Chemo Diary #5 Nov15

Christmas time and the New Year are generally times most folk look forward to. We anticipate the pleasant times to come, spent with friends or family, we buy the presents, send the cards, decorate the Christmas tree, adding greenery and tinsel around the home to promote a festive theme and generally stock up with a few special goodies like fresh brazils, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. A tin of chocolates, and shortbread, an iced Christmas cake, satsumas and mandarins. We may buy or make, mince pies, pickled onions, red cabbage, beetroot and piccalilli. For most it is a time of plenty and a sharing time together. 

When we are not so well, it is often difficult to enjoy the celebrations, which is a shame, though alas, a fact, but most will soldier on regardless, I believe it will be similar to the experiences of many in our bowel cancer group, who are probably the ones who truly appreciate the fact that we are here at all, sometimes against all eventualities and expectations, and to be able to take part in the celebrations. So I think I feel, that those in this situation, in a way, take most away and appreciate the joys and friendship of Christmas time, more than most. 

I was one of the ones who was not too well before and through Christmas time but still was determined to do and enjoy it, in the best way I could. I always say that if I waited to feel fully fit and well, I would never achieve anything, nor join in anything socially again. Life is too short for that, so I try to go that extra mile in effort to join in, and normally it works out well, and much pleasure is derived from different company, and different occasions.  
A lot of my problems recently, have stemmed from the side effects of chemotherapy, a course of treatment which has almost reached its` completion, at present. The two main problems have been, as many of you will have experienced, volatile and unpredictable bowel movements, transforming from forceful, persistent diarrhoea to incredibly resistant constipation in a matter of hours.

The other problematic symptom is fatigue and tiredness, which I can never seem to assuage, however much sleep and rest I have taken.

The trick is, how to take part in Christmas time and New Year or any other social occasion, whilst dealing with health problems, is to take some quiet time out every now and then. If you are in your own home and you have family around, it is so much easier to do this, a quick forty winks can do wonders and of course the family will understand. 
I think if you have been the very active type as I was, a self- starter, regularly up working just after dawn, for most of our working lives, we find it difficult to adapt, but adapt we must. So all the shopping had been done over the weeks before Christmas, leaving only the fresh items last on the list to be done.

The plans were to attend the funeral of an old gent in our village church, which is so close, it has pride of place view, from our small conservatory. 

The church was packed, it was a cordial service. The elderly gent almost ninety, had lived in the village, man and boy, and in his latter years after retirement, walked up and down the hill which runs up through our village, to open the lovely ancient church, for the public, and then in the evening, walked up, to lock the church up.

This was on the day before Christmas Eve. The plan was to make the mince pies after the church service, so it got as far as Phil and I measuring the ingredients for the pastry, then making the pastry. Activities I used to run in, two at a time, now have changed into Two Man Jobs! Mince pies are always a fiddle, but far better homemade, than shop bought ones. 
Then the doorbell rung out, we looked at each, not expecting visitors, but it was a friendly neighbour bearing a Christmas present. We don`t generally leave friends on the door step, so an hour and a half later, and a glass of sherry, or two, a good gossipy chat (Phil joins in too), and much laughter, the neighbour departed, ruddy faced, and we were left with mince pie pastry, It was decided to wrap the pastry in cling film and refrigerate it till the next day.
 …….and so Christmas Eve came, last minute shopping done early in the morning, mince pies completed and cooked, I prepared a Hungarian Goulash, placed in the slow cooker, for supper, easy to cook, nice with rice and soured cream. Phil collected his mum for a stay over Christmas, and our daughter and grand- daughter who live nearby, arrived to prepare the veg for the next day. That was all soon completed, so festive table cloth on table, the one newly acquired from Trago Mills, red and white covered with festive reindeer and Christmas trees on, (with matching apron), was laid, accompanied by “Santa” festive paper Napkins and crackers.
…. So at 6 o`clock in the morning, on Christmas Day, the alarm rings out beside my bed, and I do what I`ve done for most of my grown up years, go carefully and quietly down the stairs, place turkey in large roasting tin, cover with butter and tin foil, then manoeuvre carefully into heated oven. Hands washed and back to bed to rise at a more respectable hour. Note to me :  Next Christmas ask Phil to wrestle the turkey into the oven! I can`t manage that any longer!
Phil made a morning cup of tea and gave his mum one with whisky in….that`s what she likes best first thing on Christmas morning! My old Nan liked whisky in her tea as she grew older, but on a more frequent basis….coughs, colds, feeling not so good days! She lived till she was 88! Phil`s mum is 90!
So the family came, there were seven of us, and Christmas Day lunch was prepared and cooked by many willing hands, with” lists of to do”, here,” times for this and that” there……. Christmas pudding steaming, bread sauce steeping in milk, onion, cloves, peppercorns and bay leaves, turkey roasting, fresh herby stuffing made……… now all these lovely Christmas smells and fragrancies coming together, filling the house gloriously. The two grandchildren, now both in their early teens, opening presents, on the carpet by the Christmas tree, with everyone looking on. It was a lovely time!

…….and so just after Christmas, we had made plans to travel to Herefordshire to gather together with my brother and sister, nephews and nieces. We stayed in a Travel lodge type hotel very nearby to my sister`s house as she was already “full”, but when you don`t feel one hundred percent, and you suffer with unpredictable bowel movements, it is often the best option to take, in staying in a nearby hotel. It`s benefits lie in having a quiet, private place to retire to and also essentially having private en-suite bathroom. Indeed I was very grateful for this arrangement as I didn`t feel up to very much at all. So I was able to pace myself and enjoy the time with our family, when I felt well enough to.

…. And so I managed to catch mum in law`s cough and chest virus which she had developed over Christmas, and seems to be very common at present, so when we reached home, I was pleased to settle down again with home comforts, and the peace and quiet of my own surroundings, and relax a little more.

I had an appointment for my sixth and final chemotherapy, on Tuesday 5 January, but as I still had the bad cough, I thought I would phone the chemotherapy unit at North Devon Hospital to see whether I should attend for the treatment. The nurse quizzed me about my temperature, which I didn`t know and had never thought of taking. So with newly acquired thermometer from Lidl, we put the thermometer to good use. Oh! 39.1 degrees centigrade, it said. It said on my Chemotherapy Alert card that a temperature above 38 degrees centigrade may mean the patient be at risk of neutropenic sepsis. This condition I discovered has to be treated without delay as it can be life threatening.  Anyone on chemotherapy treatment should be fully aware of neutropenic sepsis.
Neutropenic Sepsis, is caused by an abnormally low concentration of white blood cells, the bodies` fighters against infection in the body. The body is unable to fight infection with very low white blood cells and so any kind and all kinds of infections can develop quickly.
The chemotherapy nurse on the phone said she would telephone my GP surgery to get my bloods done as soon as possible. The surgery, because it was one of the first opening days after Christmas and New Year, couldn`t do it, so the nurse advised me to go to A&E at Barnstaple or Derriford. Barnstaple is where I have my treatment and see the oncologist, it is at least one and a half hours drive away, Derriford is forty five minutes, so we drove to Derriford. 

I was seen very quickly and blood tests were done without delay. I was given doses of antibiotics, even before the tests were through. The treatment there was highly professional. It turned out that I had to stay in, although I never had expected to.

The next day, after a very sleepless night, a night of comings and goings, lights on, lights off, and all that unavoidably goings on in a hospital ward at night, the doctors eventually told me that I didn`t have neutropenic sepsis, my blood counts were normal, temperature had gone back to normal, blood pressure OK. 
So Phil picked me up, it was drawing in evening then, I was glad to be going home to my own bed.  

I had undergone the fifth chemotherapy on the 8 December, which took all day, as so many nurses had apparently phoned in sick. There is nothing to do but just be patient and wait your turn. These things happen. Everyone was in the same boat, and the large new waiting room was packed out.

The final chemotherapy should take place on Tuesday 12 January, so hopefully all will go to plan.

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