I didn’t have chemo on the cancer ward this week. Instead I found myself in the cancer ‘Day Centre’. Now I know a bit about day centres. I had visions of comfy chairs, tea and coffee in nice cups, biscuits even. And surprisingly it is actually a bit like that. Compared to the ward this is something of an oasis.
There’s a coffee machine, a cold drinks machine, the chairs really do look like easy chairs. There are proper pictures on properly painted walls. But there’s no getting away from the fact that serious medical stuff is going on here. There were maybe six people sitting around, each with a canula in the back of a hand and a tube that led to a drip on a stand.
For once my own canula went in smoothly, thanks to the Day Centre’s ace nurse, who seems to have a reputation for accessing tricky veins easily. And then it was just a matter of sitting, counting the drips, and listening to the stories of other patients.
To be fair not all of them were up to talking, but one woman happily told me her tumour had gone. This was her last session and at her latest scan she’d been told simply that the lump on her oesophagus had disappeared. She said she’d been certain it was going to kill her. It was good to hear a story like hers, so unlike those I’d been around on the cancer ward last week.
I left with a bag of drugs. Mostly painkillers (liquid paracetamol and codeine) but also some mouthwash. And it was the mouthwash that caused a problem.
Now I’m told Cordysol is an excellent mouthwash, but unfortunately when used in combination with radiotherapy it is most definitely not patient-friendly. A nurse described it as like gargling with battery acid, and having now experienced the pain I wouldn’t disagree.
I took the mouthwash at the worst time possible, just before a radiotherapy session. The intense stinging sensation continued well into the night and I didn’t find out what was happening until the next day. Fortunately I’d been given some other mouthwash (I’ve actually been prescribed a total of four different ones) that contained an anaesthetic and that did help with the pain.
It turns out that Cordysol is used alongside radiotherapy in some of the less forgiving hospitals, because despite the pain it might cause, it does work. So for Addenbrookes at least it’s a case of ‘no pain no gain’. Here though, they apologised for giving it to me. Because they’re nice here.
Radiotherapy has become, after three weeks, routine. I’m used now to the hoisting up and down , the positioning so I’m in the right place, the whirring and the lights. The only thing I still can’t cope with is the terrible music the radiographers select. This week it was ShowaddyWaddy’s ‘Under The Moon of Love’. Maybe I should do a mixtape for them?
At least ShowaddyWaddy didn’t make me fall asleep, but it wouldn’t have taken much. The worst side-effect of the treatment is definitely turning out to be fatigue. A couple of times towards the end of the week I found myself shocked to, having drifted off while just sitting. More and more it feels like I’m in a permanent state of half-awake. Or half-asleep.
On Friday I had the regular review clinic with Dr B’s registrar, and later a quick conversation with Dr B himself. He told me, in his charming, disarming, consultant way that things were likely to get worse before they got better. But that he would help me. That they would help me.
And then I had a blood test in advance of next week’s chemo session. It took four attempts to get the needle in and the blood out. Apparently my veins were a bit dehydrated. In the end the ace nurse from the nice Day Centre was drafted in and did the job in a jiffy.