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Diagnosed With Cancer At 28. Week 2: Chemotherapy

Photo: Courtesy of Ariane Mason.
I’m Ariane, I’m 28 years old and on Monday 20th June 2016 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Read the first part of my story here.

Update: I have been overwhelmed by the response I received from my first post. I feel truly blessed to have so many people supporting me and getting behind me. There has been a real sense of shared experience, with people telling me their stories of similar diagnosis and incredible recovery. These are filling me with hope and optimism every day. So THANK YOU.

I also have a confession. There is no way I can write things in real time – there’s just too much going on and too much at the moment to process. But here’s a wee update...

Week 2: Chemotherapy

Glastonbury was a month ago, and I’m sure I’ve taken more drugs in my first two-week chemo cycle than anyone did there. I now start my day by taking 35 little pills – it takes a bit of effort and a lot of water but after an hour or so I manage to force them down. Then it’s off to hospital for some chems.
My first day in chemo was ropey, to say the least. I tried to be brave, but fear of the unknown got the better of me.

My first drug, which is bright red, was administered straight into my cannula and I had to suck on an ice lolly to stop me getting mouth sores. So far, so good. Then the next, big bag of drugs was set up into a drip. As it started to flow I could literally feel it pumping through my veins and up into my heart – cue an anxiety attack. I started to feel flushed, my chest tightened and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I pressed the emergency button and four nurses rushed over. They instantly took me off the drug, injected me with a strong steroid and an antihistamine and put an oxygen mask on me. I was shitting myself, I started to cry, and I was very aware that everyone else on the ward could see me and was probably looking at me thinking: ‘first timer’.

Day two of chemo and things get easier. Vanessa (best nurse in the world) told me not to worry – that what I experienced yesterday is very normal and often happens to people when they have their first treatment. I get given the same drug and have no reaction whatsoever. Bossed it.
The chemo ward is surprisingly cheery and I don’t really mind it too much. There are volunteers who bring you tea and biscuits in china cups and I just sit there reading a book or magazine – I call it chemo club. It’s my life for at least the next four months so I may as well embrace it.

Day three of chemo club and I even go in on my own. It’s just part of what I do now, part of who I am for a bit, like the worst part-time job ever.

As I leave on day three, I pop into the same loo I went to on my first consultation when I was diagnosed and notice the ‘Fuck Life’ graffiti has been painted over.
Three days of chemo and I realise a miracle has occurred. I am no longer having Hodgkin’s symptoms. No sweats, no shivers, no itching, no extreme exhaustion. I am no longer feeling ill. Friends come to visit and can’t believe the change in me. It’s incredible how quickly the mind can make you forget traumatic times. Again I have the sense of 'am I really that ill?' I feel so much better that I can’t even remember what I was feeling like before. Then Barry (boyfriend, pictured right) reminds me of a time when I was really bad and I woke up during the night needing the loo; I was so ill and the exhaustion was so extreme that I cried for half an hour trying to summon up the energy and courage just to get out of bed for a wee. I eventually forced myself to do it, but only because I would have literally wet the bed. Three days later and I’m sat in the garden, having a laugh and stuffing my face with BBQ meat.

Luckily, I haven’t had too many side effects yet. I feel slightly nauseous at times but I haven’t been sick. I’ve had slightly blurred vision but only momentarily. I can taste chemicals in the back of my mouth and I can feel that my taste is starting to change but it's ever so slightly. The back of my scalp feels quite tender, almost like I’ve had too much sun, and more hair than normal is falling out in the shower.

The worst side effect for me, so far, has been constipation – at times pretty severe and causing me pain. So over the last month when I have finally been able to relieve myself, we have aptly named it a ‘Brexit’ and then a ‘Johnson’, ‘Farage’ or ‘Gove’ depending on the size of the relief, in honour of the shit show that was British politics in July.

On the whole, I am feeling pretty okay. I certainly don’t look or feel my best but I’ve found that most people who come to visit, or family members I speak to with a perception of how I’m going to look or how I’m going to be responding to chemo (really, really ill, throwing up, unable to get out of bed, thin, gaunt-looking, pale) are surprised by how “well” I am.

All positive vibes aside, I do know that this is only the beginning of a very long road; that my body is going to continue to get battered, that I am very shortly going to lose my hair, that I may not respond to chemo, and that I may get an infection and have to be hospitalised. So, I am trying to have no expectations and practice Buddhist principles of being in the present moment, just taking things as they come.