Hmmm now here is something different, and boy (sorry girls) this really shook my foundations . . . My first walk into the Chemo environment.
In my pre chemo interview I caught a glimpse of the Chemo room as the trial nurse Erin escorted me down a long hallway to be weighed and have my blood pressure measured. What I saw as we walked by, was 5 or 6 blue recliners . . . a little intimidating and had me feeling a little like my primary school days memory of the ‘Dental Clinic’ . . . I could almost smell it.
Well the reality came the very next Tuesday as Claire and I walked in for my first treatment . . . 5 or 6 chairs …WOW it was more like 50! and they were all full . . . this is scary stuff . . . I am no longer the only person in the world with cancer! A new reality had hit me like a ton of bricks, and I did not like it one bit . . .
The Chemo Environment
I have to say at first I felt that the atmosphere, had me feeling a little like another cow being herded into the cattle stocks . . . yes it was scary and overwhelming . . . this large environment was full of people just like me, and they were all seated or lying down, with tubes and wires seemingly running everywhere . . . some were totally zoned out but many wore their pain or life story on their faces. The Chemotherapy wing of Level 4 in the Joyce Tweddle building, is a unique world of blue recliners, tubes, machines and nurses scurrying in every direction, a very confronting and intimidating introduction for a ‘green-horn” like me and the realisation that this is a place that I would now be spending a lot of time in, over the next 6 months.
I did learn very quickly that below the surface of my fellow chemosabies and their pained faces lay a treasure trove of very unique and robust personalities, talents and experiences that can only inspire you . . . all I had to do was say ‘gidday’ with a smile and “Bobs your Uncle” and the door to this treasure trove opened . . . It’s a no brainer really, after all we were all in the same boat one way or another! My fears began to give way to the magic personalities and bravery that lights up this special place, a place that is filled with the most ‘ALIVE’ people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting . . . and yes Natalie and Adam, I am thinking of you guys as I tap out these words on my keyboard . . . you both have really challenged me on who I am in the most positive way possible.
I guess the big stand out to emerge out of all this new chaos, was how quickly I assimilated, and made friends with both my fellow chemosabies and the nurses who so attentively looked after all of us.
It is so easy to be negative and so hard to be positive, yet it is still our choice . . . I guess getting cancer takes you to that edge, it’s an edge that crystalise’s vision and choices in life. The choice for me was easy, but being positive is much more than just a word, “Positivity” is an infectious byproduct of our primary thinking and actions . . . it’s tied to how we project a willingness to be open and optimistic in moving forward, no matter the challenge . . . this is what I could see in both Natalie and Adam . . .
Its probably at this point I should mention this amazing bloke called Cliff . . . Cliff wheels around the tea cart loaded up with tea, coffee, egg sandwiches, cakes, and chocolate bars (and much more) . . . what a bright light Cliff is. Here is a bloke that is fully loaded with good old fashioned ‘jockularity’ and a memory like an elephant, to go with his unique wit. Cliff washes over all in his path with his very own unique chorus, much like the animated ‘Town Cryers of old’ with lyrics sculpted straight off the cart of goodies . . . Cliff you bolster our spirit . . . long live King Cliff !!! Even when I couldn’t eat much, I still looked forward to Cliff’s mobile food show full of banter and goodies.
Ps…Egg Sammies seem to be a prize catch in hospital!
Level 4 of the ‘Joyce Tweddle Building’ of Royal Brisbane & Womens Hospital (RB&WH) a special place where ‘hope and reality’ combine forces, to lift us above and beyond.
The whole team that have looked after me at Royal Brisbane & Womens Hospital are truly amazing. I still haven’t figured out how such a large hospital can consistently pull off in unison such a professional caring and curative culture . . . it just blows me away and I can’t thank and endorse them enough with just mere words . . . BUT A MASSIVE THANK YOU FROM MYSELF AND CLAIRE.
What did chemo do to me?
Yes it smashed me for 5 out of the 7 days every week, including the week off.
It was very very hard, I found it debilitating all consuming and painful, leaving me glued helplessly to bed or the couch for 12 hour stretches. I didn’t so much sleep, it was more like a semi conscious moaning type of experience that hurt every fibre of my being . . . I was like a motionless drone almost living an out of body experience at times . . . sitting up was for the birds . . . it was just to hard. I cannot believe I did this for 6 months. Yes for me it was a continually painful experience washing and swirling throughout my body, leaving me weaker than I could ever have imagined. I did try very hard to keep up a routine where I would get out of bed at 6am, shower, (& showering was a marathon effort) dress well, and go for coffee everyday (no lazing around in PJ’s) . . . yip this was a mission, but I felt it was very important for me to set a standard no matter what. When I was up and about I always seemed to be in a distant place, a bit like an outer body type experience . . . very weird and hard to explain . . . at times when I was talking it seemed as if I was telegraphing my words down a pipeline to my earthling self on the ground.
The best day was chemo day (Tuesday’s). It seemed so cruel that my best day of the week – Tuesday was also the day of my next infusion . . . why was it my best day? . . . on Tuesday’s (the 7th day from my last chemo hit) I began to feel half human again, I felt like I could eat something other than my total diet of oranges, ice cream and chocolate . . . Yes that was my staple diet for 6 months . . . anything sugary was acceptable, everything else was out. I loved broccoli and green smoothies prior to chemo but unfortunately all vegetables, meat, bread, butter . . . anything non sweet was off the menu, I couldn’t even face the thought of it let alone the smell. I raised this subject with both my surgeons and Matt my oncologist and my concern that sugar is been painted as cancer promoting . . . My bloods however had a different take on all this anti sugar sentiment, and actually remained very good throughout my 6 months of chemo. Interestingly enough you would think being on a high sugar diet that you would stack on the weight . . . but instead I continued to loose weight despite this sugar dense diet. For anyone reading this, I will reinforce that I did not choose to eat a mono high sugar diet . . . It was either sugar or nothing. My surgeons and oncologists main concern was that I eat and maintain weight even if that meant eating as I was.
There were a few times that I protested that I couldn’t do this anymore . . . but it seemed that all I needed to do was vent my feelings out loud and hear my own voice, as that re-engaged my fortitude and I pulled up my socks and got on with it . . . I never told Matt, that there was a couple of times that I had vented on the motorway . . . where I was telling Claire to turn the car around, Ive had enough! but magically when the words came out, I kicked myself back into gear and on I marched.
Chemo is very very tough and ignorance for me was blissful, as I marched headlong into this challenge without any real knowledge . . . but yes knowing what I know now, I would do it again if I had to, as pain is a small price to pay for a shot at extending my life . . . I have a responsibility to Claire, Zach and Georgia, and also to myself, to stick around and fulfil my marriage vowels, my Dad duties (my Dad died in front of me when I was 29 yrs old) and explore my unfulfilled potential . . . Kids need their Dad, something positive to follow, a torch to their heritage, besides I also have quiet a few friends that I need to stick around for . . . especially because there are a few cycling buddies that still owe me a tow!
And what about the Chemo brain?
Now this is an excuse ridden subject . . . I had never heard this term before, but I was about to become far more aware of it and what it mean’t. Yes I had the headaches followed by the descending fog and the large gaps that invaded my otherwise great recall and memory . . . forgetting peoples names and words coming out all befuddled . . . shit did I just say that? . . . a little bit grumpy, mainly at myself, but there were also times when I had an attitude that came out of nowhere, for example . . . “Don’t you know that I have cancer . . . give me a break!” Yes it would seem that chemo brain is a real thing. My attention span was shot, I couldn’t read anything let alone use the mobile phone, and sitting upright was just to confusing . . . lying down and closing my eyes was the only place where I could hide.
Thank God for Showers
No I am not religious . . . but you know what I mean (I hope). Chemo has a habit of breaking you down emotionally and, I found showers were a great place to go and let it all out . . . and trust me there were days where I had a lot of showers (could have been a Guinness Records?) I definitely kept Claire busy with all those wet towels! (As if she needed more work to do.) Why the shower? . . . The shower was a great place to wash away all those unwanted tears, that unleashed leaving me like a blubbering idiot. In the shower I just felt more secure and comfortable under the umbrella of hot streaming water in a steamy cubicle. It was always a significant physical effort to get there, as the strength that I required to get in and out of the shower plus dry myself was huge and exhausting . . . but it was a great outlet and it did get me up and away from the long periods on the couch.
And thank God for Dark Sunglasses and a fast acting Wife
As I have mentioned I made an effort every day to go out first thing in the morning, and as often as I could on my own . . . I tried hard to reestablish my independence and prove to Claire that I would not be a liability any longer than need be. It was my public appearances that scared me the most, as I was looking thinner and thinner, greyer in complexion and physically very weak . . . yes I know that people noticed, and I noticed that they noticed . . . of course everyone told me how well I was doing and how great I looked . . . hmmm “Big Fat Liars” . . . ha ha . . . I was onto them and accepted their very well intentioned and gracious motivations. BUT for me, the biggest challenge was keeping myself together emotionally . . . this was bloody tough, with many times, and when I least expected it, I found myself falling apart and uncontrollably beginning to weep, I lost my poise and my self control . . . I had an out pouring from who knows where! Thank God for Claire and Dark sunglasses, Claire would help me pull myself together and get me back home to safety. This is all just part of the chemo deal, and was a huge learning curve for me.
Our Tuesday Schedule . . .
A military styled exercise timed down to the minute