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  • Rachel Vercoe

The next step - chemo

I was given my date. Monday, February 25 would be my first dose of chemotherapy. The Red Devil is what some call this drug, it’s the bad stuff with all the bad side effects you associate people who have cancer with.


This is part one of my treatment plan. I will have four rounds of this drug called AC (doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide). It’s given once every three weeks. I will then start another less potent drug for around 12 weeks, go to an appointment at Westmead hospital in June to talk about surgery and then have another different drug for around 12 months.


When we were first talking about treatments my mum asked how long this will be for, just an approximate. For some reason in my mind I was thinking it would only take around three months, six at most. You can probably imagine my disappointment when I heard just how long this process is going to take. But it’s life and death, I know the path I want to be on and that’s whatever will bring me out the other side healthy and full of life. I’ll do whatever the doctors tell me to.


Walking into the cancer clinic that Monday morning with mum, dad and Natalie in tow, I wasn’t nervous. I was ready to start this fight, ready for something to finally be in my body trying to get rid of the cancer. Up until then nothing had been done to target it.


I sat down on a weighing chair and a voice piped up from the open door across from me.


“Excuse me, but how old are you?” a younger looking lady asked from the room while having her infusions.


“25,” I replied.


“Sorry, I just haven’t seen anyone younger than me in here before.


I asked how old she was, 34, way too young too.


So how does a chemo treatment session go? Well, an hour before I head into my appointment, I place a numbing patch over my portacath. I have an appointment with my doctor to see how I’ve been the last three weeks then I’m taken into a large room filled with around 12 chairs lining it. Every time I’ve been in so far there have been about eight other people having treatments.


My portacath. It's not pretty, very visible, was very uncomfortable at the beginning but has become part of me.

I’m given three tablets, steroids and an anti nausea one worth $700! A special needle is inserted into my port and I’m hooked up to a saline bag. Once this bag is done, one of the nurses sits with me and administers two syringes of red stuff. They have to do it slowly, which is why it’s done by hand. It makes me pee red for a couple of hours after. I’m glad they warned me about that. Once that’s done, I’m hooked up to another couple of bags. The whole process takes close to a couple of hours. I was told my hair would fall out within one to two weeks.

The nurse giving me my first dose of the 'red devil'

From how I’ve been the last two sessions, I generally have a couple of hours before side effects take place. Although with the second round, when I left the cancer clinic my head had the same feeling you get when you jump into water and it shoots up your nose.


Then the nausea hits. It’s constantly there, threatening to overflow if I don’t keep on top of my nausea tablets. So far I haven’t actually vomited although I came very close to the first time round.


It’s hard to describe the feelings going through my body following chemo. I feel like my body hates me, it’s in shock to what’s been put in my system and I just want to sleep for days. Also, chemo brain is real. By the time three weeks is up and I’m feeling good again, I almost forget just how bad it feels at the beginning. During my next round, I will keep notes and post a follow up blog so you can understand what it’s like day-to-day following the infusions.


A couple of days after my second round of chemo. Belle woke me up and laid down in this position.

I’m knocked around for about ten days and it feels like one thing after another. The first time round my port still hurt from when it was placed in me. I read about it causing blood clots so to the hospital I went, it was fine but I did have a chest infection so they gave me antibiotics. Then I got a temperature. If it gets over 38 degrees, it’s straight to hospital. Thankfully, it only got to 37.7. Then it was an ear infection. They’re all little things but with enough already going on, it’s frustrating, physically and mentally.


I think something some people don’t understand is that I’m not sick 24.7. Two days after chemo I’m back at work. I work full time, I still get out to see Willow, I dive when I can, I’m still me and doing the things I normally do but sometimes it’s just toned down a bit until I feel normal again.


Riding with my good friend Mel a few days after chemo.

One of the toughest side effects to come into effect was losing my hair. It’s now obvious to the world when they look at me, bald, that I have cancer. But that’s a story for another post. There’s a lot about this topic I want to write about.


It was hard telling people what I had. To actually have to say the dreaded word I’d avoided saying for a long time. I have breast cancer.


I had a dream once where for some reason I had one puff of a cigarette. I remember as soon as I had that puff, I had a terrible feeling wash over me. Dread, guilt, that sinking feeling in your stomach when you know you’ve just done something really bad. I then had to go and tell my mum I had lung cancer but just before I did, I woke up.


This dream has always stayed with me and I never have and never will take a single puff of a cigarette. I wouldn’t have anyway before this dream but it freaked me out so much I didn’t want to jinx anything.


Before I was diagnosed and for a couple of weeks after, I didn’t even want to say the C word. It was a curse word. I didn’t want to think about it or talk about it because you see and hear people going through hell when they go through it. I didn’t want to jinx myself, but look where I am now anyway.


A lot of the time I try to act like everything is ok. I think I’m trying hard to convince myself just as much as I’m trying to convince the people around me. I try to keep my schedule as normal as possible, do the things I love, act like myself with positivity when someone sees me how I am now for the first time. But really, some times things are not ok and I struggle.


I could be singing along to music in my car when I suddenly remember that it’s me, I have cancer. What the actual f**k. How am I going through this? What a bizarre reality.


So I’m now two rounds down on AC with two more to go. Half way. I can do this.

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