Just to let you know that last week’s winner of the beautiful Katherine Quinn print was Jan Allsopp from Australia. Congratulations Jan! Also thanks to Sheyne Tuffery http://www.lesagallery.com/sheyne-tuffery/ for allowing me to use his wonderful penguin print.
I was talking to a friend yesterday about ‘doing chemo’ and we agreed on a few things. Here is my take on how to do chemo:
1. Learning how chemo works
It takes a while to suss out what the chemo does and how it does it to you. Most chemo cycles follow a pattern. If it a 21 day cycle, you might feel really crap for the first week, medium crap for the second week and almost normal for the third week. It takes at least one chemo cycle to feel your way through this. And as I learned in the last nearly three months, each cycle can be different, whilst following a similar pattern. I felt that each chemo cycle has its own personality and was a different experience.
Once you have done one or two cycles, you pretty much know what to expect and how to deal with the side effects. You can get in to a more or less predictable pattern which offers some security. You also gain confidence in feeling a bit of control in knowing what’s coming up, but also how to communicate with the Oncologist and Oncology Nurses.
By the three month mark, you know how to ‘do’ chemo and that is somewhat easier.
2. Our physical and emotional are intertwined
After receiving chemo, if I feel physically nausea, seedy…not right physically, I feel low emotionally too. It is then that I feel that “I can’t handle cancer or chemo” (and it feels like it’s lasting forever). The ‘low’ also happens when my immunity is low i.e. when my white blood cells are down, I feel down too. And then there is the turnaround day when I feel physically better and then emotionally better too; I can handle cancer and chemo. Sometimes we feel that we are meant to be up all the time and it impossible when you feel yuck.
3. Healing from cancer and cancer treatments is my job
I have learned to focus on getting better rather than trying to meet the myriad of things going on in life. This is an art not a science but it means if you can:
– Hiring a nanny to help with the kids when you feel sick
– Not going to work when you feel rotten
– Not going to social events when you have no energy
– Giving time and focus to the things I can control and that improve my health e.g. eating fruit and vegetables, relaxation/mediation/visualisation, gentle exercise, getting fresh air etc.
– Being around positive supportive people
– Getting appropriate care for your symptoms and side effects
– Being assertive with people around you and your health care team e.g. what is working and what isn’t working
– Mustering up an excellent support team for you (whether it’s family, friends and professionals). Ensure that you get really strong support
– Get company for medical appointments. It is just easier to have someone with you.
4. Get support for side effects immediately
If you feel sick, ring the Oncology nurse right away. Don’t wait two weeks for your hospital appointment as you don’t want to be a bother. It’s essential that you get help on the day that you are feeling awful.
Nausea and vomiting are unacceptable. They do occasionally happen but if they do, the Oncology team should be able to change the medications immediately so that this doesn’t happen again.
It makes a big difference to get relief from a medical problem in a few hours rather than a few days. Your life is too important and who wants to spend days feeling terrible when you could be doing something else.
– Take the anti-nausea medications even if you are sick of taking pills. Life is 100 per cent better without nausea.
– Keep a notebook just for side effects (as it’s hard to remember it all later)
– And keep a chart outlining when and which medication to take. Tick it off as you go (it’s much less confusing than reading all the different labels at different times of the day).
5. Plan milestone celebrations
They don’t have to be big but it’s important to celebrate milestones in the cancer journey e.g. a good blood test, end of chemo, end of radiation and end of treatment. These are significant and it helps to have these things to look forward to.
6. Cancer can be transformative
This is completely personal and doesn’t apply to everyone I know. But there may be messages for you in your cancer. E.g. was your lifestyle too stressful or is there a new direction, hobby or career inside you that wants to come out? Often during treatment, there isn’t time or energy to explore these things but post-treatment, there may be time to explore.
7. Keep a blog or diary
Keeping a blog kept me sane as I love to write but it also helps share information. Some people are not comfortable with cancer and reading a blog can be non-threatening and an easy way to catch up your friends and family. But ultimately, a diary or blog records your unique story, which is really important. Cancer may be the biggest challenge of your life and it might help to write about it.
8. The fight of your life
There may never be another time in your life when you require more courage, strength, determination and support than with cancer. So seek the support and resources you need to get through this. Cancer will not be the most important thing in your life but when you are going through it, treat yourself as the most important thing and support yourself like never before. At this time, the focus needs to be on you. I wrote in my notebook “I am number one. I need to put myself first and everyone else second”.
9. Journey, not a destination
There are no guarantees in life or with treatment success (though many treatments will be successful). Cancer really is a journey and it’s important to make the journey as easy and enjoyable as it can be. You can’t know where the journey will end but it’s important to enjoy yourself as much as you can along the way.
10. Only you know you
There are many times when you will be called on to be assertive, give feedback to a doctor or nurse and make decisions about surgery, treatments and medications. Ultimately, only you can work out what you need in your life and unique cancer journey.
11. Cancer vs. control
When cancer comes, we know that we are not in control of life and that we can’t set goals for everything. Life does come up with some interesting twists but we can control some things.
Sometimes, it helps me to make a list of what I can control and what I can’t control. I can’t control cancer or chemo side effects but I can control: talking to a friend, taking my medication, having a healthy breakfast, doing some deep breaths etc.
A friend just reminded me of another point. Don’t compare yourself to other people who are going through treatment. Everyone’s reactions and tolerance levels are different. It is easy to judge yourself when someone is back to ‘normal’ quick smart or working full time but we are all unique. As well as different side effects, we have different drivers for being out there appearing normal e.g. some people need a distraction, some need to pay the mortgage and others might be having a gentler chemo treatment.
Please share any other thoughts or insights you have.
Thanks, Andrea 🙂