A Pleasant Interlude Before Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

There is a time of year, it is usually around the second half of May when school children and students are studying for exams. They spend hours and days inside and in the libraries, so what happens? The sun comes out!  

This year was no different. During that sunny weather at the end of May, before the chemotherapy for my breast cancer began. My husband and I arranged for my mother to visit with us for a few days holiday, before I suffered hairloss and other side effects of the treatment. A mother should not have to witness that, if it can be avoided. During that week I did have to meet with my psychologist for my usual two-weekly therapy session.

I was able to air my feeling of resentment that I have never smoked, do not drink excessively and do take exercise. Nevertheless, cancer was the card I had drawn.  One day was interrupted when I had to go back to the hospital, this time for an initial set of blood readings to be taken before my chemotherapy sessions start. The hospital even did a pregnancy test! As if my long suffering husband did not have enough to worry about! I also had to go to the hospital for a cancer clinic visit with the oncologist and collect medications that I would need to take before chemotherapy began at the beginning of June.

We went to lunch with Mum and she had time to visit her friend who lives in the South of the county. Sometimes it was warm enough, just to sit in the sunshine in the garden and relax.

I was glad my mother was able to visit before the chemotherapy started and to see me still looking and acting like me. I had felt able to do plenty of home cooking and baking so we were able to ensure that many of her favourite recipes were served during her stay.  My mother had been treated for bowel cancer about four years ago and is presently cancer free.

She dealt with her ailments with dignity and an uncomplaining grace, even when the hospital infected her wound with MRSA. MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.  Staphylococcus aureus is a species of bacterium commonly found on the skin and/or in the noses of healthy people. Although it is usually harmless at these sites, it may occasionally get into the body (eg through breaks in the skin such as abrasions, cuts, wounds, surgical incisions or indwelling catheters) and cause infections.

Patients may be colonised with MRSA when they leave hospital, and there has long been concern that MRSA might spread from hospitals into the community.  It was certainly true with my mother. Her condition was complicated by the fact she is allergic to penicillin.

I try to emulate her dignity and calm, but fall far short of the mark, I fear.  During my Mother’s visit the wkwriters had a visit from Gerry McGrath who read some of his poetry to us and focused on Blank Verse. One of Gerry’s anthologies of poetry is reviewed at https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/from-a-to-b-by-gerry-mcgrath/ My mother was able to join us for that meeting. I also re-read Made in America by Bill Bryson which I have reviewed at https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/made-in-america-by-bill-bryson/. The visit was a pleasant interlude and allowed me to divert my thoughts from cancer.

Valerie Penny

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Countdown to Chemotherapy

I have said it before, I am a lucky woman. Nevertheless, during that time when I knew chemotherapy would need to be endured, I resented it. I resented the fact that I had had no symptoms from the breast cancer, but that I knew I would have symptoms, or side effects from the cure. It seemed unfair and ironic. Cancer is not fair.

I took great joy from the continuing good wishes of family and friends  and the huge number of cards and continuing bouquets of flowers that I received.  They were so pretty and they filled the house with colour and  light. It was so lovely to have so many vases in use!

Still, occasionally my husband and I would have a moment or so of tension or worry as we looked into the unknown and the void that is chemotherapy.  My husband works full time, he works 12 hour shifts at a time. Luckily, he had a day off on the day my first chemotherapy was scheduled. I was thrilled that I would have his support and company.

Funnily enough, during this period I got the most amazing help, supprt and advice from a man I have never met!

My friend Jane and I go line dancing to classes run by the amazing Danny and Sadie Kerr. Jane has taken me to hospital appointments that I would otherwise have to attend alone. It is wonderful to have company. Jane is particularly knowledgeable about hospitals and cancer treatments in particular as her brother, Michael, has been treated for many  cancerous tumours. I doubt there is a treatment that he has not endured.  Sadly, Michael has now been told that there are no more treatments that can help him. Michael’s condition is terminal.  

When I think of this I get embarrassed by my own moaning and frailty. Michael, through Jane, explained to me some of the side effects of chemotherapy. He explained to me the trauma of hair loss when it falls out in clumps.  His advice: to get it shaved off before that happens.

Jane explained to me how Michael had suffered severe pains in his joints. That the taste of his food changed and was so tinny.  Then Jane told me the most poignant thing that Michael had said.  The last time he finished chemotherapy he had said he never wanted to suffer like that any more.  Now he has been told that chemotherapy cannot help him any more he feels he is not ready to go yet. He would take chemotherapy or anything that would prolong his life.

I view this as a year of inconvenience. A scary and strange journey. I have learned a lot from Michael. I salute him and thank him for sharing his experiences with me. It was generous.

The flowers help to raise my mood and decorate the house.   The chemotherapy is scary but is a means to defeating this potentially deadly disease.  So roll on chemo: surely my imagination cannot be worse than reality.

Valerie Penny

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