Let’s talk about chemotherapy! After I had my operation to remove my tumour, it was recommended that I did not start chemotherapy for three months. This transition period between recovering from my operation to beginning chemotherapy was emotionally the most difficult period for me. Initially, we saw a recommended oncologist but he was not right for me, however, we did receive the most valuable information that my cancer was ‘very treatable’. They were the magic words that my husband, Damian and I needed to hear. The sense of relief was huge and a massive dark cloud was lifted. Obviously, I still needed to find the right oncologist, so off we trotted back to our GP, Dr Moodley.
He, yet again, came to our rescue and recommended Dr Adam Nosworthy at the Donald Gordon hospital in Parktown, Johannesburg. We scheduled an appointment and the moment I walked into the DGMC oncology clinic, I felt peace and a calmness that I hadn’t felt for months. Meeting Adam was like a breath of fresh air, he was so reassuring, professional and happy! He explained to Damian and I that my cancer was treatable and that I would need to start an aggressive chemotherapy regime, to do six cycles and then review with an MRI.
The chemotherapy would be OXALIWIN infusion which I would have in the clinic, as well as FLUOROURACIL (5-FU) which would be infused at home over around 40 hours (releasing 5ml every hour) and each cycle would be fortnightly. I would also have steroids and anti-nausea infused before the chemotherapy. My chemotherapy journey is well documented on my Instagram page. I won’t lie, my chemotherapy was extremely gruelling and an oxymoron, certain symptoms recurred but no cycle was the same. I personally find it hard to explain, it is something you will only understand if you experience it.
I will try my best to explain how I felt during cycles. I was very nervous starting my first cycle but also excited, as I had been waiting so long for that day, which was Monday 4th November 2019. I had to take an anti-nausea tablet and wait 30 minutes for it to take affect. Then, the nurse inserted the POWER LOC* needle into my portal (explained in operations) and I passed out, Damian said I had a seizure but obviously I don’t know, I was out! I came round not long after to a panicked husband, from that day on I applied EMLA* cream which numbs the area and makes the needle insertion pain-free. The infusion at the clinic was pretty straight forward and I didn’t feel any side effects, it was later at home with the 5FU ball attached that I really started to feel iffy! The steroids help the infusion but they also make you wake up at a ridiculously early hour, usually around 3am. I woke Damian up and he sat with me, we drank coffee and watched TV to pass the time. I don’t know about you but I hate the early hours, I just felt weird. Tuesday was basically me laying on the sofa feeling nauseas, tired and irritable. By the evening, I just wanted to pull the needle out and that feeling remained for every cycle! By that point, you are so full of chemo that it’s consuming your entire body. I cried then laughed and just looked slightly insane! Cycle one was actually one of my better cycles too! Wednesday morning, same wake up time of 3am and I was showered and ready to get to the clinic as soon as they opened, for them to remove the ball. The next six cycles after my MRI, Damian removed the needle at home with a kit they gave us, which meant I could take it out as soon as it was finished rather than Damian having to drive me to the clinic.
Now you might think that great the ball is out, it’s done! No, that is when the real side effects kick in. Absolute exhaustion, I couldn’t make it out of bed other than to eat a small meal. I quickly learnt that sweet food made me feel very sick and to only eat bland food like grilled chicken, potatoes and a staple snack was toast with butter. I had my first anti-nausea tablet on day one and I had two more for days two and three, for the remaining days I was prescribed ZOFER RAPITAB (Ondansetron) which was an absolute lifesaver and worked amazingly, just pop one on the tongue and it dissolves. My body ached and emotionally, it was so hard. I honestly cannot explain it all but I’m sure you have an idea now. I would gradually become more active and generally, it took about one week or so to ‘come right’. Then, the last few days before my next cycle I would take my daughter out shopping or to eat. Anything to feel ‘normal’.
I did six cycles and my MRI review showed a decrease of 79%, four of the eight lesions on my liver had gone. Adam’s meeting with his oncologists and the surgeon recommended that I continue with another six cycles of chemotherapy as operating was still dangerous at this point and I had a very good clinical response to the treatment. My cancer markers (CEA) had come down over this period from 25 to 5.8, which was a fantastic response. My mother had been a constant support for eleven of my cycles but she passed away before my final cycle. The last one was the hardest as mum had gone but I stayed strong in her memory and I knew all she wanted was for me to get better. We only know how strong we are when we have to deal with traumas. So, on the 17th April my final cycle was infused and I had a CT scan of my chest, abdomen and pelvis on the 29th April, the day after my mum’s funeral.
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