News from your own correspondent, Foxymoron
3 months and 6 cycles of fox down, I had a scan last week to see what’s what with my not-so-golden insides. Some good news at last: the foxes are doing their job. Tumours are shrinking. All being well, family Gross-Boyle will be travelling en masse to super-size me land next month for the operation to chop the nuisance out of my liver. More chemo will follow after that (but as they say where we’re heading, tomorrow is another day, so I will be O’Hara-ish and worry about that when I’m feeling stronger).
This is about the best news we could hope for at this stage. It is doubly good because the foxes are so relentlessly horrible that if they hadn’t also been doing their job, I would have been beyond miserable. And now that I have a break from chemo I have enough distance to describe the feeling of being chased down the foxhole. I thought it might be cathartic for me to have a massive, bloggy moan about it, and helpful for anyone with friends or family in the same boat. Those with a weak constitution, look away now.
My sort of chemo happens once a fortnight. Here’s how it rolls.
Days 1-3. The fox triplets, oxaliplatin, irinotecan and 5FU are “infused” into my bloodstream over 3 days. Infused is the kind of misnomer which populates oncology. It sounds like a calming herbal remedy being absorbed by osmosis into a serene patient (who is probably reading zen poetry and chanting contentedly). The reality is 7 hours in hospital having toxins pumped into you by a bleeping machine surrounded people older, balder and surely sicker than me. This is followed by 2 days at home wearing a mini-pump in a tasteful nylon bum-bag. During this period my food intake is limited to bread, cheese, tomato soup, sweet potatoes and foxes glacier fruits (I admit the name has a pleasing symmetry for me, but they also take away the dull taste of metal in my mouth). Normal food repels me. It is a cruel echo of how I felt when pregnant, right down to dry heaving whenever the mood takes me. Which is often. But the concoction of anti-nausea drugs and steroids pep me up and though I feel sick, I still feel like me.
Days 4-5. The drugs end, both foxes and counter-foxes. I see why steroids can be addictive. Suddenly my world is sucked of colour, like I’ve gone from Oz to Kansas. I turn in on myself and speaking, even thinking become too much. I am tired, but not the kind of tired that sleep helps. And because the foxes are working their hardest on cells which renew themselves most often, I am dry like the Sahara in nose, mouth and eye. I wake up in the middle of the night feeling like a desiccated coconut. My nerve endings are screwed and I feel the cold like little electric shocks in my fingers, toes, nose and mouth, making excursions in this endless winter painful. I get my appetite back, at least for steak and kidney pie with ketchup which tastes like heaven. But my main human interaction is still with the hosts of A Place in the Sun: Home or Away. This is depressing on so many levels.
Days 6-8. I sometimes wonder if the foxes are at their most potent in my digestive system. I imagine things down there like a game of pacman, with the foxes ruthlessly hunting down the nuisance. And for the advanced player, enter level 4: the gut zone. Here the foxes are armed with some kind of nuclear weaponry. Billy and I lie on the sofa watching House of Cards as I produce gases which would be lethal to a lesser man.
Day 8-9: Very gradually I start to feel myself again. The fog lifts. A glimmer of technicolor shoots across the grey Kansas sky. But then the last laugh of the foxes: a migraine appears, regular as clockwork. But this is a known quantity. I have the drugs (and I don’t have a brain tumour. They’ve checked). But I’m wiped out for another 2 days by the triptans doing their amazing work.
Day 10-13. Good days. Good in the way you feel after a vicious bout of food poisoning. I’m relieved beyond measure that my body does what I expect, and my head is clear and able to think again. Consumed with energy, but my body is scarred by the trauma it has just been through. And I find these chemo-scars hard to shake off. My poor subconscious is so traumatised by the toxic foxes that as soon as I see, smell or think about chemotherapy, hospitals, my medicines or anything related to the above (including the arrival of the poor district nurse), I’m sick. Inconvenient. So now I have added hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy to my smorgasbord of treatments. Because it is the only way I can get myself back into hospital for day 14, when the foxes start over again. And because I need to reassert my conscious over my subconscious, and remind it that whilst the foxes are grim they are giving me a future.
Thank you for bearing with my moan. And thank you for the help you are giving me when I’m down the foxhole. Thanks for the meals cooked, the quiet but enlivening company, the sunny walks, the boy-looking after, the distracting and hilarious emails, the scented candles and silk dressing gown, the chauffeur service, the DVD-choosing and watching. All of these are little lifelines and so very much appreciated.