Having been diagnosed with cancer one spends very little time considering the treatment plan to be applied. Let’s face it; we all want to live a long, preferably healthy life. So the purpose of any disease management/treatment plan would be to achieve this aim. Since no one really knows their end date, we hope that any and all efforts would almost delay this end date to a time we all consider reasonable.
When I first learnt of my diagnosis, the news came with a natural inkling to rely on the medical practitioners for a treatment plan. This inevitably meant medical science would be a great dependency for me. Little did I know, in days to come, I would be flooded with advice regarding alternative solutions. “Boil this plant with that plant and drink once a day”, “mix this, that and the other and drink on an empty stomach”, “smoke weed bru!”, “cannabis oil works, uncle so-and-so is still alive because of it” … and so the suggestions continued from individuals who were sincere and convinced their proposals work.
I had no qualms getting into a treatment plan sooner than later.
Chemotherapy was the most natural selection for me; even though in hindsight, I can’t recall actually sitting still and making this decision; the progression was natural. Up until this stage, I had no cooking clue how chemotherapy happened. I knew about it because it was directly associated with the big “C” but how it’s done was foreign to me. What I did know about chemo was that it makes people sick, dog sick! Or so the people without cancer said. It would keep one from work, make you miserable for days, and vomit…. “prepare to vomit your lungs out” they said.
I must hasten to (respectfully) say and admit that the side effects of chemotherapy may be horrible for some. It’s a case of different strokes for different folks. I get that and I empathize with such folk.
The reality is, chemo-drugs are powerful chemicals, taken orally, by injection or intravenously (meaning into the vein), and its aim is to kill fast-growing cells in your body. Cancer cells are fast growing cells and chemo is aimed at stopping it’s ability to grow and divide/multiply. In the process, it also destroys healthy cells and as a result, not-so-nice side effects may result.
This reminds me of my very first chemo session. The nurse administering the treatment was a stand-in and I’ve since only seen her on one other occasion. Her encouragement to me was simple, I remember it as if it was yesterday:
“Sir, don’t anticipate becoming sick. If you expect to be sick, you will be sick. You don’t have to become sick.”
Call it mind over matter, call it faith… But given my peaceful disposition as previously described and these wise words, I believed this would be my chemo-journey.
As I pen this blog, I have just passed my halfway mark in treatment and by grace, I honestly cannot claim becoming sick as a result of my treatment. This has partly been as a result of my oncologist’s wisdom to split my treatment into smaller dosages and because of the mindset I’ve chosen regarding my condition and treatment.
I don’t know nausea; I’ve had no pain apart from my post-operative pain (which is now long gone) and I don’t know feeling like all life is sapped out of me. I do know prolonged fatigue, dizziness, pimples all across my head, hiccups for an entire day and having a ‘short fuse’ but this, in my view, cannot be likened to “you will become sick as a dog!”
Many have asked me “so how is chemotherapy done?”
Chemo, at the oncology centre I attend, is done in a big lounge with several people receiving treatment simultaneously. Imagine 10-plus people all seated in lazyboy chairs, IV (drip) lines either in a vein or via a port in the chest. Some are sleeping, others reading and others snacking on their homemade lunch packs. Certain days the mood in the lounge is somber and other days it’s noisy and laughter fills the air. “Patients”, as we are known, come and go as treatments are completed; some are there for the first time and others for the umpteenth.
Since chemo-drugs may have all sorts of negative effects, the drug itself is given with a host of other drugs to address these potential negative, harmful effects. In my case, I have four other drugs:
- Firstly, I receive Kytril, an anti-nausea drug.
- This is followed by Solu-Medrol, a cortisone used for, amongst other things, possible allergic reactions;
- Then Cimetidine, an antacid, which addresses the acid build-up which comes from taking medication or for heartburn;
- Followed by Phernegan, an antihistamine, which knocks me out and gives me the rest needed during treatment.
- Lastly, Biolyse Paclitaxel, the chemotherapy. Paclitaxel belongs to the group of cancer-fighting medications known as antineoplastics. Paclitaxel works by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells in my body.
Each of my treatment sessions takes about three and a half hours – from the time a vein is found to the last drop of Paclitaxel drops. Each treatment is preceded by blood being drawn to confirm whether my white blood cell count is good enough to handle each course of chemotherapy. This is followed by a consultation with my oncologist to discuss anything relating to my condition. Needless to say, this is an all-day event and for me it happens every Thursday, for three consecutive weeks, and one week ‘break’.
Just last week in the lounge I was listening to a lady describe how, when she knows she’s coming to have chemo, she becomes so anxious, it results in nausea and vomiting. This is apart from the nausea she experiences often at home as a side effect of the treatment. Anxiety resulting in nausea is not unique to a person with cancer; it’s normal for anyone who is very anxious to feel nauseas. Think about a time when you witnessed something horrible, which makes your heart race, and that sick feeling which comes across your stomach – both healthy and unhealthy people can experience this. Nausea however could be exaggerated as a result of how one perceives your condition and/or circumstances. Similarly, anxiety is increased by our perceptions.
Whilst listening to the lady referred to, the following ancient yet relevant scriptures came to mind. These words are relevant to our everyday, normal life, which can from time to time, drive our anxiety to levels beyond us:
“Don’t fret or worry (or be anxious, as impossible as this may seem). Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down… Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse… Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:6-9, Message)
As I conclude this piece, allow me to share some good news. I believe this is an accolade for both the medical staff working with me as well as the MANY people who continue to pray and trust God for my healing.
Since I reached my treatment halfway mark, a non-contrasted (meaning without dye) CT scan was due to determine the status of my condition. Some context first: after my mastectomy in March 2017, a PET scan revealed the cancer had spread to my lung; two tumours on both top and bottom parts of my lung and around the lining of the lung and it had caused fluid to develop around my one lung. This meant that my condition was classified as stage four (IV).
The CT scan done last week revealed:
- My condition is STABLE, meaning the cancer has not spread beyond the places it was found before. This in itself is huge!
- In addition to this, the fluid around my lung has cleared completely and one of the two tumours on my lung has decreased in size.
The journey continues.
I am grateful.
I have life / a story to tell / hope to share
God’s Got This!