Radiotherapy sessions are properly called fractions. My thirtieth and last fraction was on Friday. It had been a long time coming, but at last there it was, the day the music finally died. No more Proclaimers or Showaddywaddy or Take That.
But music aside, the experience has been hard going. The overriding memories will be of discomfort, pain, nausea and unfailing fatigue. The fatigue has got worse as time has gone on, to the extent that now on the day after the last treatment I find myself having the duvet day of days, slapping myself awake between keystrokes as I try to remember the events of last week.
Mostly things went smoothly, although not for the first time there was a problem with hospital transport. And more particularly with their Norwich-based regional co-ordination centre. This time, when an ambulance failed to collect me I was told they had no record of a booking. Even though I had phoned them to confirm said booking (being naturally suspicious of the situation) only three days earlier. Thankfully a relief ambulance was diverted via Belstead.
And then I found myself feeling light-headed on the hoist one day. Now this could have been fatigue, dehydration, MS-related vertigo, even the effects of the Norwich incident. But I was sent immediately for a blood test, which showed my white blood cell count was low. Could be the after-effects of chemo, which thankfully I’ve now seen the back of.
In fact chemo seems like a world away now. In time I expect the discomfort, pain and nausea I’ve experienced will seem the same. They have all been alleviated by drugs and I’m thankful to be living at a time when there is so much helpful pharmaceutical stuff around. I have a reasonably well-stocked cabinet full of paracetamol (soluble and capsule), ibuprofen, codeine phosphate and lidocaine hydrochloride (an anaesthetic mouthwash). Other mouthwashes include an anti-plaque mouthrinse, Muguard to combat mucositis, and the old favourite, which remains a timeless classic, salt and water. For nausea I have the anti-emetic drugs metoclopramide and ondansetron. Both of these are very effective but have an unfortunate constipatory side effect. So it’s a balance – constipation in one hand, vomit in the other.
Then for the pain in my neck, which has become the outstanding feature of the last ten days I have a couple of gels. Something called QV cream which is just a run of the mill kind of moisturiser, and the rather harder core Intrasite gel which has to be slapped on the raw bits.
Because my neck has got well and truly raw. I’d put a picture up but it would need a health warning. My neck is a ghastly site. In places there is flaky skin, in others there are exposed, red, even bleeding patches. Think of those wartime pictures of nuclear bomb victims and you wouldn’t be far off.
And without the Intrasite gel it really hurts. It stings like the stingiest thing you can imagine.
But at least, you’d think, the treatment is over. I’ll start to recover, right? Well actually, not just yet. The affects of radiotherapy contnue to build for a week to ten days, so I can expect things to continue to get worse for a while yet. But all I have to do is keep applying the creams and gels, keep taking the painkillers, keep swishing the mouthwashes around for a while longer. And then at least the pain will begin to subside.
I met with Dr B on Friday. He examined me and said once again he was pleased with the way things had gone. He wants me to go to the ENT clinic in three weeks time to meet with him and Mr A (remember him?) to review progress. If things looked ok, and he said there was no reason to think they wouldn’t, they would then carry on having regular reviews at regular intervals until in maybe eighteen months time he’d be confident in saying I was cancer free.
I asked him what if things didn’t look ok in three weeks time and he said well then we’d have a problem. But he said it in a ‘that’s not going to happen’ kind of tone which was kind of reassuring.
So I now have three weeks of not having to go to the hospital. I can try to get my white blood cell count up, recover, think about maybe having my RIG removed and eating something. The dietitian said don’t expect either of those to happen just yet though.
Oh and I might listen to some proper music.