Chemo ka qeema
Somehow, time has flown. Here I am sitting on my Day Care Chemo ward (male) of Shifa Hospital, Islamabad. I chose the male ward, because my cancer survivor friend Amber did that, for its larger room and even larger windows. I even had ‘my own bed’ which I used every time! I’m following her in everything, as she got clean from stage four within a year. I’ve talked about it in my last post here.
Amber is a good adviser and has been an administrator in Beaconhouse and works now in City School. She has a great sense of humor and brutal truthfulness – which I feel are the most beautiful qualities. These days, she is over it now, and has gone on holiday to Canada to be with her children.
Process is on now:
So, now that the dopey making medication has worn off, I’m able to write. I love these sessions, (believe it or not.) By the way, Amber used to say that she would take a sleeping pill and sleep through the chemo sessions. I was always clear, I’m going to make the most use of this interruption-free time, and write my heart out, and read too. Where else do you get such time? We writers, crave for uninterrupted time. Here it is!
My Waliya is in charge of the chemo sessions:
Waliya is always there to start my chemo. When Nataliya was here during her two months, she would take over after sometime. Sadia my friend, would bring her home cooked amazing snacks. We would sit and chat for some time. Then Sadia would go home or stay till end of session. Nataliya would manage things too. Naturally, our cubicle had to be told to keep the noise level lower! 😉
This time Nataliya is back home in Seattle (she was with me for the 2nd and 3rd Chemo) Though she paid up for my first chemo, from Seattle, which was the most expensive one. Sadia Ejaz is in Swat these days, last time, she gave up a trip to the mountains for my cycle session. Now, she is in Swat and missing me, she has texted me and promised to be there for my last chemo.
I feel so blessed.
Though my last (fourth Chemo) was the best one so far – didn’t even need a single drip session at home – I guess that was due to the ugly wrong property tax I had received, and the process of asking for help from Faree my hair stylists’ brother. (I mean isn’t it awful, that for genuine work to be done here, you need someone’s help?)
So, I was talking about chemo, I’m saying that no matter what, a chemo is a chemo and you always feel a bit apprehensive each time. I’m daughter of an army officer and a brave soldier. (My father was an infantry officer in the army who went to the ’65 and ’71 wars.) So, while going for a chemo, I’d relate it to how he must have felt going to a battlefield again! You don’t know how your body will react to the medications. Though mine have been going very well, alhamdolillah. Each time, something new happened!
My Chemo sessions:
Before all chemos:
I got the porta cathe put on (again with recommendation from Amber, as it makes things easier.) It is a gadget (mine is made in Switzerland) placed just under the skin opposite from the lump side, and close enough to the largest vein of the body. So, when the chemo and other medications are put on, they directly go to the largest vein.
It is a bit expensive, (It cost near Rs.100,000) but helps in saving your arm veins from extra stress. If you can afford it, go for it.
Time of chemo:
Starting with the first session of eight hours, the rest have been six, five and four and a half. Not bad at all. No pain, just gain. I mean what’s a prick now? I have a friend who has just had three-hour sessions.
It is different in each case, and so is the medication given inside the chemo. It is not your problem. Trust your doctor. Yet, do discuss earlier what each medication is for.
Tests prior to each chemo:
Of course, you need to get the blood tests and any other tests done within the previous week, then have a meeting with the Chemo Therapist (in my case it is Dr. Farrukh, at Shifa hospital) It is a brief meeting in which he checks out results of blood and ultra sound or echo test or whatever he had wanted me to get done.
Once fully satisfied that I’m ready to take on the next one, he decides on the amounts to be given during next chemo. It is an important session. Remember, you must share all your apprehensions with your doctor. He will make adjustments to the treatments.
Medications to be given a night before, and two days onwards, will be specified.
There is an injection to be given to enhance immunity and white blood cells, the very next day of chemo. It is given subcutaneously, (just under the skin.) Usually, someone comes to the home to give it, but it must be coordinated on time with hospital or whatever suits you.
Side effects of chemo, afterwards:
Immediately after the chemo, you feel tired and breathless even with a little exertion. This is one of the most common features.
I haven’t had any nausea or vomiting, which is normal for many folks.
Your sense of taste just goes. The mouth is sore, and feels horrid. Use mouth wash at least three to four times a day, soothing mouth sprays, and Biotene gel for dry mouth. There are sweets that soothe, but all food tastes gross.
Hair fall began after second chemo, I had arranged wigs and got many lovely ones gifted by my Nataliya, and her friend Saira). I just loved these. I’ve found them so convenient, I’m sure I’ll continue wearing these, later on too.
Nails are getting blackened, so I put nail color… I’ve been putting on a special tea-tree oil on my cuticles every night and rubbing all over the nail. That has really helped. Otherwise, I’ve seen that these can fall off or get very ugly. Mine aren’t so bad.
Diarrhea is a problem too. More so in my case. Remember, that emotional disturbances can affect it too. The lining of digestive tract gets affected by some chemo drugs. So, you can check it. Some folks get constipation. So, you’ve got to keep things normal. Imodium is my ‘go to’ medication.
Neuropathy: I got numbness in feet after forth chemo. That too, doesn’t feel too bad. It is called neuropathy! Some nerves get affected. It can happen on hands too.
No pain in body. (I’ve been taking pain killers). Many people get pain in body.
Brain fog is a normal thing too. I mean sometimes you feel sleepy and doped, or a bit unable to think too sharply. So, at those times just take a break. It will pass. You will be as sharp mentally as can be, after some time. So, just drop everything, relax and take a nap, or watch something light on YouTube.
Make notes of chemo times:
You will soon find out a rhythm in your after-chemo days. In my case, I’m very sharp and alert on first three days. Sometimes, I found it hard to sleep. So, I would do other things, or watch some films or YouTube videos. (It is due to the steroids with the chemo medications.) Then on fourth and fifth day of chemo I’m usually not too well.
Keep a journal, where you keep a record of main details of chemo. Your bp, temperature record. Notes, of how it went each time. Anything that is important to remember, must be noted here.
I’d need a drip caused by low blood pressure. Last time I got saved, as I got some inflated bills, so my bp became ‘normal’ and I didn’t need any drip! (haha) 😊. Tomorrow is my fourth day, I’m busy with my income taxes, so perhaps that will keep me fine too! 😉
Some survival tips:
Start your day with the spiritual tips given in my last post The ‘C’ Word here at Fajr prayers.
Then listen to Surah Rehman once, twice or three times. This is extremely powerful.
Your immunity is down to zero. So, keep that mask on, and that of all helpers, friends and visitors. Take no chances.
I’ve learnt that a small break after every two hours, can do wonders. Instead of doing something for four hours at a stretch, and then collapsing. Just take a break in between and lie down for ten to fifteen minutes. Then get back to whatever you are doing.
Conserve your energy at all costs: this means, less stressful thinking, less talking, less eating, less everything.
Taking a shower, putting on nice clothes (and a wig or scarf) with make up on your face will make you feel better. ( You may need, a ten-minute rest after the shower).
Being out in nature, and just enjoying the fresh air works wonders. Going for a walk which is comfortable, is important too.
Drinking a lot of water and beverages is vital. So, don’t forget to keep yourself well hydrated.
I’ve been driving around most of the time. Simply because it is something I love. I’d mostly do it after first ten days, but have done it on fifth day too. See how you feel, and go accordingly.
The best way to boost your sagging morale is to do something challenging that’s the best morale booster. ‘So I can even do this? Then, I must be in good shape!’
In my case:
- I sold two plots, (these were all I had left).
- Bought a flat for my mother. (In case something happens to me, my mother should have her own income from the rents.) Whatever assets you sell, you must invest most of it, into something which has better prospects. Then keep rest for the need for which you sold it.)
- Prepared the income tax.
- Got the property tax work done.
- Got the car tax paid up.
- Still working on my homework, in case I go.
- Continued with the daily food drive.
- Stopped the Bridal Project after the first chemo, (I helped in seven marriages,) I realized that it was interfering with my treatment and recovery. I decided to convert the zakat funds (which was used for medical and bridal projects,) was only to be used for medical treatments now.
- The accounting for the daily food drives and my charity work is also done by me. It is painstaking and tough. But I’ve managed to do it.
- We did help in treatment of a four-year-old boy named Moosa, s/o Waqas. He had brain tumor. So, I would convert those funds towards treatments. Together with Waliya, we managed to get a sizable amount of funds for his treatment.
- I had been invited to speak at Ted Talk on 25th of September, 2021, (Tedxiiui.) It was on the twelfth day of my chemo. I stood and spoke for 18 minutes in a formal session with a live crowd in a hall. Which was recorded too. So, hopefully you can see that too.
More vigilance, adjustments needed in responsibilities
When you are ill and unable to take care of things. People in your staff and vicinity know that you are too weak to handle normal things. So, be aware of the ‘normal’ responsibilities that wont be done that well now. Make arrangements for them.
Manage care of you, and that of your home.
In my case, I don’t have a husband to manage anything, I deal with all security , financial and other matters, so you’ve got to be vigilant now, Be prepared for failures too, (as in your normal life.)
House security matters:
- There was a moment when I felt insecure from some of my staff members. So, to deal with that feeling I got most of my house locks changed. That made me feel better.
- Also, got all my house camera systems upgraded, and made sure the workings on our mobile phones were properly visible. (There were some issues earlier.)
- Removed valuables from my home.
- Restarted the food drive on roads, as the local management felt that having people taking food from our home, could be a security hazard for us as well as the other colony residents. People not belonging to our own area were coming from far and wide.
Doing challenging things, helps:
So, being able to achieve challenging projects, during such times, gives you a kick, and your confidence soars.
I’m sharing almost all that I’ve done and achieved during this time, (its personal) but let me say it’s definitely amazing. Alhamdolillah. God really helps those who help themselves. So, you have to sometimes push yourself to do something, (as in normal life too.)
Once you’ve started, you start feeling really good. But. Don’t get carried away. Stop, and take your break which means not just mentally but physically too.
Regular meeting with psychiatrist or psychologist:
Dr. Shahid, the psychiatrist advised me these things:
- Have a core support group who will be of help to you when you need it.
- Keep giving good news to your brain, counting all the ways that you are learning to cope better. Saying things like ‘I’m feeling better, I’m able to do many things. I’ve achieved a good equilibrium.
- Just be happy. (That’s what my Chemo therapist Dr. Farrukh always says.)
- Also, to keep your brain in healthy state, you’ve got to keep your body in healthy state too. Do not over stress your body.
He told me, ‘I’m counselling many chemo patients, but you are the first one whom I’ve found looking so good that one can’t believe you have cancer or are going through Chemo treatment. It is because you are so positive and you are coping well, and have stayed positive.
(Yes, it felt great when at the hospital gate, the security guard would ask, ‘who is the patient?’ 😊)
Stay blessed and protected. 🙂