I start my treatment at the chemotherapy unit.
A friendly, smiling receptionist checks me in. “Hello Catherine, and how are you feeling today? It’s your first time, isn’t it? I’ll go and see if they’re ready for you.”
I follow a nurse into the treatment room.
A blur of impressions.
Soft lighting through large windows looking over a shady garden.
Pale blue seats.
There are eight places and all but one is occupied.
“That’s your chair over there. Take a seat, we’ll be with you in a minute.”
The seats are close together with minimal privacy.
A woman in a woolly tea cosy hat smiles kindly.
A man’s eyes are closed as he listens to something on headphones.
The occupant of each seat is hooked up to an intravenous drip.
I move over to my designated place.
The man in the next chair is reading a motoring magazine. He’s still there when we leave four hours later. Still reading the same magazine.
A familiar face.
Six weeks ago I had a few emergency days in hospital. A woman was admitted into the ward for urgent treatment. She told me she was to start chemotherapy the following week. Earlier that same day she’d been to choose a wig. We recognise each other and exchange a few words. Her hair looks nice.
I look for somewhere to put my bag and sit down. After a couple of minutes a nurse introduces herself and sits in front of me.
“We just need to check your details. Do you prefer to be called Catherine? Please confirm your surname and date of birth.”
Yes, I do prefer Catherine. Since I started this journey I’ve reverted to the name I was given at my christening, a name I abandoned when I was about thirteen. As a teenager I was Katie or Kate and since leaving college I’ve always been Cath or Cathy. I thought Catherine was too old fashioned, too long-winded and meaning “pure” it hardly fitted with the Swinging Sixties and summer lovin’ Seventies.
Funny how Kate Middleton has been re-branded as Princess Catherine.
The nurse fixes a cannula into my hand and starts checking the drugs.
I’m having one day of intravenous in hospital and fourteen days of tablets at home.
There seem to be rather a lot of tablets. I don’t usually do pills apart from the odd paracetamol. The nurses count out the tablets and replace them in the boxes. They load the IV bags onto the drip stand, checking and checking again.
Another nurse asks if anyone is with me. Michael is in the family and friends waiting room. She brings Michael into the treatment room and he sits down next to me. We hold hands.
My nurse is talking about potential side effects. We’ve been told about these at the pre-treatment interview. And we’ve read the leaflets and visited the website but it’s helpful to hear about them again.
The nurse reminds us that first I’m to have a drug to counteract nausea and vomiting. She starts the drip. After a few seconds she explains that for some patients this drug has a peculiar side effect. “Many patients say it feels like a prickly bottom.” There is a frisson in the room. Eyes are raised and the other patients are discreetly looking over. Clearly they know what the nurse is talking about. A few moments later so do I. Now I understand what a hedgehog must feel like every day! A drug induced smile covers my face and the strange sensation continues. Other patients smile and the moment passes.
Changing the IV bags, the nurse starts my treatment. The drug is Oxy-something-or-other. I struggle to remember its name. The bag has been in the fridge and my arm quickly starts to chill as the drug gets into my system. It’s going to take a couple of hours to administer. We try to read but can’t concentrate.
A couple of patients go as their treatment ends and others come to take their places. The woman I met previously leaves and we say goodbye with best wishes for the future. I wonder if our paths will cross again.
The hands of the clock on the wall opposite move erratically. A few minutes pass and then the hands stand still. Beeps from a drip announce another treatment is complete. And then my drip starts beeping and its time to disconnect and get ready to go home.
Thanks for reading my blog today even though you can’t share a prickly bottom! And for all the messages of support after I wrote Don’t leave it too late – many thanks too.