Just a quick update today because I’ve got things to do (translation: I’ve made the mistake of creating a World of Warcraft account) before I head back up to the hospital for another blood test this morning.
Yesterday my parents and I attended something referred to as a ‘Confirmation of Consent‘ meeting with my absolute babe of a Nurse Specialist, Theresa.
Sadly this wasn’t some sort of disruptive feminist workshop, but a medical appointment about chemotherapy. The point of the session is to run through your cancer treatment plan, its side effects and risks, answer any questions you may have and then finally get your permission to start poisoning you for your own benefit.
As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts, my treatment starts off with one of the roughest (but most effective) chemotherapies available, Escalated BEACOPP.
Fun side effects and risks include; increased risk of infections, bruising, nosebleeds, hairloss, weight gain (thanks, steroids), mood swings, sensitivity to sunlight, early onset menopause & infertility, mouth sores, inflammation of the lungs, damage to the heart and (my favourite) increased risk of future cancer. Hah. Oh and, of course, the risk that it might not work.
One thing that was really hammered home during the meeting was the fact that my immune system will become about as useful as a knitted condom. During chemotherapy my life can be put at risk by something as innocuous as the common cold, let alone a nastier infection.
This is because chemotherapy can prevent the bone marrow from producing enough healthy white blood cells (which fight off infections), and might even lead to something called Neutropenia. I won’t bore you with the details, but it boils down to the fact that I’m going to have to be obsessive about hygiene and avoiding infection for the next few months, lest I wind up in intensive care.
I must admit that I felt a bit shell-shocked after the meeting. I’m not sure whether every cancer patient feels slightly disconnected from the reality of the situation most of the time as I do, but there are certain moments in which it really hits home that you have a disease that could potentially kill you. This was one of those moments.
Still, there were some more constructive points during my appointment, a couple of which might be useful for readers to know about if you’re facing or supporting someone facing a cancer diagnosis.
- You should be given a super handy Chemotherapy Diary. This is a purpose-made little book (pictured below) packed full of useful information, contacts and space to add your own notes. Believe me, the plethora of appointments, medication and general information you’ll receive as a cancer patient can make you feel like you’re drowning, and so organisation is key.
The booklet also has a letter at the back of it which is to be presented to reception should you end up in A&E during your treatment, which you very well might due to the side effects of chemotherapy. It’s important to show it, because the staff will then ‘queue jump’ you to the front of the line to minimise your risk of catching an infection from anybody else there. #CancerPerk?
- Whoever is running your meeting should also give you an Irradiated Blood and Transplant Card to carry (again, see below). As explained this nifty PDF, irradiated blood is blood that has been treated with radiation (by x-rays or other forms of radioactivity) to prevent Transfusion-Associated Graft-versus-Host Disease (TA-GvHD).
TA-GvHD is a rare but serious (potentially deadly) complication of blood transfusion caused by white blood cells called lymphocytes in the transfused blood to which cancer patients (and in fact Hodgkin Lymphoma sufferers in particular) are more at risk. Get you one of these bad boys to carry round on your persons at all times, okay?