CYCLE ONE (CANNULAS)
On the 23rd of November 2011 my first cycle of chemotherapy began. On day 1 prior to treatment commencing, Sui Wei advised me the 2nd CT Scan had shown that the lymph node was larger again, thereby confirming I would definitely need the third cycle of chemotherapy. This was just what I wanted to hear before I had even started. I was an in-patient for my first cycle, meaning I had my own room & could stay the night if needed (turned out it wasn’t needed, my own bed is much preferable to a hospital bed anyway). The first day took a while to get going, as the entire oncology in-patient department was moving to a different floor on my second day of chemo, meaning lots of equipment was packed up & the oncology nurses had twice as much as usual to do.
Throughout my first cycle I received the treatment through Cannulas (see the picture in Part 2). This involves inserting the Cannula into a vein, and connecting it to the machine to pump the chemicals in. On Day 1 my veins were good and easy to find. The chemo treatment I had is particularly harsh on veins, & they often retreat quickly, which was the case for me. From Day 2 of chemo onwards, finding veins became as big an issue as the actual treatment itself
The first day was relatively easy, I was a bit surprised really. Besides a few tingles in my hand & a tiny bit of nausea, it was relatively straight forward. The nurses were patient with me, as I had LOTS of questions.
The second day I needed a new Cannula, as I must have knocked the first one in my sleep (they keep it in overnight in the hope they can use it again, makes sleeping a little uncomfortable). I also started to feel constipated for the first time in my life, and was also extremely tired following the day’s treatment.
Day 3 – a minor car accident on the way to hospital, thanks Rio! Difficult to merge into a lane when there’s already a car there. Again very tired & constipated.
Day 4 – a new Cannula was put in by an intern. It was such a bad job a Doctor had to put in another one. For the first time I started to feel like a pin-cushion (see pic below). Thankfully the constipation eased but I was still very tired.
Day 5 – another Cannula needed. Noticed I was starting to get a blood clot around where they inserted the first two Cannulas.
Day 6 – day off hospital, first self injection in the stomach, bloody painful.
Day 8 – back to hospital for the Bleomycine injection through another cannula. That night was probably the worst night of my entire treatment. At around 8 pm that night, around six hours after the treatment, my temperature went right up to dangerous levels, & I shivered uncontrollably for about an hour & a half. Rio was on the phone to the hospital who told her to give me panadol (as ridiculously simple as that sounds). I eventually calmed down & had a snooze.
Day 15 – Bleomycin again, this time with an anti-histamine before the treatment in attempt to control the shivering & high temperatures. It worked to a minor extent as I only had minor shivers this time, but my temperature still went right up again.
The 12th December 2011 was a bad day. I went in for another lung test and blood test, but worst of all one of my beautiful dogs, Zoe had to be put down (the larger black one in the pic below with her lifelong friend Jack). Only about a month prior she had started to lose the use of her back legs due to a congenital hip problem. This was extremely difficult to deal with, even more so given what I was going through. RIP Zoe.
13/12/11 – Due to my blood clots, I had to have a pick line inserted. This involves feeding a tube through one of the veins in your arm, right up to an artery through the heart. It took about six attempts for the gentleman to find a vein, which he seemed to find humorous (sadistic bastard!). Unfortunately for me this proved particularly painful as a needle scraping around in your arm searching for a vein is not particularly the most pleasant of experiences, even more so when the process is repeated six times.
This pick line was to be how my second cycle was to be administered. The first time they put one in, I had an X-ray which showed somehow the tube looped in my chest. As a result they had to take the first pick line out & insert a second one. Thankfully this was not so bad as they could use the same vein.
Other side effects from the treatment that I endured throughout each cycle & afterwards included:
- My taste buds completely changed, things I previously liked now tasted horrible. Many things tasted “Metallic”, a taste which would linger for hours.
- Everything smelled differently, stupid things like air-fresheners made me feel sick.
- I was now toxic, including bodily waste. My urine had a particular nasty odour to it.
- I started to lose my hair in the third week of cycle 1. Initially this was just a few hairs on the pillow, so I cut my hair short to see if I could prolong it. The next day I ran my fingers through my hair, when I looked down at my hand I discovered a massive clump of hair. Time to shave, which took a little bit of getting used to!
- In addition to loss of the hair on my head, I lost hair in the following locations – half my eyebrows, chest hair, facial hair (didn’t have to shave for the entire treatment which was a bonus), pubic region, and the sides of my lower legs. I felt like one of those hairless cats!
- I was feeling nauseous quite regularly, making it difficult to eat. Despite this I did not throw up once throughout my entire treatment, something of a surprise! Apparently the nausea medication is far more effective than it used to be.
- I suffered constant problems with my digestive system, including painful indigestion, constipation etc. After 3-5 days constipation, diarrhoea would then hit with a vengeance (Bruce Willis had nothing on this)!
- “Chemotherapy Brain” – I lost ability to focus, was often absent-minded & struggled to put a sentence together – something that is not usually a problem for me. At very least this provided my partner with some enjoyment, as I admit I am occasionally a smart arse.
- Post chemo I had a horrible rash all over my arms & legs, which was incredibly itchy. This lasted about two weeks. The rash looked like hundreds of flea-bites – so the pooch initially took the blame until I could not find a flea in the house, despite turning everything upside down three or four times. After a few days I went onto a TC forum & found this was an occasional side effect of the chemo.
- Anemia – low red blood count. This leads to a weakened immune system for months after treatment, & a general feeling of low energy which was difficult to shake off. Due to my low immune system, a chest cold/flu I had a couple of months after treatment lasted six weeks!
- To avoid mouth sores, I had to rinse my mouth with a specific mouth wash each time I ate.
- I had really dry skin, including my scalp. Whole layers of skin would occasionally peel off the top of my head.
- One really good side effect of chemo was that for the first time in my life I had many nights of solid sleep. For a lifelong sufferer of insomnia, this was brilliant!
As I had such a bad reaction to the bleomycine, my Oncologists decided to pull it from my treatment. As a result I now had to have an additionally cycle of chemo, four in total, which was twice the usual amount of chemo for Stage 2 Testicular Cancer. I admit I didn’t take this news very well, Sue Wei probably copped the brunt of my frustration.
CYCLE TWO (PICK LINE)
For cycles 2-4, I was an outpatient, which is a completely different department (See pic of part of the room below). There are six chairs in a circle in each of three areas (or rooms), where various cancer patients are receiving treatment (not just chemo, blood infusions etc). Throughout these three cycles, I met all kinds of people, many who were suffering much more than me. Some wanted to talk, some wanted to stare at you (hello older gentlemen), & some looked quite frankly miserable & wanted to keep to themselves. I couldn’t blame them at all.
The Pick Line was meant to be easy, as they no longer had to find a vein, all they needed to do was to connect the line up to the machine & get the chemicals pumping. That was the theory anyway. The results from the lung capacity test on the 13/12/11 showed an approximate 25% reduction in my lung capacity, most likely due to the effects of Bleomycine. This confirmed the decision to remove this from my treatment as the correct one.
In addition to the troubles I was having, my lovely parents came down from Melbourne to stay with me for three weeks. It was great to see them, & have their support. Sometimes I was a little short-tempered with them as all I really wanted to do was lay on the couch & be left alone. Oh well, I’m still glad they came.
Day 1 (14/12/11) – Pretty straightforward, no major issues
Day 2 – nurses buggered up treatment, gave me saline for an hour instead of Etopocide. Always good to have to spend an extra hour & a half in the very boring room. Was starting to feel extremely ordinary, much worse than in cycle 1. In hindsight this was no surprise, as the chemo is effectively poisoning your system. In the end each cycle proved more difficult than the previous one.
Day 3 – standard, feeling rubbish again.
Day 4 – had a bit of trouble with the urine sample, but I gave them the 200 mls eventually. Another nurse stuff up with the etopocide not actually being administered to my system for an hour due to a line being blocked.
Day 5 – My right arm (where the Pick Line was) was hard & purple. An oncologist came to look and said my arm was infected. The Pick Line was pulled out of my vein (a very strange feeling, but not painful) & I was back to a Cannula for a day 5.
I had a very quiet Christmas with Rio & my parents, as I was feeling absolutely rubbish by this stage. I was allowed to have two beers, which unfortunately tasted horrible (I love beer!). By this stage I was really starting to hate chemotherapy!