Starting Treatment:

The Treatment

My first day in the chemo ward was a bit scary although the nurses are lovely you just don't know what to expect. The most popular type of chemo is known as TC (Taxotere & Cyclophosphamide) and this is what I would be having. Before you have each round of chemo, you will have a blood test which is called a CBC: Complete Blood Count. This will show the counts for your red and white blood cells, in comparison with healthy counts. If your counts are too low, having chemo may not be safe. Ask your nurse to show you the CBC results and explain them to you. Ask for a copy, for your own records.
 You have to wait approx 2 hours for the bloods to come back from the lab before finally starting. If the bloods are OK you are hooked up and the treatment starts. As luck would have it after about 10 minutes I had a reaction to the TC and that was quite unpleasant, your lungs constrict and you feel hot from your toes up to your ears and you can’t breathe very well. But the staff are well used to this reaction and have medication on hand to combat the reaction and you feel the effects straight away. Only a handful will have a reaction to the treatment and if you are one of these few like me it is best to keep calm as the meds work very fast, if you panic it will take longer for your breathing to come back to normal. I know this sounds hard but losing it does not help.
I was started back on the TC after a ten minute break and again had a reaction so it was decided to stop for the day and try again in 3 weeks. This is the normal routine, once every 3 weeks. It was explained to me the way the treatment works. Because of the toxic nature of the treatment you will be open to infection as your immune system will be non-existent. The first week after treatment you will be on a slide downwards to feeling tired the second week you are on a low level and the third week just as you are starting to feel alright and getting your energy back you have to start all over again. Before you begin treatment you are given a prescription for a number of tablets. These tablets consist of anti sickness and steroids for energy. Be prepared for an expensive time as these tablets don't come cheap.
I returned to the chemo ward 3 weeks later and went through the same routine, blood test, go for a cup of tea, return 2 hours later to be hooked up and the treatment begins. In all it will take 4-5 hours to receive your treatment so be prepared bring a good book or knitting or a portable DVD player, anything to make the hours less boring. On one of my visits my blood test showed the white blood cells were too low to go ahead with treatment so instead you are given an injection to help boost the cells and return the following week to commence treatment. It is a bit disheartening to be sent away but necessary. Be sure to look after yourself health wise, use a good mouth wash to avoid infection and stay clear of anyone who is ill. It is all important to eat healthy and rest whenever you feel tired, remember your body is fighting a battle and will need your help.

Effects of the Treatment
Chemotherapy is a form of poison and cannot tell the difference between good and bad cells so pretty much attacks all cells. This is the reason for hair loss, sickness and fatigue. 
Two to three hours before an infusion, eat light and make your choices high-fiber. Chemo drugs tend to slow peristalsis (digestion and bowel processes), so whatever you eat may be in your digestion for longer than usual, and will dry out. Eating a high-fiber snack helps, since fiber helps retain moisture in the bowels. Drink lots of water or sports drinks, (and avoid caffiene) to boost your electrolytes. Staying hydrated helps your cells process the chemo drugs through your system faster.
You start to lose your hair around week 2 of your treatment and this is quite traumatic for any woman but it also shows that the treatment is working so you have to remember this is a temporary set back to your vanity and your hair will grow back when your treatment is finished. I remember taking showers was a nightmare, as soon as you wash your hair your body would look like the missing link with all the hair sticking to your wet body and blocking the plug hole. It was actually a relief when all my hair had fallen out and you didn't have to spend the next ten minutes rinsing yourself down. Strangely enough you gain hair on your face, this is known as chemo beard and will fade away when treatment is finished. Apart from tiredness there is a major change to your body and this is early menopause, brought on by the treatment so as if you don't have enough to deal with you now have hot flushes and irregular periods, not to mention the mood swings so it is important to have a good support system i.e. family and friends of which I am very lucky to have. My way of dealing with it was to carry on with my daily routine and only ask for help as a last resort. This may not work for others but it made me feel better knowing I was not giving in.

My treatment consisted of 6 treatments of chemo, a break for a month and then surgery. Preparing for the surgery is a melting pot of emotions, will I still feel like a woman, will I have to change the way I dress, after losing your hair and now to lose a breast do you lose your identity? I know some days when I looked in the mirror I did not know the person looking back at me but the bottom line is lose a breast or lose your life so there is no competition. The day of the surgery dawned and my emotions took over, I was crying as they wheeled me into the theatre but thankfully had calmed down before the anesthetist came in and next thing I know I was awake back in the ward. No sugar coating here the surgery is painful and takes a long time to heal. As I also had lymphoids removed from my arm I was unable to use that arm for a long time, no driving for 6 weeks no hovering or lifting and even raising your arm to dress is painful. You have drainage for some time after surgery and may have to return to the hospital from time to time for more drainage but this will not hurt as the nerves in that area have been cut. The duration of my stay in hospital was 9 days and I used that time to reflect on what had happened and what was to come. Ok my breast was gone but then so were the tumors, my hair had started to grow back and the colour was returning to my skin. The journey was not over as I had to have more chemo and a course of radiotherapy, but this time there would be no hair loss. Hairdressers here I come. I met some wonderful people in hospital, the women in my ward and all suffering from cancer related illnesses, some more serious then mine and yet moral was high and the banter was great. Being able to talk to someone who knows and understands your mixed emotions is worth so much and I am hoping anyone reading this post will feel free to leave a comment or send an email if you need to talk.
My first trip back to the breast clinic after surgery was very interesting; I met with a surgeon to discuss reconstruction. He explained the procedure as follows; an implant is inserted, and don’t go thinking Pamela Anderson because the implant will be as close as possible to the original. Next and this was fascinating to me they tattoo a nipple in place. How this looks I do not know but can’t wait to find out. (I wonder if you asked for a rose tattoo instead would they oblige?) I was told the reconstruction normally takes place 9 to 12 months after surgery which sounds great but I am still waiting one and a half years down the line. When I mention the surgery I am told it will be discussed on another visit so don't bank on getting surgery straight away.

The clinic provides you with prosthesis and 2 bras to start you off and a return visit is set up for every 3 months. It took me a while before I looked at the scar where my breast used to be and even thought you have accepted it as part of the cure it still makes you feel self conscious but time, love and support is a great healer.

To continue reading my story please click the link at the top of this page "Starting Treatment Round 2" Thank you

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