Between round two and three I have a scan. I’m very used to head MRI scans. I imagine I’ve had at least twenty in my life and I’m pretty good at relaxing through them. But the last couple proved more problematic. When they do an MRI, they do an initial set of pictures, usually lasting about half an hour, then you come out, but keeping your head completely still they inject the contrast fluid in via a canular. This is vital because it highlights any cancer cells and gives a much clearer picture on the resulting scans.
The problem is that for my last two scans I had an adverse reaction as soon as the contrast went in. The first time I felt nauseous, the next I full on barfed, though held it in long enough to go in the cardboard hat, I’m not a total animal! I had discussed this problem with Dr. P. who agreed I was developing a sensitivity to the chemical but she had prescribed steroids to be taken, I assume to counteract the reaction. The second problem is the difficulty of me and canular insertion. My boring fine, deep veins have resisted the best efforts of many a medical punt. I have been through countless occasions of having one staff after another having their couple of “sharp scratch” attempts before seeking someone ‘more experienced’ to have a bash. This is exacerbated in your average scan situation by a) the fact you’re lying down and b) its usually freezing cold in the MRI room. And while I usually try gamely to play along, after all, they’ve got to practise on someone, in these scan situations I find myself getting more distressed, despite my best efforts. I think because the stakes seem so high. This scan is going to give me an idea of whether or not the chemo is doing what we hope. Although I have a Portacath to get around this problem, unfortunately the radiology team are not trained to use a port so canular is the only way.
But this time I was forearmed. I had discussed the problem with Hannah, who, God love her, had arranged for me to come into the Colney Centre and they would pop a canular in for me. No offence, scan kids but the Oncology team can just do this stuff better! Well, it still took two people two failed attempts before the Granddaddy of canular input did it but they were really nice about it… The trouble, I think, from my vaulted position of never having had to do it to another person myself, is that you really have to just go for it. It is inevitable that the victim will wince but you have to be bold and keep on shoving that needle in. Easy for me to say, I can’t even get a pill into the dog, and she’s a Labrador, they’re supposed to eat anything. Canular inserted I have my scan and there is no reaction to the contrast so the steroids did their trick. Only a few days to wait to find out the result.
We are meeting Dr. P. before I have round three. There are no delays, it seems the reduction in dose and the injections to boost white cell production have had the desired effect and I can be zapped that day. I realised before the meeting that I’ve never actually asked the question, “What are we hoping to achieve with the chemo?” I think this has been sub-consciously deliberate. Back in 2003 when I was battling so hard, chemo was very much the last-ditch saloon and then I’d swerved it, inevitably my expectations of what it can do are pretty low. But the conversation now has to be had. As we’d guessed, the aim of the chemo is to keep the tumour stable for as long as is possible. But there is good news! The scan shows the tumour has reduced. It seems my tumour is as sensitive to the chemo as my stomach is. This is definitely news to help me get through the next rounds.
This is just as well because it seems the cumulative effects are having a greater impact. This round makes me even sicker, despite the earlier start on anti-sickness medication and the addition of a new powerful drug. I am sicker than ever. I can’t stop being sick and we are worried about the fact that I can’t possibly take my chemo pill. David has to get an on-call doctor out. This lovely lady travels out to me, a journey of over an hour, on a pouring wet, dark night. She gives me an injection, reassures David that I can take the chemo in the morning and heads back on her long journey. There had been a nearer doctor, in Norwich, but he couldn’t get out to me for a couple more hours and she hadn’t wanted me left that long. Once again, I am humbled by the kindness of a stranger and her commitment to her vocation. I’m guessing she was Spanish or Portuguese, certainly from Continental Europe, like so many others who have cared for me during my spells in hospital. Once again, I wonder what will happen after Brexit and why this country has chosen to send out such an inhospitable message…