Sex and the City… “Chemo at The Christie”

So here is a little addition to Jo’s blog from her chemo buddy on session #4.. I thought I would share my thoughts on happenings from someone on the outside looking in….. As a friend you feel quite useless as all you can really do is offer verbal support and love, there isn’t very much in the physical form that I can do…. Jo says “Just being there enough and means a lot” but when the opportunity came up for me to go with her for treatment, I jumped at the chance…. So here we go…

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Its 7:45 am and I am picking Jo up, she is just finishing getting ready, putting her make up on! I look like I have been dragged through a hedge backwards, but Jo looks stunning with her baby soft bald head, she looks like we are going for a day shopping and enjoying ourselves. She’s chirpy and relaxed; the kids are watching TV and excited to be going away for a few days camping as soon as Mum gets back. Jeff is finishing getting Jo’s stuff together…. Jo gets Gillian on (her wig) and away we go… Her positive mental attitude and strength are beyond words…

I’m hopeless with directions, but Jo tells me the way and warns me of all the speed cameras … we get there in good time as it’s Bank Holiday and the roads are quiet. We park up and walk into Christies… there is an orderly queue but a fairly big one, for some reason I thought it would not be busy!! It’s like I thought there is only Jo who has cancer and would be going for treatment on a Bank Holiday… how naive can you be!!

The ground floor waiting room is big and fairly full, I thought Christies would be quite a sombre place… it is in here but not all areas are the same. You felt like you had to whisper to each other as not to interrupt people’s thoughts. It is a bright place with full length windows all down one side and information TVs on the walls, the people waiting vary in shapes, size, age and class and as I’m looking round the majority of people look sad and apprehensive… after all they are here because they are poorly!! There are people by themselves, I find this quite heartbreaking…. when I get home I wonder to myself if there is such a thing as a chemo buddy scheme that exists and if not could one be setup… It just feels heart wrenching that someone would have to sit on their own through the hours of treatment… There are some couples and I try and figure out from looking at them which one has the cancer!! One couple I was sure it was the man, but turned out to be the woman!! Cancer is so deceptive, hidden in fact, until the chemotherapy takes away the hidden signs (your hair).

Fun times at Christmas 2013

We chat away, Jo’s appointment is 9am, so at 9:15am she says, “come on we’ll go to the first floor waiting room, sometimes they can forget about you down here and I don’t want that abrupt man shouting my name”, so we go up to the small first floor waiting room, it holds around 16 chairs and again this is almost full, it is not quite as sombre in here, people are chatting away.

Two very nice and bubbly tea ladies come into the waiting room and offer everyone a brew, which we both have. We wait a bit longer and then Jo says “I’m going to ask them what’s happening”, she has 2 young children waiting to go on holiday, so she doesn’t want to be hanging round…so she goes to the front desk, she’s been gone less than a minute and a nurse comes in for her, so I go to find Jo and we make our way round the floor to the team 2 section.

Me and George

The setup is like nothing I have ever seen before, I was expecting a ward kind of environment and in a lot of respects it is but on the other hand vastly different. There are curved lines of big chairs not beds each has foot and head rest and a pillow. There is a drip hanger (sorry don’t know the medical term), slide table and visitors chair by each of them. The section we are in is not full; I would say around 20% but by the time we are leaving there is probably around 70% full. The nurse goes through her sheets of A4 and checks with Jo what she thinks she is having today. Jo knows exactly what she is having… but I wonder about those less informed and competent than her, would they have the ability to ask, question or confirm?

Jo gets out her nail varnish; “I just want to do another coat on my toes”!! The girl is insane!!!

Jo has a portacath (an implant in her chest to allow the needles for blood and treatment to be inserted), there is no one on the first floor who can attach the valve to her portacath, so she has to go back down to the blood department to get it fitted… It’s a little disconcerting that there are so many nurses on this floor and none of them can do this!!!!! So off she pops with a spring in her step.

The sex and the city girls This was a birthday
Card from Belinda last year 

When she is back up Jo asks if she can put her frozen gloves and slippers on in preparation for the treatment as she has to have these on for 15 mins before and after the chemotherapy treatment to help with preserving the nerve endings. She puts them on … I have a feel, they are freezing, I would now be seriously feeling sorry for myself and moaning, I am bad enough when I have been watching football for a couple of hours and my toes have gone numb but no moaning from Jo, she just gets on with it!! I wonder why there aren’t any other ladies in this section using these; Jo seems to be the only one? Are they not offered them?

The nurse then comes back and says that the chemo won’t be here till 10:30 (it is made and delivered specifically for each patient based on weight, height etc.), it’s now around 10:15, so the nurse says we will start one of the other treatments first, but Jo says we might as well wait for the chemo to do first as she already has the gloves and slippers on and really wants to get them off as quickly as possible. So the nurse agrees. So whilst waiting for the treatment, we take out Jo’s WIFI gadget she has bought for the iPad and we manage to sort it out between us!!! The chemo arrives and she is hooked up and plugged in…

Whilst her treatment and flushes are taking place…. the man opposite has a reaction to the treatment he has just started to receive…. all of a sudden he just went!! His eyes were open but nothing there, Jo said she had seen his face go bright red at first, but by the time I looked he was grey-white but within seconds there were numerous staff, nurses, orderlies, consultants come swarming round the man, not chaotic, but controlled, everyone knew their place, staff from all over the floor and beyond I suspect. They were very swift… it was really scary but felt confident for the man with the team around him. It just brought it home, how lethal and poisonous this stuff really is.!! This had happened to Jo on her first session 7 years ago!!

My chemo buddy for chemo number 4 and lovely friend Belinda

We chat about this and that and look through photos on the iPad, we could be just having a brew in a cafe, not having treatment for a potential life threatening illness!! Then a lady (Muriel) comes a few chairs down from Jo, they had met at their last treatment. I had noticed the lady in the downstairs waiting room, she had bright yellow jumper on and matching shoes, soft grey hair which I find out to be a wig (I would never have guessed, it is a really good one) and she seemed quite bubbly and chatty, like Jo, she stood out from the others.. Jo and Muriel chatted and laughed away, they are from a similar mould I think, both so bright and chirpy, not moping around, I am not judging the quiet people as I don’t know their circumstances and they could be not feeling as well as Jo and Muriel do, but there is a noticeable difference in people on treatment. I wonder whether there two types of cancer patients, those who have accepted and those who are fighting? Jo and Muriel definitely fall into the fighting group!!

The nice tea ladies come round again with lunch for Jo and the other patients, a sandwich, yogurt, cheese and crackers and brew. Jo insists on buying my lunch, so I go and wonder down to the cafe and buy a sandwich. Before you know we are done and we come to the point of needing the valve removed from the portacath … again no–one is around who can do it, everyone seems to say “Caroline can do them”, so they go off to find Caroline, who returns to remove it. Caroline is nice and chatty and Jo shows her a super imposed picture of her and George Clooney and they joke about going camping. The portacath is removed and we are free to go.

We tidy up, pack everything away and on the way out Jo goes to make her next appointment and I go and get the car. We are on the motorway and she realises they haven’t given her the injections she has to give herself for the next 5 days to stop some of the side effects. The nurse had mentioned them in the morning, but must have forgotten to get them out!! So we turn around (not literally on the motorway!) and make our way back, Jo rings ahead to ask to get them ready.

We head off again, traffic isn’t too bad and we have a little sing song along the way and arrive back at Jo’s. Regan and Faron are eagerly waiting for us on the driveway…. Faron says “you’ve been away a 100 hours”, I can see their bikes on the back of Jeff’s truck, so they are all packed up and ready to go camping.

I drop Jo off and head off home, it was an honour and privilege to take Jo for her treatment, her strength is beyond words and her positivity is admirable, if anybody is going to beat this evil, evil thing, then Jo will and with her inspiring website, blogs, experiences and courage she will also help so many many more people along the way.

Love you loads chuck xxx