Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Cancer treatment: week 16

This is a bit of a longer blog than usual as quite a few *interesting* things have been happening over the last week.

PICC the dick

The district nurse came out to flush and dress my PICC line on Monday but we hit a bit of a stumbling block.  She measured how long the external bit of the line was and it was just over 2 centimetres longer than when it was originally inserted.  Hmm, that apparently was beyond an acceptable increase.  

The nurse tried to flush the line and draw out my blood to test that it was working OK.  Nothing.  She couldn't get anything in or out no matter how hard she tried.  I even lay down on the bed, sat up, walked around.  Still nothing.  We rang the Oncology helpline for advice. 

To cut a long story short (probably not) I had to go into the Cancer Centre to get an X-ray and, if necessary, a 'drain buster' infusion which would help to dissolve any possible blockage.  The X-ray showed that the PICC line was still in the right place inside my chest so they weren't worried about the extra external length.  

The nurse then gave the line one more go before resorting to the drain buster and hey presto!  It worked.  There was no explanation.  Even moving around can help to make the line work again.

Assessment/chemo day

I've been making a few PICC line covers to keep myself occupied plus I know that many people with PICC lines have been keen to locate some. So on my way into my assessment appointment, I took a load of covers into the Friends of the Cancer Centre to see if they could sell them to raise money.  They were absolutely delighted.  

(Shameless plug alert: if you're interested in a PICC cover please leave a comment below.)

Some of my PICC line covers

I've lost a wee bit of weight this week, despite the amount of cake I ate at the Macmillan coffee morning.  Get in!  One of the nurses overheard my excitement and told me that they had reset the scales to be 14 pounds lighter before I arrived.  I told him to get lost (in a nice way).

I also got a new butter-free banana cake recipe from one of the nurses. 

It's amazing the *fun* one can have when getting bloods taken.

I then went to see my oncologist for my chat.  She examined my toe/fingernails and disappointingly she told me I would lose them but I would end up with lovely new ones.  Which is nice.


When I went to get my chemo, my PICC line started playing up again. The nurse could get the liquid flush in but could not get any blood out.  It was absolutely imperative that the nurse got blood out before giving me chemo otherwise the chemo could accumulate in my arm and create a hole.  Bloody hell!

We tried all sorts of things to get blood out, for example coughing, waving my arm around, letting my arm hang loose, turning my head from side to side.  She kept putting in new syringes and trying to draw out the blood.  I started to get quite worried as it felt like my PICC line was being pulled out, although it was firmly locked in place.  I was also dreading the thought of having to get chemo through a cannula into my now tough veins.

Having got a second opinion, the nurse asked me to march up and down reception.  Everyone stared at me as if I wasn't right in the head.  And it STILL didn't work.  As a last resort, another nurse came over to see if she could do it.  She sat me more upright, raised my arm and - weyhey - out came blood.  

Chemo was then very uneventful in comparison.  I fell asleep.

Radiotherapy - trial or not to trial?

I mentioned in my last blog that I had been invited to take part in a trial where they would test if radiotherapy could be given over five days instead of 15.  I've been dithering about whether to do it or not.

Well, I had my radiotherapy planning appointment today where I met my oncologist and a number of trial clinicians.  I asked them loads of questions for nearly an hour about the pros and cons of the trial and the data they had from previous human/non-human tests.  My husband came with me to be devil's advocate and also in case he thought of things to ask that I hadn't.

I was still in two minds during the meeting but my intuition was gradually leaning towards taking part.  But what eventually swayed it for me was:

  • when the oncologist said, totally unprompted, that she would have no hesitation in doing it herself or recommending it to any of her family members
  • the fact that I will also be far more closely monitored than through the normal regime and if there is any delay in my oncologist seeing me, the trial team can get my appointments accelerated.   

I said yes.  Let's be a glass half full not half empty lass from now on.

Radiotherapy planning scan

Later in the morning I went for my planning scan.  This involved measuring me up using a CT scanner and then tattooing my chest in strategic places with small dots.  This will tell the radiographers exactly where to zap when I go for my radiotherapy.   

It was freezing in the scanning room and I had to lay there with my chest fully exposed.  I was so relieved there were no men in there.  I would have felt quite embarrassed but I suppose I should be over that by now.

The radiographers took great care in positioning me on the scanning bed and marking my chest with felt tip pens and wires.  I had to lie there with my arms over my head and stay perfectly still whilst the scanner went over me.  I kept imagining all sorts of itches on my face and had to try desperately to avoid scratching.

Once the scan was done, the radiographer got the little tattooing needle and quickly jabbed it into three places.  It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  The jab in the middle of my chest was the sorest one probably 'cos there was a little less flesh there.

The scan took less than half an hour and I was free to go.  My first proper radiotherapy session will be next month, all being well.

To finish, here's a picture of Cancer Centre garden which I thought was delightful.

The Cancer Centre garden


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  1. Hi Karen, Roy from the top of the mountain here (you'll always remember me as that lol). Well, how's it going? Are you coping with the radiotherapy and is it not as bad as the chemo? What about your nails, are the new ones growing well? I haven't asked Eimear if you're going to the Bangor class for a while. Must do that.
    I had to miss a few classes myself lately. I had an operation on a lifelong troublesome elbow and it hasn't gone well. I've ulnar nerve problems on both elbows and they need to be sorted out in turn. Really painful they are.
    As for my cancer, it's ticking along nicely, meaning that it's not getting any worse. I am still injecting myself weekly with a protein that's encouraging my bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. I know that someday things are going to be not so good. May be similar to your white blood cell one that I read about somewhere.
    I've started the Healthwise scheme. Have you heard of it? It's a scheme designed to help you get your body in shape by gym work, and in my case to slow the progression of my bone marrow cancer. Something similar to Move More, only more intense. As one who has never set foot in a gym before, it's impressing me and I'm improving muscles that I've never heard of before!!😂😂
    I could write all day, so much to say. Get back to me won't you? I want to hear that you're feeling better and getting there. Keep cheerful!

    1. Hi Roy, thanks for getting in touch. I'm so sorry I haven't replied before now. I hope you had a lovely Christmas.

      I haven't heard of Healthwise to be honest. I might check it out but i have now put my name down for a couch to 5K thing to see if I can get fit and build up my strength. I might just give it up if I get too knackered! But I want to see if I can do it.

      I'm pleased to hear that your cancer is ticking along nicely. It sounds like you have to go through the mill though but you're very resilient and very positive. Keep strong!! There will be bad days but the good days will hopefully make up for them.

      Hope to see you at a Move More class soon.

      Happy new year and may 2018 be better than 2017!

      Love, Karen


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