I was honoured but nervous when Annet said that I could come with her to her final chemo...
The last time I had anything to do with chemo was when I took my dad to be administered chemo and it was not a nice experience. Partly because he could only have a few sessions as his cancer was too advanced and nothing more could be done (but he insisted on trying)... and partly because we sat in a big room, in chairs, with so many other people having chemo at the same time. It felt like a 'factory'. I can remember my dad being angry at everyone... I think he was frustrated with the situation. He was sick and could not do anything about it. And... being used to always being in charge of quite a lot of people, he was never used to just having to sit down for an hour, doing nothing... So this all frustrated him while he argued with passers by. It was an awful situation as I can recall just wanting to pick him up and carry him out there but also desperately wanting him to get better. I can't help but smile when thinking about him getting angry at the world... As the wonderful man that my father was... at times... he was well known as an 'angry man' and I... would not dare cross him :)
My experience with Annet... was VERY different.
The ward where I met Annet was small and private and didn't have a free flow of people and personnel. The nurses were so friendly and they took their time to speak to all the patients and the empathy in the manner... was clear.
Annet had already had a few sessions by the time I went with her and she seemed to know most of the other ladies having their chemo sessions at the same time. It seems as though their regular treatments were in sync. The atmosphere was very different than what I was used to, it was private... lighthearted and the ladies there were joking with each other. It was a humbling and heartwarming experience.
Annet had 2 types of chemo during her treatment. For the first (AC kuren), she needed 4 sessions. She told me that she felt quite curious as to how it would go...
Would the needle for the drip be applied easily? (She's had issues in the past)
How would it feel?
How would I react to the treatment? etc.
Annet had her first chemo session on 11 June 2015. Annet referred to this as the 'red cure'. She explained to me that 'A' in 'AC' was red and that she could feel and see the red liquid go into her body. She said that it felt cold and it was a strange feeling to allow your body to be pumped with the poison... which will save you. She also said that it was absorbed so fast, that she could immediately notice the red in colouring in her urine.
During the 'first cure', all of her hair fell out. She told me that this was the cure with the most side-effects. She became very tired and didn't feel well at all throughout and food... tasted like iron.
It was during Annet's second chemo session, that it took one hour for the needle to be placed correctly for the chemo to be administered. This was something which Annet had been worried about all along...
The decision was made to place a 'Portacath' as quickly as possible. Annet said that once it was placed, it was a GREAT relief and that the placing of the needle then went much quicker and easier.
For the second type of chemo (Taxolkuren), Annet was required to have 12 sessions. She had the second type of chemo weekly and said that the side effects she experienced with this cure, were less.
Even though this cure caused less stress, it had it's own side effects...
Annet still got really tired (but luckily not as much as with the first set of chemo). But... the worst was... that Annet started having a numb feeling to her toes and the balls of her feet. I can imagine that this must have been really scary...
She said that she had no pain and that it was a side-effect of this type of chemo and that it's called 'Neuropathy'. Luckily it had nothing to do with blood flow, it was the nerves that were being affected.
She said that she still suffers from this... today.
Due to the numbness which Annet was experiencing in her feet, she had to wait for the feeling to return, before she could continue with chemo. This meant that she had to miss two weeks of treatment...
When they continued the treatment, they started with 75% of the normal dose and the numbness in her feet returned immediately...
After waiting for a week again, they decided (after a discussion with the oncologist) that they will not continue with this cure.
Annet had one final treatment of the 'AC kuur' (the first type of chemo) and then stopped.
So instead of 16 sessions (4 x AC and 12 x Taxol) she had completed 13 sessions instead (5 x AC and 8 x Taxol).
I asked Annet if her experience was what she expected it to be, and this is what she said:
"Ik wist dat ik mijn haar ging verliezen. Ook dat ik zeker van de AC kuren misselijk kon worden. Ook dat mijn eetlust minder kon worden. Alles uit zou drogen, Mond, Darmen etc. Ik heb hier idd ook allemaal last van gehad. En ook aften in de mond, die ik idd ook gehad heb.
Die uitdroging van het maagdarm kanaal en van mijn lippen en mijn mond heb ik nog steeds helaas.
Ook de vermoeidheid wist ik. De oncologieverpleegkundige Miriam heeft me echt goed voorbereid wat dat betreft.
Je hoopt altijd dat dingen jouw deur voorbij gaan. Soms kwam ik iemand tegen die weinig of geen last had van de chemo's. Dus dat kan. Bij mij was dat niet het geval helaas."
Annet said that regardless of being informed of all that 'could' happen, you still have no idea if this is applicable to you or what to expect from the treatment and what it is that you would find the most difficult. You are given so much medication to help prevent you feeling sick and even get tablets to take when you are at home.
The first couple of days after her first chemo, Annet didn't feel so bad due to the medication she got in hospital. Which is why Annet even went to her cousins birthday on the other side of the country as she thought she'd just carry on with her normal everyday business. But... it didn't turn out that well...
Too long in the car... too many people... too much overall...
The days after this visit Annet felt terrible and couldn't do anything. She was tired, had no strength and didn't want to eat. It was a big learning curve.... After that, she took it easy in the days following her chemo and told me that she even took her breakfast in bed.
Annet found it frustrating that she reacted differently after each of the first 4 chemo sessions. She couldn't really prepare for how she would feel and never knew what to expect.
Annet is thankful for the caring hospital staff who made this whole emotional experience so much easier.
Annet wanted to give a special thanks to her sister and brother-in-law. They made it possible for Annet and her family to get away to the seaside for a quick holiday between the 3rd and the 4th chemo sessions. Annet wasn't able to help with the setting up of the caravan and the tent so her sister volunteered to come and help for a few days. When Annet and her husband were ready to pack up.... her sister again... came all the way (with her oldest grandson) and they all had a day on the beach together.
It's these moments with the people you care for the most... which are so incredibly priceless...
I would like to give my thanks to the kind nurses with their wonderful manner when dealing with these exceptional people who are facing such great challenges.
And a huge thank you to the ladies I met that day at Ward 13, who together with Annet, reminded me that we should all laugh more.
Thank you :)