Chemo Two, yesterday, offered a bit of a change of scene.
Last time I was in the Harley Street Clinic ward on Weymouth Street. This time I was in the day care centre on the first floor of a building round the corner in Harley Street. The buildings are connected by a rabbit warren of passageways and there are double staircases just to confuse you and make you feel like you're in some sort of Escher painting.
But it is a place where I know I'll find the welcoming face of my day care nurse. I've met her several times before, for blood tests last week and other routine stuff. It increasingly amazes me how much difference a smiley persson can make to this whole process and she is definitely one of the good guys. Ironically, later on that morning, I'm telling her about the whole Aubrey Bristow experience and she acknowledges that he may be brilliant as a surgeon, but she has heard his bedside manner's not up to much.
I arrive at 11, and have to face the portocath needle insertion. It's a long thick needle which has to be plunged into the centre of the portocath which sits just under my skin above my left breast. Last time I had Chemo it was inserted while I was under local anasthetic and sedation. This time, all the numbing I've had is from the Emla cream I was issued with. I was instructed to rub the cream on the area an hour before.
The job of sticking the needle in is offered to another staff nurse, a quiet Asian man who says very little. Several people ask him whether or not he's 'comfortable' doing this. Inside I'm panicking. Does this mean he's new to the procedure? Do I have the balls to stop him and ask for someone for experienced?
He looks nervous, and is hovering around preparing a tray full of items. He darts backwards and forwards to the desk and repeatedly checks what's in his tray in a way which borders on the obsessive. He really doesn't look like he's comfortable with this.
But when it comes down to it, he's not half bad. He twitches and prods and pokes to find the right spot and telling me to breath deeply when he inserts the needle. He's prodding for so long that by the time he gets round to it I'm panting like a well-fed labrador after a long run. But it distracts me enough, and the Emla cream seems to have done it's job, so that when he does the deed, it barely hurts. I can feel it, but boy is it better than being stabbed for a cannula.
So he takes some bloods, gives me the long cotton bud thing to swish around my nostrils to check for MRSA, and I'm sent on my way to see my oncologist.
Dr Alison Jones is another one of the good guys. We talk through my side effects, which involves discussion of constipation, burping, heartburn, stool consistency, pubic hair loss, balding etc. It's so downright base, and I'm not one for dressing things up, so we are constantly laughing only the way women can when discussing very private bodily functions. When I get to the bit about my pubes falling out, and desrcibe how I still look quite normal from the front but the 'undercarriage' is bare, she is laughing her head off. She confesses how funny she thinks I am and describes how a slightly more formal patient last week described herself as having a 'lady garden'. Which then cracks both of us up for a good five minutes.
Well, put it this way, my lady garden won't need pruning for a while. And I last shaved my legs and armpits last Thursday morning so there are some benefits.
Back down to the Day Care Centre and smiley nurse starts my chemo off. Usual system as before but some subtle differences. The drug that made me prickle inside and have the world's worst ants in my pants last time is apparently the Dexamethasone (not the Ondansetron as the last nurse told me). Smiley nurse says she can always tell when people get this reaction because she sees them squirming in their seat. So the Dex is now given as a bag, rather than pushed in with a syringe. This apparently dilutes its and lets it literally seep in, drip by drip, so I don't get the same reaction as last time. Which is a relief.
I get the Lorezepam given as a half dose, also by IV (not as a pill). Dr Jones knows of my issues to come off it and is keen to help me stay off it. For this week's bout of steroids she has given me some alternative, less addictive sleeping pills...
Then onto the epirubicin and at some point R arrives, rucksack on his back, fresh (or not so fresh) off the coach from Hereford. Immediately the mood is lighter and he's joking and distracting me and I barely notice the rest of the treatment. He reads this occasionally, and I don't want his head to swell too much, but he does make a huge difference.
Back home and we rest, eat, watch Bad Santa and the last episode of Peep Show. I feel very faintly nauseous but it never amounts to much. I pop several of this cycle's pills, and we head to bed.
But only once I've hoovered all my hair off the sheets and pillows.