final chemo session (like a child before Christmas, yet far more controlled), I have also been filled with great anxiety.

Naturally I’ve been desperate to get the final 12th session underway and over. Desperate to collect my 12th fox. Desperate to look forwards to the future without the chemo schedule dictating my every move. Yet subconsciously I’ve also felt the weight of expectation, mine and others. Positive plans for holiday and celebration have felt a little like pressure.

Don’t ask me why, but I have therefore been paranoid about my blood results being ok.

Perhaps it was self-fulfilling prophecy, but my concerns about the state of my blood proved well founded. Personally, I was bothered about platelets, those little transparent discs that knit you together and coagulate when you cut yourself. Not hitherto an issue, but I’d noticed that I bruise very easily these days.

I look a little bit like a technicolour Dalmatian when I face the mirror. Pallid winter-white skin dotted with brown, amber, purple and green spots of varying size. Yet I have no recollection of any major knocks or even minor bumps that might have caused such markings.

Clearly no sane adult makes a habit of injuring themselves, but a careless slip with the knife chopping carrots, a hasty swipe with a razor blade over the knee and a rushed attempt to move hefty wooden chairs have all caused minor blood wounds in recent days. Such incidents would normally be trifling. Largely negligible on the pain scale, yet the bleeding has seemed a little excessive and unstoppable. Perhaps an indication of those pesky platelets going missing?

As my traditional Chemo Wednesday dawned, armed psychologically with all my usual talismans of fortitude: WonderWoman pants, unicorn socks…and (a new addition) of foxy leggings, I was greeted with the news of ‘low platelets.’ With the possibility that repeat bloods might show an increase between Tuesday evening and Wedneday morning I waited in hope.

It was not to be. Everything had gone down.

Neutrophils and platelets both now AWOL. Clutching at straws I tried a third set of bloods from my arm this time, not my Hickman line. As I sat there praying and begging to be allowed my chemo, I knew in my heart that it was game over for the day. Neutropenia and therefore a total absence of infection-fighting cells is not a fit state for the ingestion of toxic drugs.

Totally gutted and tearful I was sent home, armed with two delightful GCSF injections (of which I have previously written) and a prescription to rest, eat and do nothing until Friday when we would try again.

I mentioned Friday to very few people. A little like the tendency not to publicise the date of rescheduled exam or a driving test, having failed once, or twice previously.

In the interim I focused on meditation, sleep, relaxing reiki…and eating delicious cake...and slightly less delicious, but arguably more nutritious, smoothies and juices.

Friday dawned, and unadorned with my lucky pants and socks I faced the Chemo Day Centre again. 

I truly felt like all the staff were rooting for me, spurring my confidence. Blood sent off they prepared my chemo, completed the standard toxicity questionnaire: How sick have you been? Any pain? Any ulcers? Extent of your neuropathy and tingling? Etc.  All clear and weight ok (thanks to my cake diet) I was left to wait.

It turned out the vitally important Full Blood Count (FBC) was passable. Platelets still low, (but my lovely consultant had cleared me to go ahead at a greatly reduced level). White blood cells and neutrophils astonishingly through the ceiling thank to nasty injections.

For reference, a normal adult sits between a count of 2-8, chemo patients need to be above 1 to go ahead. Mine were a whopping 26.4

This result briefly made me feel like the infection-fighting alter-ego of WonderWoman, capable of

forcefully repelling any threatening viruses that languish in my kids and the near vicinity with lazer beams, ‘Kapow’ speech bubbles and flying leaps. (Although sadly chemotherapy means this elevated level won’t last).

Unfortunately, I then had to wait a further 2 hours for the rest of the blood results; U&Es, LFTs, etc. A tedious wait to tick the box, but everything was ready and waiting so I felt reassured that all would proceed.

This time my ‘final countdown’ felt less like the famous TV Progamme, under pressure from the likes of Carol Vorderman, Richard Whiteley and Des O’Connor to solve tricksy letter and number conundrums. 

This final wait was more akin to the anticipation of skiing down to the infamous Moosewirt bar on the slopes of St. Anton in time to catch their kick off at 3pm.

For those that haven’t experience this life-affirming pleasure, let me fill you in. 

Partying officially starts at 3pm when speakers across the mountain blare out Europe’s hit ‘The FINAL COUNTDOWN’ (I’m sure you know the one, feel free to click and refresh your memory). 

Like a homing call for pigeons, skiiers rally to the cry to discard skis and poles and hasten to the large wooden cabin and sundeck. There, plied with liquor by broad Austrian giants who shoulder one, often 2 filled with enormous beer steins 20 deep, interspersed by accompanying shots of schnapps and Jaegermeister to fuel the revellers’ progression to boisterous, clunky, exuberant dancing in ski boots on precarious picnic tables. 

Rather a more jubilant and euphoric countdown experience.

Back in the chemo centre finally, the green light was given, screen box ticked and I was off. I went from euphoric high and relief, to chemo slump in a few short hours, but all of this is infinitely preferable to another postponement.

So the final leg of this round of chemo is underway. My bear-self is feeling woozy, but perhaps less so than normal, lifted by a further dose reduction and by the psychological release of seeing the finish line not just in the distance, but in clear focus. 

I envisage a large inflatable arch with the word ‘FINISH’ on it, like the running and triathlon events of my former life, a plastic tape waiting for me to burst through, exhausted but victorious. I hold these photo of me completing the inaugural Masai Mara half marathon in my mind.

Such a vision will doubtless make the real conclusion, having my pump disconnected by a nurse in a couple of days a little anticlimactic, but I doubt I’ll care.

So with joy in my heart and a final dose of toxic champagne in my veins I am off to rest, and am looking forward to the tastier variety of fizz in the not too distant future.

I know that this is not the end of the road. 

There are most tests to follow, potentially more mountains to climb, surgeries and treatments to endure. But there is no point considering any of this now. The present prevails in my mind and my immediate future.

When my pump is off and my line removed I am free for a whole six weeks. Six whole weeks before anything else medical is scheduled. What a wondrous gift after 8 months of being shackled to my treatment regime and the hospital!

I feel blessed and fortunate to be offered this period of time, and I intend to make the most of it. Any and all suggestions of how I should make the most of each and every day will be greatly welcomed?

I look forward to finally being able to say ‘Yes’ to invitations and fun, and ‘Thank you’ to the myriad of people who have psychologically and physically carried me at times during recent months.

In case you felt that one reference to 80’s pop with not enough for this blogpost, let me confess that at various points in recent months I have had the Bette Midler classic ‘Wind beneath my wings’ playing in my head. For the love and support of others has indeed felt like the wind beneath my wings at times when I was too tired and dejected to fly.

So to all of you that have been there for me, in whatever capacity, this is for you.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.

1 comment:

  1. Kim may be sending her positive thank yous to those around her... but she is clearly unaware how much we are thanking her. To me, her blogs have been like going to a lecture hall whenever said lecturer is in town... and having a lesson (every time) about why and how much we should value what we have, when we have it. Not everything is guaranteed in our lives but by Kim sharing her views, it reassures us that the hardest thing can be dealt with. We just need to find a channel that suits us to do it. And I thank Kim (ENORMOUSLY) for using her blogs as one of her channels to manage it.


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