On Finishing Chemotherapy

The morning of All Hallow’s Evening was such an appropriate date to receive my last round of chemotherapy. A necessary evil in so many people’s cancer treatment schedule, it really is horrific and I was elated, to say the least, to bury it with the spirits from the underworld on Monday 31st.

I had envisioned finishing up with a jubilant glass or ten of bubbly. But the sparkling Cava (being married to a Spaniard, champagne doesn’t very often make its way into our house) is still sitting unopened in the fridge. The truth of the matter is that I neither had the strength nor the energy to be drinking sparkling alcohol.

After my initial high, spurred on by the cocktail of steroids you get with your chemo infusion, which usually lasts a day and a half after administration, I was hit by the usual slump both in energy and in mood. And then by Wednesday afternoon, the familiar flu-like pains set in as the anti-neoplastic drug, taxol, coursed through my veins.

However, as its effects on the body are accumulative, by my eighth infusion last Monday, I was literally on my last legs. Being stripped of all bodily strength, and especially in my hands, feet and limbs, the bed has been my fairly constant companion for the last week.

Thankfully the pains have subsided and my strength is slowly returning but if I overdo it on any particular activity, I’m liable to experience an energy slump at any given moment.

The most significant side effect of this Taxol, for me at least, has been on my peripheral nervous system, causing these dart-like pains at the joints, numbness of the hands and feet, which has all mounted to muscle weakness. My oncologist has informed me that it could take months to fully recover normal sensation and strength!

I hadn’t expected her to say that. I was hoping to be as right as rain in a week but chemotherapy has far-reaching consequences, I’m discovering little by little and will continue to realise over the next few months.

My body has been touched in so many unexpected ways and it is set to continue with the hormone treatment, which I’m going to start today for the next five years. That will provoke my menopause and so I will have to be vigilant of my bones.

I’m very much focused on the secondary effects of the chemotherapy, I realise. I find it difficult to experience so many changes in my body in such a short period of time. I have always believed that here on Earth, in this life, your body is your temple and so you must look after it well, by not abusing it with drugs, alcohol and by nourishing it properly. Regardless of my attitude though towards my body, I did get sick and the expected “cure”, chemotherapy, has weakened it considerably.

But it has hopefully warded off the stray cancer cells around my body so I must now focus more on that.

I’m finding I have to slowly bid adieu to old attitudes about health and fitness. I no longer care about the calories I consume, but question if the plate of food in front of me is providing nutrients for my body. A sick body can’t heal without energy, proteins, vitamins, minerals, a clean digestive tract and liver and a balanced immune system. And lots and lots of rest.

Regular exercise and a healthy body weight have been deemed by my oncologist the only demonstratable factors, beyond medication and also within my control, that can help to keep breast cancer away from an affected patient. I’m not sporty so the very thought of an activity called “regular exercise” really does make me yawn and turn over in the bed. But if it’s part of the prescription for a healthier future, I want to build it in to my life in an enjoyable way. So I’m thinking bike rides in the sun, dancing, speed walking, jazzed up by the company of friends. Let’s see how that goes! My husband has suggested running…and I growl.

So it’s onwards and upwards from now on. I still have fifteen sessions of radiotherapy to do before Christmas and then I’ll mount that plane to Ireland for the holidays, “a changed woman”. I’m thinking I’ll save the “bubbly wine” moment for then, bury 2016 and bring on The New Year!

One comment

  1. Noel Brennan

    What a lovely piece!
    I could feel the badness leaving your body and your mind as I read; and you left this reader feeling, once again, that you have licked this illness with your positive attitude.
    It doesn’t sound nice and you didn’t spare us by giving us a rosy picture: no, you hit us with your shoulder, full on.
    While I will be unable to keep up with you on a brisk walk, I’m sure you’ll indulge me over Christmas when we tackle a skate in The Sunny Southeast. I hope that you’ll enjoy the benefits of walking as much as I do, and that the first ten years of your recovery will be ‘a beano’ – just like your old man.
    It is, truly, onwards and upwards!


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