I realise I’ve not really blogged about my ‘cancer’ journey since the last time I had chemo (almost three weeks ago!), instead focusing on my random acts of kindness, so this post may be a little longer than usual…
Five days following chemo number five I was admitted to hospital…again. It was Monday evening and I started to get the same abdominal pains I’d had prior to my previous hospital admission. We had the usual back and forth conversation with the national cancer helpline before they contacted the ward and I was asked to make my way into hospital. By this time it was after 8pm. I was in a lot of pain and my limbs felt weak and achy. It was as if the bones throughout my body were being drilled. It was horrible!
I was put in a consultation room while they paged the doctor on call that evening. I was tossing and turning in pain and, at one point, lay on the floor in an effort to get comfortable. During this time a couple of nurses came in and attempted to get blood. Eventually one successed but not before several attempts, more pain and more bruises.
After being seen by the doctor I was moved to an empty bay. My husband was sent away and I tried to get some sleep while I waited to be taken for chest and abdominal x-rays. I really wish I’d stop having these – it’s been once a week lately and surely that can’t be doing any good for my body!
A porter arrived at 2.30am to take me to the x-ray department. I was helped into a wheelchair and we began the journey through the maze of corridors. The lights were out in most of them and the windows were open – hospitals can be frightening enough places during the day but when in darkness and empty and cold they become very creepy!
Prior to my x-ray I was asked the same question I’ve been asked before every x-ray, MRI and CT Scan but which, since surgery, has been heartbreaking.
Is there any chance you could be pregnant?
My medical records clearly state I’ve had a hysterectomy – or at least they should. They wouldn’t ask a man…and it’s just as ridiculous to ask me! More importantly, it hurts my soul every time they ask.
Following my x-rays I was returned to the ward. During my time away my things had been moved to a bay with five other people. It was now after 3am, I was tired and fell asleep quickly, not waking until morning.
I felt miserable when I woke. Sad about being back in hospital. Sad about the reality of my treatment and diagnosis. Sad about, well, everything. It was so unlike me! (Not helped by the fact that one of our beautiful fur babies had died suddenly over the previous weekend).
After breakfast I was visited by my oncologist. She hadn’t been told I was in hospital but had seen my name on the board. I was so relieved to see her. I trust her and value her opinion. Also, I know she won’t keep me in hospital unless absolutely necessary!
We both agreed that the reason for my admission was two fold. Firstly, the aches in my legs was due to my magnesium levels being too low. This was a symptom I’ve become all too familiar with recently as they seemed to be permanently low. In response, we agreed to double the dose of my oral magnesium medication. Secondly, she explained that my extreme fatigue and aching bones was due to one of my chemotherapy drugs – Paclitaxel. To combat this she suggested reducing the dose for my final chemo by 50%. This terrified me! So we had a discussion and agreed to reduce it but only by 20%. I once again felt my opinion mattered and that I too played a valued role in my treatment plan. I’m so grateful for this as I fear not all oncology patients are as fortunate.
Having made these changes she agreed that I could go home. However, as it happened, it wasn’t going to be that straightforward…
When my husband arrived to take me home I burst into tears. What was wrong with me? I hate being in hospital and I was getting to go home. I should be elated! We waited a while, had a chat and I calmed myself down. I packed my bag and we made our way to the door. However, en route, I got short of breath, my legs gave way and my heart was racing. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My husband ran and got a nurse and when they took my pulse it was 157! I was put in a wheelchair and placed in a side room where a doctor immediately did a heart trace – it was of course fine. Although my blood pressure was very low.
My issue, it appeared, wasn’t physical.
My issue was panic. Anxiety, that I hadn’t even acknowledged, was rearing its ugly head.
For weeks I’d been focusing so much on my physical health that I’d left my emotional health unchecked. I had stopped meditating. I had stopped spending time in nature. I had stopped treating my health holistically!
After resting I was allowed home. This time I felt calmer. I recognised what was happening and that I needed to make changes. When we got home my husband and I both fell asleep, joined by Robbie our rescue dog. When we woke, a few hours later, my sister had visited and left a surprise gift. She’d secretly been collecting messages from friends in a book for me, waiting for when I needed it most to give it to me. This was certainly that moment. My face streamed with tears as I read my loved ones’ words. It was the most beautiful gift I’d ever been given – the gift of love.
I knew then that I needed to make changes. I needed to pick myself up. And that’s exactly what I did. Over the next week I made several steps to start focusing on recovering my emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing:-
1. I wrote down my favourite activities; beauty treatments, time in nature, going to the cinema, comedy shows, eating out, spending time with loved ones. I then made plans to include these in my life as much as possible. For example, I booked a beauty treatment for every week over the next 2 months…starting with getting my nails done.
2. I went to see my GP and spoke honestly about how I was feeling. I told her that I felt ‘flat’ and disengaged. I explained that I had lost my normal routine since surgery and the frustration I felt being too weak to walk our dog or drive. She listened, not rushing me so she could see her next patient, but instead supporting me to make a plan.
3. I started driving again. Oh the freedom!
4. I started walking my dog again. Just little 5 minute walks with my husband at first but slowly we built this up and now, just two weeks later, we are enjoying 2.5 mile walks most days!
5. I started doing my random acts of kindness. They gave me focus. They gave me purpose. Most of all, they gave me joy! The ripple affects of the first one lifted me in ways nothing else could have.
6. I started cooking beautiful, healthy home made meals, focusing on using fresh organic ingredients proven for their anti-cancer or health promoting qualities as I had prior to surgery. I, of course, started with a meal from Sabrina Ghayour’s cook book!
7. I started meditating again. Remaining mindful and focusing on the present moment, rather than letting your past or potential future influence your emotions, is key to remaining positive and enjoying life. I’d lost touch with this in the weeks following surgery and, as a result, my positivity had faded at times.
8. I started reading again. Although I am off work for treatment just now, my working career was as a researcher and I have a PhD so reading and learning are fundamental to my way of life. Prior to my surgery I’d immersed myself in learning all I could about cancer and cancer treatment – both conventional and alternative. However, since my surgery I had lost this focus and with it, I’d lost one if my greatest passions in life: new knowledge.
9. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I started seeing a psychologist at my local Maggie’s Centre. We’ve had only one session but it helped me tremendously! At the time of my diagnosis I was training (in my ‘spare time’) to qualify as a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist and so I have a lot of respect for talking therapies, although I’d never before seen a therapist for myself. It was a really powerful session for me. I was able to talk very openly about my prognosis and treatment and also about people’s responses. She validated my emotions, explaining how I feel and my response (mainly positive) is ‘normal’ and something she called ‘good grief’. Sometimes, when you are feeling anxious and maybe a little scared, that is all you need to hear!
As a side note, I think it’s important to mention that Maggie’s provide this service completely free of charge!
As a result of these changes I feel transformed. I once again feel in touch with who I am, my values and my holistic approach to remaining healthy.
I am glad I had a ‘panic attack’ because it demonstrated to me the importance of focusing on all three aspects of health – physical, emotional and spiritual – in order to maintain my holistic health and wellbeing.
Love and light, Fi xxx