Once the worst of the vomiting from this second round subsides I no sooner start to relax when I discover another delight of chemotherapy, one that had been alluded to in the various ‘side effects’ literature but I had not previously had the pleasure to encounter. Hello constipation! And who knew how uncomfortable a condition that could be? I suppose I had got away lightly in the first round as I had been having the marvellous smoothies. Also, I had taken some Senna tablets, in fact I asked the specialist nurse if it was okay for me to do so and she had replied, “yes, in fact I’d recommend it”, though at no point had done so…. If I sound a bit grumbly at this point, I apologise. I do understand the huge pressure the NHS is under, I understand the chronic underfunding they are battling against and I know how hard the individual staff are working. I suppose my gripe is I would have found it very helpful to have a short chat with someone about some of these likely side effects and options to minimise their effects or at least be prepared when they occur? For the 30 minutes or so the chemo is dripped in a nurse sits with you, perhaps this could be a good time to discuss some of these issues, talk about remedies, warning signs, how to help yourself prevent the worst onslaughts?
In fairness the hospital has a Big C centre that I could be visiting and I’m sure I’d get lots of answers and advice there but I’m only ever at the hospital for my chemo treatment and somehow I’ve not felt up to wandering over there to ask questions that I don’t know I need to ask. Anyway, in the event, once I am at the stage where the cramp in my stomach has left me so snappy that the family can bear me no longer, David calls our GP, the ever-wonderful Dr Duthie, who immediately prescribes some sachets for David to collect for me and books me in to come in for a visit.
The sachets themselves are for regular aid for mild constipation or in high dosage for the charmingly described “faecal impaction”. And guess which camp I’m in! I start the treatment – nothing. I take the second dose that night – still nothing shifting. And on the third try…. Hallelujah! Houston, we have lift off! The relief, the sweet relief tempered slightly by a minor new problem. Whereas previously I was desperate to fart in order to release some air, now I am petrified of farting, lest more than air escape me… But after a settling period I feel so, so much better.
At the GP appointment we talk through my experiences thus far with Dr Duthie. He suggests some measures to help alleviate the worst of the side effects. For the next round, he advises I start to take the anti-sickness pill Ondansetron, a day in advance of the infusion of chemo to help prevent the vomiting from starting. In addition he will let the District Nurse know that I may need an anti-sickness injection over the weekend, hopefully to avoid any need for me to be driven to Norwich, vomiting into a bowl. As Ondansetron is itself a notorious constipator, I should have a sachet of the bowel livener a day while I take it. I feel immensely cheered by this meeting with its actual plan of action. That feeling of taking back some control, however illusory, for me is the best medicine.