The Chemo Days

So it was that the World didn't end. After my diagnosis there were still 2 small children to look after, still a thousand forced smiles to paint on my face to shield them from my despair. On the surface I coped. On the inside, and in private, when the rest of the house was sleeping I indulged in my sorrow. For the first 3 weeks after diagnosis I was convinced I would die from this disease and, at night when sleep wouldn't come for me, my mind drifted to all of my children's milestones that I wouldn't be here to see. Nobody could ever love my children like I do and I couldn't bear the thought of somebody else dressing them for their first day at school or mending their broken hearts when some girl broke it.These thoughts were all consuming and, at times, I felt I would go mad with it all. At times I just wanted to switch my mind off and make it all stop. I considered vodka as a way to black it all out but knew I couldn't do that to my children. And so I endured the inner torment, I had great internal battles, I read every available stat and report on Breast Cancer survival rates until, eventually, it just stopped. One day, close to my first chemotherapy session, I decided to fight. I changed my thought processes. I was damned if 3 pesky inches of cancerous cells were going to take my life away. My mind, not entirely happy with this change of direction, still tried to take me to darker places but I simply refused to let it. I remembered something my mum said to me once many years before. She said "This, too, will pass". It was something I would repeat over and over in the months to come.

My oncologist was an attractive, well dressed woman called Dr Thorpe and I liked her immediately. She had a kind face and short cropped hair (I wondered if that was done to make her patients feel better when theirs fell out) and I immediately trusted her to do her best for me.

She explained that I would be on a cycle called EPI-CMF and the whole course would take 6 months to complete. There would be side effects but they could largely be controlled. She told me my hair would fall out but that it would grow back at the end of treatment. At that time, before these toxic substances worked their dark magic, my hair, long and strong, seemed so firmly fixed to my head that I simply couldn't imagine losing it. I told myself that I would be that one person that defies the laws of science and that I would keep my hair. 

And so on the 8th November 2013 David and I embarked on the first of 8 visits to the chemotherapy ward at the Linda McCartney Centre. Entering through the double doors to the first floor I was immediately struck by a sign that read "Palliative Care" and a left facng arrow. The treatment centre was to the right. Really? Really?! They couldn't have put the 2 places on separate floors? It baffled me for the next 6 months that cancer patients, when sat in the waiting room for what we all hoped would be life saving treatment, were faced with the stark reality of what lay ahead if the treatments failed. To distract myself from this I began to play the "Spot the Wig" game. It really is a testament to the wigs of today that they are almost impossible to spot. I marvelled at the women who faced the world with bald heads. What a tremendously cavalier thing to do. I knew I would never have the balls to do it and wondered if I could even venture out in a bandana ( It was in the waiting room for my first treatment that I finally accepted that I would lose my hair and I told David I wanted to go to the wig shop on our way home. 

A nurse, dressed in green trousers and a green tunic, shouted my name and we followed her down a short corridor into the treatment room. Now, I don't know exactly what I was expecting but ths wasn't it. There was a large central nurses station and curved around it in a semi-circle shape were about 14 treatment chairs for patients flanked by a chair for vistors. The place was bright and friendly. It was more like going to the hairdressers than going to open your veins to admit poison. The nurse told us to sit where we liked so we walked round to the far end of the arc and took our seats. I looked at the other patients and tried to take in what was happening. There were tubes snaking from an administering machine into various veins, dripping various coloured toxins to treat whatever cancer they had. Some patients were reading (reading!!!) as if they were waiting to catch a flight, others had broght sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. Wow. It was all so normal. So calm. A hospital worker asked if we wanted a drink or some soup. I didn't think I could manage soup but we both asked for a cup of tea. My chair was blue leather and high backed and there was a large white pillow placed on it which I later found out was to prop my arm on to receive my treatment.

A nurse came and asked the usual medical questions and explained what the process would involve. I was given antisickness drugs (Domperidone) to take home  to reduce any nausea. For the next 3 months Dom Perignon, as I liked to call it, became one of my best friends. 

And then it was time. The bell was rung for round one and I literally rolled my sleeve up and began the fight....

Latest comments

20.12 | 20:45

Hi Dave,
Thanks for the kind words.
I did indeed work in North Cyprus back in the day - Turkbet?

18.12 | 11:06

Hi Donna, remarkable, uplifting and inspiring read.
Did you ever work in North Cyprus around 10 years ago?

15.10 | 17:15

Hi Donna, you are so inspiring. I have just had my 2nd mastectomy 8 days ago out of choice, first one was 5 months earlier as small cancer found.well done you

30.09 | 15:12

well done for finishing EPI!

I can't send a longer response on here but would like to share my experience of CMF at or the forum on macmillan.