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!


Thank goodness this is getting easier. Yesterday, apart from a tryst with menopaus, went very well. Easy.

Quick aside: If you are unsure about whether to get a picc line, please let me state my opinion (this is in no way a professional opinion and yes, there are also some risks with a picc so please talk to your doctor before deciding): This picc line is amazing! The anxiety of searching for veins is gone, the anxiety of giving blood is gone, the anxiety of hospitalization followed by days worth of drips are gone. If you are having chemo, particularly any chemo known to irritate the veins like AC, and if you generally have small veins – I’d most certainly bring this subject up on your first consultation. Funny this idea is saved until the arm aches from a simple touch; in this case I think preventative medicine is the better approach (i.e. picc line), though of course more expensive to the health care system. But so is chemotherapy, so why not go ahead with what’s best for you? The picc line makes like easier. Show up, plug in, drip, unplug.

Yesterday morning I was punching things out once again, but it wasn’t having the same effect. Okay, yes, I’d feel better while punching, but afterwards the blanket of dread would fall back down. This anxiety lasted all the way into the chemo ward. I wanted to cry, to run away, to panic.

Behind the reception desk was the curly hair lead nurse. “There’s a bit of a wait, Catherine.” They know my name . . . “We’re about 45 minutes behind, so you can wait here or go off for a while.”

Given the choice of waiting in a chemo ward or going somewhere else, I will always choose to ‘go somewhere else’. We went back to the car and ate orange slices. And while I was waiting in the car, still full of my dread, I thought ‘this is the perfect time to cry’ so I spoke with Zsolt about all those sentimental things that I miss (e.g. Balaton bike rides and buying giant watermelons from the market) and let the tears work their way out.

Now I’m not saying this to complain, or because crying was so difficult – exactly opposite  — crying was easy, it was exactly what I needed to do. My emotions didn’t have a ‘reason’ for overspilling, and while poor Zsolt kept asking, “why are you so sad?”, I had no particular response. All I needed to do was cry. Sometimes the best thing a man can do is rub his wife’s back while she cries. Nothing needs to be fixed.

And after the crying I was another woman. The dread was lightened, and with the addition of sucking on orange slices for distraction, it eventually disappeared. I returned to the ward ready for chemotherapy.

In went the dopy drug and anti sickness; down went my head onto the pillow. I lay there for thirty minutes and thought ‘this isn’t so different from my acupuncture’.  Qing, my acupuncturist, often leaves me to rest while the heat lamp works it’s beautiful magic. So I imagined I was on her table with the blankets and the heat, and I did my best to meditate. Somehow that meditation turned into mentally dancing at the club with my friend Catherine – complete with disco ball and smoke machine, but the nurses were playing radio 2 in the background so I blame it on the pop music.

Zsolt sat close by reading Love in the time of cholera (but in Hungarian). And we waited.

Afterwards – drip of saline for five minutes, change of wrapping for my picc, then unplugging and done! Like I said, it was easy.

At this point I think it’s more the aftermath of chemo rather than the chemo itself that needs to be handled. Exhaustion comes and goes, along with my crazy emotions, and there are things to think about like food and cleaning and work – but I’m learning. I miss work if I’m too exhausted, I don’t cook unless necessary, and any cleaning only takes place when my body feels strong enough to manage.

Oh! The appointment with the doctor. Well, guess who is on vacation this week? 🙂 Fair enough, everyone deserve a vacation. Instead of seeing the lead oncologist I visted with another doctor. She’s quite nice, very smiley and wears cool black boots. The curl in her hair often fights back against the ponytails she pushes it into. Let’s call her Doctor Boots.

Not the lead oncologist, but still a very interesting visit. I asked her about my Christmas question and she said of course, they will always recommend the full treatment, but people do stop early and – very interestingly – she used to work at Portsmouth Hospital, and over there someone with my exact same situation would have been given about three weeks less treatment.

But,  as to which treatment is better, she couldn’t say. Apparently each hospital follows whatever approach they think best – but there aren’t any studies comparing the results of Portmouth Hospital’s shorter course of chemotherapy to Southampton Hospital’s slightly longer plan.  She can’t say which is better.

Bottom line once again: Do what you feel is best, because we can’t decide for you.

Well, I wish someone would! Doctors must be tied up in all kinds of legal obligations. They probably need to memorize a booklet called, “how not to be sued”.

Anyhow, no matter. It was an interesting conversation that helped me gain another perspective. Next week when I finally talk with the head fellow, I’ll have better questions to ask.

So there you have it. That was eight. Yay!

Getting a picc line

Finally I can write about the picc line. Here it is folks: having a picc line installed in your arm.

As you know, the consultant booked me in for the very next day – this whole thing was a whirlwind. Apparently she called the nurse who inserts the line and begged to add me to their list: ‘very persuasive’ said my picc nurse. Thank goodness for strong women with curly hair.

Zsolt and I arrived at radiology around 1.25, my appointment was for half past. Before we could sit down a short haired nurse appeared from the hallway and asked: are you Catherine Brunelle?

That’s my name, don’t wear it out.  (I didn’t actually say that)

‘Here you go, put this on.’

She gave me a robe – which I put on backwards at first – and I changed. It was a typical hospital gown with faded colours, thin strings, no coverage . . . anyhow, typical. Thank goodness I kept my jeans.

Next we (Nurse Picc, Zsolt and I) headed down a maze of white bright hallways till we reached a room filled with busy nurses. “We’ve got another list so we’re rushing now,” says the nurse. I nod despite not understanding.

Anyhow, the room where the picc line  is inserted has a very large machine as its centrepiece. This machine has a table, all kinds of cords and a giant circular x-ray camera thing, plus monitors on the side.

(All the while Zsolt has been with me. The nurse did say “and you’ll have to go when we start” but then I said, “Can’t he just stay for the needle?” and she caved. He was suited up with x-ray protection and allowed to hold my sweaty hand during the entire procedure.)

First: she scans my arm with an ultrasound and checks if my veins are accessible.  The ultrasound machine has this clear rubber piece that glides over your lubricated skin. The gel is cool, but the ultrasound is totally painless. Ultrasounds are the best; my number one pick for interior body scanning.

Second: Assuming a good vein is found, a tourniquet(?) is placed on the upper arm, and you are asked to lay on the table. Picc lines are generally inserted around the inner elbow or slightly higher, because the veins widen there.

Third: The nurse will sterilize the area – it smells like hydrogen peroxide. Have you ever used those bristle scrubbers to wash dishes? Well, think of that on your arm. Not painful, but very hygienic and smelly.

Fourth: Numbing the pain. (Zsolt came around the table to hold my hand as this all began.) The nurse has you lay out your arm on a side plank attached to the table. I looked away during this, but essentially a needle is given to numb the pain. This stings, but is most certainly worth it. Numb = good.

Fifth: It begins. Using the ultrasound the Nurse Picc is able to insert a catheter into the choosen vein. Then it’s all down to stringing in the line. I didn’t feel too much, but apparently some people feel a bit of pressure as the tube moves along.

Sixth: Tube in place, an x-ray is taken of the chest area. When I say x-ray, I mean a video. Zsolt could see my heart pumping on the monitor (he has seen way too much of me now. . . my bones, my heart, my guts . . . not so romantic.) and the nurses used this to judge whether the line is in place.

Seven: Wrapping up. Literally. My arm was insulated from the outside with layers of bandages and gaze, which needs to be changed every week. This past friday I had the dressings refreshed, and the nurse laughed at how much they’d put on. Now I have less – much less – and can actually see my arm.

So that is it. Following insertion I went right to chemo, which is an entirely different story I’m not ready to write about, however, the picc line worked very well. No sore veins!

And that is the story of picc.