Our trip to Cornwall was just what we needed. There’s something about big open beaches, rugged coastlines and fresh sea air that’s good for the soul.
My husband and I were away from our home in London for nine days, taking advantage of the two-week break between me finishing my first cycle of intravenous chemotherapy and starting my second. It was a last-minute decision to go but I’d been feeling really well after a turbulent few weeks and it made sense.
We would gladly have stayed away longer but I had to come back home to London for bloods tests on 20 September in advance of starting a couple of days later cycle 2 of the new treatment regime I’d begun a month earlier – iv chemo (paclitaxel) to try and stop my secondary breast cancer from suppressing my bone marrow and preventing my body from making healthy blood. Or at least to try and stop it doing so to the extent it had been, where I was having to have regular blood transfusions.
The Eden Project, isolated beaches and coves, rugged rock formations and crashing waves, stunning coastal walks, sea swimming, beautiful harbours and villages clinging to impossibly steep streets, boat trips, ferry rides, freshly caught seafood, local beer, local gin, cream teas, surfers. That was our week (and a bit) in Cornwall.
The following week, back in London, couldn’t have been more different. There were blood tests, a blood transfusion, iv chemo and a third dose of the Covid vaccine.
Back to Cornwall for the moment. Its coastal paths are famous for being hilly and steep. With the bone marrow suppression, my haemoglobin – and consequently energy – levels are pretty low. I’ve had to stop doing many of the sports I used to take for granted. Exercising now largely consists of gentle walking and swimming.
Before we went away, we had no idea how much walking – strenuous or otherwise – I’d be able to do. We soon found out and, once we got the measure of things, it was better than we might have anticipated. Walks that would normally have taken two hours took four, but that was ok. We weren’t in a rush. There were several short-lived bouts on my part of melancholy regarding my illness and we reminisced over the week about the big, long walks we used to do. Overall, though, our mindset was that it was a huge positive I was doing these walks at all.
I was fine on the flat but as soon as the gradient started to climb, my legs turned to lead and I could feel my poor heart go in to overdrive. I had to stop for breath every few minutes, if not even more regularly.
I genuinely wondered more than once how fast a heart could safely beat. I also thought that sometimes it’s best not to know the challenges ahead. That goes for life as much as it does for steep Cornish footpaths.
We travelled round, visiting lots of different places, keeping to the coast as much as possible.
We made the holiday last as long as we could. We stayed away one more night than we’d planned so the drive back to London would be three hours rather than six. Our hotel that last night had a heated outdoor pool and I went for a swim the following morning. The previous day, we’d done a five-mile hike – out along the cliffs and back along the beach. In true Cornish style, it was indeed hilly.
The scenery throughout the whole trip was spectacular and I was genuinely happy that I was able to do the amount I did. It’s hard to let go but, for peace of mind, you have to.
One thing didn’t register with me at all while we were walking and it really should have done. In addition to the bone marrow suppression, I have extensive bone mets (ie the cancer is in many of my bones including my spine and pelvis). Bone mets can cause extreme pain but I’m in no discomfort whatsoever in that regard.
On our way home, we stopped off at the hospital and I had bloods taken for testing. I was to see the consultant for the results the following day and I hoped I would start my second cycle of chemo the day after that. Back at the house, we started the mundane tasks that always follow a holiday. We talked about what a superb time we’d had.
It came as rather a shock, a few hours later, to get a phone call from the hospital telling me my haemoglobin level was lower than it had ever been and could I come in for a transfusion of two units of red blood cells the following day? This would allow me to go ahead the day after that with the first session of my second cycle of chemo. I was gobsmacked. I genuinely had no idea it was so low. I’d got used to being breathless during the walks, but overall I was feeling great.
Back to earth with a jolt. I now couldn’t help thinking that the results of all the other blood tests they’d done would be bad too. Talk about a mood change.
Thankfully I was wrong. When I saw the consultant the following day, she told me that everything else was largely good. Significantly, the tumour marker had fallen substantially. That was all good to hear.
I had the blood transfusion and then went ahead with the first treatment session of Cycle 2 of iv chemo. We’re now a few weeks on and I’ve finished cycle 2. Each cycle lasts 28 days and I have treatment on Days 1, 8 and 15. It’s all going well except on one front. The chemo has damaged the veins in the arm where I have it and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a vein into which to insert a cannula for chemo. It looks like I may need to have a port inserted. More on that another time.
So far on chemo I’ve had no nausea, no mouth sores, no change in taste and no gastrointestinal problems. My hair is not falling out as such although it is thinning and comes out in clumps when I brush it if I’m anything other than extremely gentle. You might not think it from this photo, but I did in fact leave a substantial amount of hair in Cornwall.
I’m due to have my next set of blood tests on 18 October, in advance of potentially starting cycle 3 of iv chemo on 20 October. They’ll check the tumour marker then as well.
I won’t be surprised if I hear I’ll need another blood transfusion before going ahead with cycle 3. My haemoglobin level had gone down between sessions two and three of cycle 2 to just above where they recommend a transfusion. I was given the choice of having one and chose not to. If it falls further between now and the 18th, I’ll need one.
In the meantime, we’ve started our next adventure.
We’re on the tiny Scottish island of Tiree for a week’s holiday with one of my brothers, his wife and their 15-year-old daughter. Unlike the impromptu Cornwall trip, this has been in the diary for months. We didn’t know how my health would be when we arranged to come, back in May, but here I am, feeling well and doing ok. Getting here was an adventure in itself; we flew from Glasgow in the small 18-seater plane in the photo.
Incidentally, Tiree is almost totally flat so at least I won’t have to worry about any hills when we’re out walking!