I had to be at the cancer unit in Preston for 9am this morning, for my first of six chemotherapy sessions (every Wednesday).
I met my nurse for the day, who took Kirsty and I though what was going to happen, then I was shown to a large reclining chair at the far end of a ward. I got settled in, watched a DVD all about chemotherapy (really!), and then it was time to fit my cannula (the IV line to which my drip would be fitted).
And therein lay something of a problem. You see, I have a SEVERE lack of visible veins. Really, they’re almost impossible to locate. Always have been. And whenever I’ve needed a cannula in the past (e.g. my frequent hospital stays for pneumonia over the past few years), fitting such a thing has always resulted in several false starts, calls for specialists from other wards and an arm like a pin-cushion.
However, my nurse wasn’t going to be beaten so easily.
Several tourniquets and much hand shaking and slapping later, a potential candidate was spotted and… BINGO! First time!
I want that nurse every Wednesday, please.
The first bag o’ chemical magic fixed to my drip comprised of sterile water, packed with salts, anti-biotics and no doubt many other wondrous marvels of the 21st century besides.
It was going in first to find and flush out any toxins I’d been selfishly hoarding in those hard to reach areas, such as the corners of my liver and kidneys, and would take a full two hours to take on board.
Followed by an hour of actual chemo stuff.
Followed by another two hours of the NHS’s unique blend of ‘flush out the crap’ water.
To some people, the thought of sitting still for five hours straight would drive them insane. But to me it meant – uninterrupted, distraction-free writing!
I pulled my laptop from my bag, launched Scrivener and opened my work-in-progress. Cancer aside, I really couldn’t have been happier at that moment in time.
Until, that is, my nurse reappeared at my side.
“You going to watch a couple of movies on that?”
“Actually no, I’m a writer and I thought I’d pass the time by getting some work done.”
“You mean, you’ll be writing?
“That is my preferred method of downloading stories from my brain to the page.”
“You can’t type today. At least, not with your right hand.”
“My right hand?”
“The hand where I fitted the cannula.”
“Oh. Why not?”
“Have you ever had a cannula ’tissue’ before?”
“You mean when the line slips from the vein and pours the contents of the drip directly into your flesh instead? Yes, a few times. It really hurts.”
“Was that with antibiotics on the drip? For your pneumonia?”
“Chemo chemicals are a little different…
“If you tissue while hooked up to today’s drips – particularly the chemo drugs themselves – they will, first of all, burn a hole in the back of your hand and, if not stopped, burn the flesh and skin all the way up to your shoulder.”
“I’ve seen it happen; it’s nasty. Really doesn’t heal well.”
“I’d keep your right hand as still as possible, if I were you.”
So, I slowly closed the lid of my laptop, slid it back into my bag and reached for the solitaire app on my phone.
iPad, headphones and Netflix next week, methinks…
Once two hours had passed and I’d enjoyed the first of my two flushings of the day, it was time for the nurse to fetch and fit the drip filled with the nasty, cancer-bashing chemo chemicals.
WHICH CAME IN A BLACK BAG!
There may have been a skull and cross-bones printed on the side of the bag, but the bulky gloves of the nurse’s fluorescent yellow hazmat suit make it difficult to see.
Besides, the lone church bell ringing far away in the distance was putting me off.
I jest, of course. Apart from the bit where it GENUINELY WAS IN A CHUFFING BLACK BAG!
I sat really still for the next hour.
Once the cursed pouch of acidic dragon’s bile had been added to my bloodstream and was busy pumping its way through my heart and out to every corner of my body (what a jolly, jolly thought!), I had another two hours of cleansing to undergo.
By now, I was getting a little fidgety.
I’d tried to work by writing in my notebook with my left hand, but it looked like someone had scribbled their last will and testament while dangling off a sheer cliff face by their fingertips, the pen clenched between their teeth.
So, I just sat and waited for it all to be over with.
At one point things got so bad, I almost started a conversation with Kirsty.
You can drop that expression! You know I don’t mean it.
It would take more than five straight hours of mind-numbing boredom while my veins boiled with the addition of toxic chemicals for me to talk to Kirsty!
Kirsty just read that bit over my shoulder as I wrote it and gave me a dead arm. ‘Cos, you know, my body isn’t suffering quite enough at the moment.
Eventually, it was all over. I was free to go home!
Except, I wasn’t. Because now it was time for my radiotherapy session. I still had that to do!
This took longer than usual, too. My mask was somehow a little loose compared to yesterday, and Monday. The reason?
I’ve lost around half a stone since they first fitted it, and even dropped a couple of pounds this week alone.
The nurse told me to eat more.
I explained that, because of the pain in my mouth and throat, I was down to eating only soup.
She told me to add butter and melted cheese to my soup.
I said I’d think about it…
By the time the radiotherapy was over, I was exhausted. I found Kirsty in the waiting room, chatting to an elderly couple at the next table. She introduced me to them, and explained that the gentleman was here because he was suffering from the exact same cancer in exactly the same position as me.
I think it was the tiredness talking when I said the first thing that came into my mind…
He didn’t seem to find it as funny as I did.
Forget radiotherapy. Forget chemotherapy. I could feel that old geezer’s eyes burning into the back of my head all the way to the car park.
If only we could have aimed his gaze directly at my cancer…