Chemotherapy is OVER

DONE! WOOHOOO! AHHHH! YEAH BABY! YES YES YES! OKKKKAY! And a big thumbs up! Ahhh – no cause for another infamous swearing streak, today is only for happy words. HAPPY! JOY! RELIEF! RELEASE!Mom and I went in for chemo today. The hospital called our house at 7.30 am inquring whether we’d like to push our appoitment forward. Seven thirty felt a bit too early, so we arranged it for sometime before 11. “Any time before 11.”

So, at about 10 am we rolled into the deluxe chemo clinic. Again, things went well. That is a pattern I’m glad to have maintained during the paxlitaxel. The nurses seemed in a fine mood (but they would, as of the 25th they’ll have a 4 day weekend), one was even dressed in red with an elf hat. Very festive.

Chemotherapy took two and half hours, pretty normal. Afterwards the nurse removed my picc line. Let me tell you – removing a picc line is no big deal. Inserting the thing is a procedure (needles, x-rays, heart a pounding – though worth every second) so comparatively this was a walk in the park. Here is what they do: a heat pack is placed on the arm to ‘relax the vein’, the picc bandage is removed, and then the nurse gently pulls the line centimetre by centimetre till out, after which she presses down with gauze for a few minutes so the hole seals and no air can enter my body. Actually, I only realized half way through that she was pulling the tube from my vein. It was hardly noticeable. Why can’t all procedures be like that?

After my arm was released, we packed up the standards (oranges, pretzels, sweater) and GOT OUTTA THERE. Eighty sixed it – outtie five thousand – see you later alligator – hasta la vista – let’s blow this pop stand – I’m gone! High fives for everyone.

At the house Mom and Dad had a surprise gold star waiting for me. It’s a helium balloon in the shape of a star and is currently floating beside their bed. Pretty clever. Also there were lovely gifts from a few friends, and that was a wonderful surprise too.

Now I’m in the kitchen. Daniel and JP dragged the mattress upstairs so I could sleep yet still hang out. I’d tried sitting in a chair before but ended up sliding my tired ass onto the ground for a nap. This, clearly, is better. Mom just finished making red onion preserve and Daniel is sterilizing some jars. There’s festive music in the background and I’m sitting (sleeping) pretty. Lovely.

Sixteen down and no more to go. Over. Good bye Chemotherapy. Let’s never meet again. Never.

Next up is a vacation, followed by radiotherapy. After that it’s all about reclaiming my life. We’re starting now, which is a great reason for my being here. Marcelle is making sure I eat properly, Tony is treating me, and JP is putting me through a chemo-recovery routine.

If Zsolt were here it’d be absolutely perfect.

About 15 treatments ago I looked at the chemo schedule and thought, ‘how can we get through this?’ Talk about your obstacles; treatments felt like an uphill battle. But look where we’ve gotten – look at the view from the top of this mountain. Big goals were set (are set), and afterwards life became about the baby steps. One week at a time and you can survive. Survive to thrive. This next part (after the radiotherapy) is all about getting better.

I’m so thankful for everyone’s support. Thank you thank you thank you. Your thoughts, prayers, words, and food have been wonderful.

Right – time to lay down. Someone break out that cake! WOHOO!

No place like home

It’s six in the morning and the house is silent. Almost silent, I can head my dad sniffling in the other room. Silent and very dark, where are all the streetlights?  I’ve been up for an hour and after many attempts to crack the password on my mother’s computer, have given up the battle and pulled out a sheet of paper. Well I am home. Home sweet home, and let me tell you this: it feels really, really good. That’s the short version. Here is the long. . .

Zsolt and I woke up yesterday morning around 6.30 am . . . the past two days are the earliest I’ve risen over the last six months. Early bird gets the worm, but the late bird snuggles in bed. Who doesn’t like to snuggle? (Particularly when the heat has been turned off and beyond the sheets is a freezer-like climate.)

So we get up with the intention of leaving for 7 am, by  7.36 we are in the car and rolling. It was a typical drive to the airport with lots of traffic and iron bladders.

Wohoo! Dad is awake and offering the password – I’m switching to the computer now and creative freedom! Typing is glorious. And wow, Mom has a whole lot of icons on her desktop, and a really stunning mountain range picture.

Where was I? Driving. Airport. Check in. Right.

Checking in was not a problem. There was a momentary debate over whether I was cleared for departure, but no trouble ultimately because, of course, clearance had been organized the day before (PS – springing last minute arrangements on people who are sick/tired/whatever is really poor customer service and most certainly a practise that needs to be changed).

I checked three bags and arranged for a buggy to pick me up from the lounge. Yes, I walked my little butt through security despite worries that I’d be too tired. It was fine – no looks please, because I felt in control (and it was not a long walk at all).

Zsolt carried my bag up to the security point and we said goodbye. That involved a lot of hugs and a lot of ‘I love you’, which is as it should be.

Points to Zsolt for getting us to the airport really smoothly. He was the perfect early morning driver 🙂

So there goes my husband for a month. He had he own little journey to conquer after dropping me off. The poor guy had to drive to Gatwick, drop off our car in one of the nearby villages (we rented a parking space for 40 pounds; that’s less than a pound a day and significantly beats Gatwick parking fees) and afterward catch a train over the Gatwick. By the time he caught his flight to Hungary, I was at home in front of my Canadian fireplace. Talk about a lonnng day.

Meanwhile, back at Heathrow, I was enjoying the first class lounge. Hello, I had no idea stress-free travel existed.  For a whole load of money (or a whole load of points, as in my case) you get to skip much of the security drama, are given a quiet area with breathing space and comfortable chairs, and there’s a buffet with breakfast cereals, drinks and assorted snacks. Man!

Totally awesome. Totally worth it. Zsolt’ll be upset because my pallet has now sampled a finer type of flying, and you know I’ll be craving it again! *a girl can dream : )

When due to board I took an electric buggy to the gate. That was odd – I sat at the back beside an elderly gentleman and looked out at the people we passed (like sitting in the trunk of a car, which I did once at a debating tournament and was given a taxi ride through Toronto with my legs sticking out the back window).  People would watch us passing, and I would watch them shirk into the long corridor. It felt a little like a parade, but without the waving.

Which bring us to the flight, another example of stress-free flying. I once heard that animals are given more space during transport than people on airplanes. While this may/may not be true, it certainly makes a difference to have a little room. The flight was still tiring (must be related to pressure change, altitude, radiation etc), but the experience was pleasant. Key perk was the full flat bed – an excellent addition to the miracle of flight.

So after all that trouble Air Canada finally treated me well, though I did pay them to, but I suppose that’s the case for many services.

At the border I think I was meant to wait for a wheelchair. Bugger that. I hopped off the plane (with a sideways glance at the wheelchair attendant) and floated over to security. Words were said at customs, at one point I blurted out, “My husband’s Hungarian!’ when asked why I was alone. Thinking back, that doesn’t quite answer the question, but communication becomes difficult when exhausted. There was also confusion over whether I was bringing in a jug with or without water. “A water jug” I said. “A jug with water?” she asked.  Maybe she had a point, no rule says that water jugs need water – they could hold juice or wine or sangria.

Anyhow, customs was fine.  And once through my luggage appeared on the carousel almost immediately. First class service.

This next bit is the best – my favourite moment when arriving home. The parting of glass doors, with Mom and Dad on the other side.  What a frigging good and rewarding moment. We hugged and were teary eyed and couldn’t say too much. If you know the Ottawa airport international arrivals area, then you know it’s a bit of a stage. People come through the door, and everyone watches as family reunites. There’s always an audience and yesterday they had a little Brunelle-Family reunion show.

Oh! And Mom gifted me with a Canada hat and scarf, which matched perfectly the Canada mittens I was given (thanks Sandie!) to keep warm.  Plus, there was a cup of Tim Hortons tea. Oh Canada!

Going home – being home – was emotional. On top of the long day, it’s been a long six months and finally reaching my goal was somewhat beyond words: aching, smiling, crying, holding, talking, laughing, loving. It felt almost too much.

Downstairs in my bedroom there is a waterfall of paper cranes. Beautiful. A thousand paper cranes with which to make a wish. And a wish has been made. Thanks to Christina and her folding team for their thoughtfulness, and to my family for hanging them up. They’re quite something to see. I may even need to post a photo once the camera is unpacked.

And so that brings me to now – this dark morning.

The ground outside is white with snow. Dad is now in the kitchen eating breakfast, and I think I’ll go over to join him.

Despite the ups and downs, I’m so glad to have kept this goal. It feels wonderful to be home.

Two for the road

Today I said goodbye to the UK chemotherapy ward. This was my last chemo treatment in England, and now (2 more left) it’s all about Canada. My doctor was thanked (I’ll see him again in about 18 weeks), the chemo coordinator hugged, and a Christmas card was given to the nurses. Job done.  🙂

Last June I longed for this moment – these moments – but found it difficult to imagine time would pass. Everything was overwhelming, yet not tangible; goals were blurry shapes in the distance. But guess what? This is real. Soon chemo finishes and we’ll move forward to the next phases: radiation and hormone therapy.

The doctors like to warn me that despite chemotherapy being over, I’ll still likely feel its effects for about six months. Maybe my emotions will go bananas, maybe like treatment I’ll be left exhausted, maybe I’ll still get tree trunk legs and tingle toes and crazy hot flashes . . . maybe I’ll recover beautifully. Won’t know till we get there.

In the meantime I’m thankful for the people in England who have supported me, fed me, encouraged me, humoured me, helped me, entertained me (all those cups of tea!). You’ve seriously made a difference in my life; these past six months could have been shit, but they weren’t and that’s all down to support.

Of course that support goes beyond UK borders, but next week begins a holiday in Canada – 2010 may keep its Cancer Catherine, because 2011 starts with a cancer-free me. England will be a fresh start when I get back (with new treatment), we’ll have overcome a lot of crap. Therefore my Southampton friends and hospital ought to be honoured. Happy Almost New Year everyone!

Fourteen chemotherapy treatments down. Two more to go.

I’ll write about radiotherapy this weekend, and maybe some other stuff too 🙂  but in a seperate post.