Falling off the edge of chemo…
Chemo is done. Completed. Finito. Hurrah. I had the last shot in the arm a couple of weeks ago and finished my subsequent two weeks of tablets a few days ago. Such a relief.
Oh, but there is a strange thing that happens post-chemo – or, more accurately, doesn’t happen. I’ve mentioned in a previous post the dire warnings one receives before starting chemo: the possible infections (soon my surreptitious antibac habit can be consigned to the handbag of history); the sore mouth (kiddies toothbrush only, no flossing); tingling and sore hands and feet; dietary restrictions (bit like a pregnancy diet – no cured meats or fish, runny egg yolks, paté, shellfish, cream or blue cheese etc). You’re even issued with your own thermometer. I’m not sure mine worked properly: when I took my temperature it always seemed to be exactly the same. Or maybe I’m just thermally stable!
A fellow chemo imbiber confessed at round two of the six-month long chemo experience that she’d been unable to resist a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. Was I jealous? Oh, yes! But I was simultaneously full of anxiety for her. Your chemotherapy record book contains a terrifying traffic light chart – repeated every other page just to drum the dangers home (and, no doubt, to help you find it easily in your chemo-induced befuddlement)!
So you live with the fear for six months. And then? Well, then nothing. At my last IV session, I asked my chemo nurse when I might resume a normal diet. She gave it some thought and suggested that I wait for two weeks after what would have been my next IV chemo date. ‘Hmmm, okay,’ I said. ‘So then I can sit down to chicken liver paté, followed by a huge plate of fruits de mer?’ ‘Maybe reintroduce things one at a time,’ she replied. ‘You know, take it steady’. I remembered my brother being told after he’d had his wisdom teeth extracted that he could resume a normal diet straight away. In his early 20s’ mind this equated with immediately eating a family bag of dry roasted peanuts. His gums have never been the same. I decided to heed the nurse’s advice on diet and seek her input on taking up flossing my teeth again. ‘Ooooh,’ came the reply. ‘Leave that a bit longer. Say, six or eight weeks.’
I’m really glad I asked these questions because otherwise, how would you know? Not for the first time in NHS world, I wondered why there isn’t a handy checklist available for the overworked nurses to hand out – so that you can read it at your leisure and ask questions later if necessary.
Post-chemo life is a work in progress, but I am so grateful to all the nurses for their care and attention, as well as to my fellow chemo patients who have entertained and encouraged me along the way. I am also truly relieved that chemo is over for me.