My festive A to Z (chemo side effects included) 

I’m very close to the end of my second 21-day cycle of eribulin, the iv chemo I moved on to at the beginning of December as part of the latest pharmacological effort to stop my metastatic breast cancer from spreading further around my body. 

There have been side effects but they’ve been tolerable. Physically, on the whole, I’ve been feeling more than fine. Emotionally, too, I’ve been feeling stronger. I’ve largely put behind me the disappointment of the PET CT scan that showed that my cancer had outwitted paclitaxel, the chemo I was on before I switched to eribulin. 

I look back over the past six weeks and, despite multiple trips to hospital for treatment sessions and associated blood tests and/or blood transfusions, cancer has definitely not been front and centre.

There has, of course, been Christmas. With the Omicron variant of the coronavirus rampaging around the country, there were very few of us whose plans for the holiday period were not disrupted at least to some extent. Thankfully, we escaped pretty much unscathed, disappointing as it was to cancel several social engagements we’d really been looking forward to.

Christmas is a time for lists, whether you’re writing to Santa or shopping for presents or for the food for Christmas dinner.

Here’s another list of sorts that you may be interested in. It’s my festive A to Z!

A

Appetite. This was all over the place during the first cycle of eribulin. Some days I had no appetite. Other days I had a huge appetite. On yet other days I wanted to eat but my mouth was so dry that I found it hard to swallow. Things are much more stable now.

B

Beef Wellington. For the third Boxing Day in a row, our two boys made Beef Wellington for dinner. The shape may not have been perfect this year but it was just as good as the previous two offerings! What an absolute treat.

Blood tests. I had my latest round of tests this morning. I’ll get the results on Wednesday when I see the consultant. All going well, I’ll start Cycle 3 of eribulin later the same day.

C

Chemo. Each 21-day cycle of eribulin – also known as Halaven – comprises two treatment sessions. These take place on Day 1 and Day 8 of the cycle, with blood tests done one or two days before each session to check to see whether it’s ok to go ahead with the next one.

Christmas Day. An extremely pleasant relaxing and relaxed day that involved for my husband and me a walk across Tooting Common, a pint in a local pub followed by drinks at a friends’ house across the road, then, later at home with the boys, a delicious traditional Christmas dinner, board games and a film.

D

Dry. We did think that we might do “Dry January”, where you go the whole of the month without drinking any alcohol. It didn’t take us long to decide life was too short for such sacrifices so we’ve decided instead to cut down. Perhaps “damp” rather than ”dry” would be more appropriate for this entry!

E

Exhibitions. My husband and I have been taking advantage of the fact that central London is very quiet to visit a few of the exhibitions that are on at the city’s museums and art galleries. It’s been fun.

F

Fatigue. I’ve experienced this in its extreme form where you feel like you’re walking through treacle and you really just have to stop and, ideally, sit or lie down. I’ve also experienced bog-standard fatigue, mild fatigue, and no fatigue at all. It’s fair to say chemo takes it out of you.

G

Gin. Sloe gin made by a friend or gin from Tiree, the tiny Hebridean island where we spent a week in October. I’m not fussy.

H

Hair. Ongoing thinning and loss of head and body hair.

Head. Shaving thereof.

Haemoglobin. The cancer is in my bone marrow among other places, affecting my body’s ability to make healthy blood. It particularly affects my red blood cells. My haemoglobin level is constantly low. If it goes below a certain level, I can’t have chemo. During both of these first two cycles of eribulin, I’ve had to go to hospital on or around Day 15 for blood tests to have it checked. I had one unit of blood transfused during the first cycle but I haven’t needed one during the second cycle. That is good. 

Heartburn. A side effect of eribulin. Painful, not pleasant.

I

Indecision. I’ve spent hours looking at flights to various places but haven’t yet taken the plunge and booked to go a somewhere. Watch this space.

J

Jelly. Yes, jelly, that weirdly coloured gooey stuff you should really only eat at children’s birthday parties. It was a godsend on days during my first chemo cycle when I had no appetite and/or a dry mouth. 

K

Kleenex. Nose hair is one of those things most people (or at least most women) don’t realise they have. However, you notice when you don’t have it (see above under ”Hair”) as you have a runny nose much more frequently than you used to. You therefore need plenty of tissues – not necessarily Kleenex but it was the best I could think of for the letter ”K”!

L

Lateral flow tests. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done. Thankfully, they’ve all been negative.

M

Metoclopramide. This is an anti-nausea drug I take to stop me feeling sick after I’ve eaten. I’ve more or less got this under control now. 

Metal. Some food tastes metallic in the days following chemo, after which it goes back to normal.

N

Nata. As in “pasteis de nata”, those delicious little Portuguese egg custard tarts. A good friend made a surprise delivery of a box of four. Yum!

O

Optician’s. I stepped on my glasses and broke them. I don’t have a spare pair (thank goodness I also have contact lenses). An appointment has been made at the optician’s for an eye test and to buy a new pair of specs.

P

Priority PCR test. I’ve been sent one of these as part of a government initiative to ensure that clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) individuals such as myself, should we catch Covid, get timely access to one of the new drugs that are now available for treating the illness.

Pubs. There have been plenty of visits to the pub. Again, we’ve taken advantage of the fact things have been quiet.

Q

The Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day. We somehow missed this!

R

Roast potatoes. You can never have too many of these with your Christmas dinner!

Rummikub. We played a few rounds of this on Christmas Day. 

S 

Steroids. I take these for two days after each chemo session, to help prevent nausea. I have a huge appetite for two days and, once I start talking, it’s hard to stop.

Swimming. I managed a couple of sessions in early December, before the start of the massive surge in Covid cases. It may be time to start thinking about going again.

T 

Tumour marker. In my case, my tumour marker is a good measure of how active my cancer is. The marker level went down during the first cycle. I’ll find out on Wednesday what it’s done in Cycle 2. Fingers crossed that it’s stayed where it is or has gone down further.

Tennis. I still can’t quite believe that I have been back on the courts. This disease saps your confidence and I’d convinced myself that, with my haemoglobin level being so low, I wouldn’t have the energy to play. In the end I played for around 40 minutes, with a fabulous bunch of women from the tennis club of which I’m still a member. I hadn’t played for many, many months and I absolutely loved it.

Theatre. A friend very generously invited me to the theatre in the run-up to Christmas. That too was a lovely treat.

U 

University. Both our sons came home from uni for the Christmas holidays. As always, it was/is great to have them around. The older one has gone back; the younger one is still with us. Both are in the middle of final year exams. These are still being done online. By the time they finish, they will have had less than six months of “normal” university – from a three-year degree.

V

Vaccines. I’ve now had my booster jab, bringing to four the number I’ve had overall. CEV individuals were offered three jabs as part of the primary vaccination programme and then also a booster.

Volunteering. On New Year’s Day morning, I volunteered at my local Parkrun. I put back in order some of the bar codes of the 299 people who turned out that morning to run, jog or walk the 5k route. I’ve volunteered a couple of times now since I myself stopped running.

W

Wig. I have renewed my acquaintance with the wig that I last wore in February 2017.

Walking. Lots and lots and lots of walking.

X

This may be cheating but ”x” is for the challenging letter ”x” in Banagrams and Scrabble, two of our favourite word games. We played both of these more than a few times time over the holidays.

Y

Year. Another year has passed. It’s been very hard for many on many fronts. On a personal level regarding my health, it’s hugely disappointing that three different lines of treatment stopped working over the course of just 12 months. In many ways, though, it’s been a wonderful year. If you follow this blog, you’ll have followed the many ups and downs.

Z

Zoom. We hadn’t used the Zoom online chat service for a while but it came back into its own over Christmas. My book group had its Christmas meet-up on Zoom where, instead of the Secret Santa we would have done had we met in person, we bought ourselves a present and did “show and tell”! On another occasion, we were able to chat to our friends in Madrid.

And that’s it. Happy New Year, everyone!

10 thoughts on “My festive A to Z (chemo side effects included) 

  1. Just reading your Festive A-Z. Really enjoyed it and thought it was so good you should maybe consider some kind of writing for a living !!! (can’t find laughing emoji)

    Liked by 1 person

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