I can personally attest that blood transfusions do indeed improve your cycling performance! Unlikely as it seems, I have become a legal doper.
I had some scheduled blood tests done on Monday with a view to starting my second cycle of treatment after seeing the consultant the following day. When I saw the consultant, however, she told me my haemoglobin level had fallen even further since my previous appointment. It was clear that a blood transfusion was the obvious option to help combat the anaemia that the low haemoglobin level was causing – even to me who’d been in denial as to whether it was necessary.
The secondary breast cancer I have is in my bones and bone marrow, with the latter affecting my body’s ability to produce the required amount of red blood cells. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which transports oxygen around the body.
A transfusion would mean I didn’t feel as tired as I’d been feeling these past few weeks. I’d been finding that if I went up the stairs too quickly, I had to stop at the top to get my breath back. I couldn’t rush anywhere – it was taking half as much time again as it usually did to walk to the the tube and from the tube to work. On Thursday, therefore, I spent the whole day at the hospital having two units of red blood cells transfused.
You’re meant to feel the effects of a transfusion pretty soon after having it. I therefore decided I owed it to myself to do Parkrun on Saturday morning. Parkrun is the free, weekly, timed 5k runs that take place in hundred of locations across the UK every Saturday morning. I’m a massive fan and while I haven’t run for months, I’m keen to start doing Parkrun again if I possibly can. However, I had a pretty strong feeling that even if I had the energy to run for 30 minutes plus, my back (there’s cancer in three vertebrae) and hip (the pain there may or not be related to the diagnosis) wouldn’t cope for more than a few hundred metres. So I knocked that idea on the head.
Come today, though, I decided I’d aim for a proper bike ride. Since May 19, I’d only been out on my bike a few times and I hadn’t cycled more than 10 miles. You get out of the habit pretty quickly so I did have to psyche myself up for it. Also, we were at a wedding last night (nails painted accordingly!) and this morning I wasn’t exactly raring to go. It was a beautiful day, though, so eventually I forced myself out the door.
Off I cycled to Richmond Park in south west London, did three laps then cycled back home, stopping only at lights and junctions and to take photos of the beautiful fawns in the park. I cycled almost 35 miles in total and surprised even myself. In fact, I would have done a fourth lap had I not wanted to make sure I got home in time to watch Andy Murray in the men’s doubles tennis finals at Queen’s. In the end he didn’t play until much later on so I could have gone ahead and done the extra lap.
Painwise I felt almost fine the whole ride – no hip pain, no back pain, and just a little pain in my left ribs (where it’s likely there is cancer).
I can’t say for sure but I really don’t know whether I would have been able to do that ride at the start of this week. I’m not sure I’d have attempted it. Of course I’m aware that even with the transfusion, my haemolgoblin will still be below normal levels, but it’s all relative.
As well as having a transfusion, I’ve also had to take a temporary and hopefully short break from treatment. I’m disappointed but the blood tests had also shown that my neutrophil levels had fallen during the first cycle to below the level that’s judged safe to continue with treatment. Neutrophils are the white blood cells that fight infection. We’ll do some more blood tests tomorrow and hopefully we’ll restart treatment on Tuesday. The break in treatment has also probably led to me feeling less tired as one of the drugs I’m on can also lead to anaemia.
I’ve written many times before that I had in effect resigned myself to being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer at some point. I was at high risk of it happening and that’s precisely what has occurred. Accepting that it might was part of my coping strategy.
I even had a headline planned for the blog post I would write if it came back. It was “The f***ing f***er’s f***ing back and I’m f***ed”. In the end, though, I decided not to use it. I went for the much plainer and much less crude and bleak, “It’s back.”
While the first part of my unused headline captures perfectly how I feel, I hope it’ll be a good while yet before the second part becomes a reality. As the wedding last night and today’s bike ride show, there’s still plenty of world out there to enjoy and plenty of wonderful people to enjoy it with. In the end, we’re all f***ed, aren’t we? To paraphrase the late, great American country singer Hank Williams, none of us is getting out of here alive.