My first chemotherapy treatment was 14 days ago and I thought I’d share with you how it’s all been going.
There are no ‘gory details’ to share so I don’t think I need to warn you of any possible triggers.
If you’re wondering how do you feel after first chemo treatment, here is my experience:
My First Chemotherapy Treatment – AC Chemo
I had my first chemotherapy for breast cancer on December 21st and to say I was terrified would be an understatement.
I was scared of the whole thing: sitting in the chair, what it would feel like as the drugs ‘went in’, wearing the cold cap, using my portacath for the first time and of course how I would feel after the session.
Also, I felt physically ill from the day before as I’d caught a chest infection from my kids and it had hit hard.
I arrived at the hospital first thing and was greeted by one of the lovely chemo nurses.
I should say at this point that they are ALL lovely so far. They’re the nicest, friendliest nurses I’ve ever met and they do such a good job at putting me at ease and answering my many, many questions.
Related: Download my Chemo Appointment Reminder Stickers here.
The Chemotherapy Chair
After filling in some paperwork, off to THE CHAIR I went and sat down to wait for another nurse to come and help put on the cold cap.
The chair isn’t that bad at all by the way. It’s comfortable, it reclines, it has its own remote control. It has a telly in front of it. It’s ok.
I was given a sedative (they asked if I wanted one, hell yes!) and some Panadol. This would help with the effects of chemotherapy cold cap.
The Chemotherapy Cold Cap
The cold cap, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a big old effort to try and keep as much of my hair as possible.
It’s a very tightly fitting cap that I will wear for each of my chemo sessions. It’s filled with a gel that actually freezes my scalp to between -15 and -40 degrees (brr).
This narrows the blood vessels in my scalp which in turn reduces the amount of chemo that gets to the hair follicles. This is all in the hope that the hair will then stay put.
Unfortunately, it really lengthens the time of each session by about 1.5 hours before and after. It needs to be worn before to ensure my head is totally frozen before the chemo starts and then after to keep doing its work. So each AC chemo experience for me is 5-6 hours.
(There are many different types of chemotherapy for breast cancer by the way. I’m having AC chemo, then taxol.)
I have major claustrophobia issues so wearing such a tight-fitting cap and then the effects of it were not particularly nice.
A crappy Christmas film came on as it was starting and watching that helped to distract me. It wasn’t unbearable so as long as I don’t just go bald this week, I’ll persist with it. Shame you can’t get cold caps for your eyebrows too!! As you know, I’m just a bit stressed about the possibility of losing them.
So, in the chair I went, cold cap doing its bit, crap telly on and Mr M sat next to me. They couldn’t use the portacath that first time unfortunately as it had only been in for a couple of days and was too new. Luckily they found an arm vein straight away.
During my first chemo session
The sedative definitely helped relax me. Not to the point I think I could have slept but it took the edge off my nerves and actually the experience wasn’t that bad. I sat there for 3 hours of chemo and then the additional cold cap time. In that time, the nurses would come along and hook up my different bags of chemo cocktail and check on me.
I didn’t ‘feel’ anything going in or any other sensations but perhaps it was masked by the (slightly overwhelming at times) feeling of my head being frozen. I can’t say I’m looking forward to wearing the cap again but I know if it keeps some of my hair, I’ll be grateful for being persistent with it.
Oh, they smother your head in hair conditioner first so you can imagine how minging I looked when I left the hospital with greasy ‘hat head’!
After the session finished I went home and was grateful it was all over with. Then it was just a matter of waiting for my symptoms to start – which is so psychologically weird. I’m sure you are all aware of some of the possible side effects of chemo but really the list is endless.
My first chemo treatment side effects
I was sent home with sedatives, a couple of different anti-nausea prescriptions and steroids which would also help with nausea.
I’d been advised by friends and by my Oncologist to keep a diary of my physical and psychological symptoms. Firstly so I could report back on how I was effected in case they need to help me with anything in the next session. Also because it would give me a good guide for future sessions on how I could expect to feel and when. Apparently, chemo is quite predictable like that.
A few days later
For the first few days, I did have nausea but I haven’t had any vomiting thankfully. It was like the same nausea I had when I was pregnant – not unbearable, just not particularly nice and it definitely made me less interested in eating. Which is a big bonus as I’ve lost weight over Christmas and New Year – get me ha ha! I have also had an upset tummy every single day since. Sorry if that’s too much information but full disclosure.
The pregnancy acid reflux returned pretty much from day one and lasted about 10 days – fun! I got one mouth ulcer which isn’t too bad. I had been warned about them being a common symptom and I’ve been making up the ‘chemo mouthwash’ they recommend which is basically warm water, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Yummy.
The worst of the nausea was probably in the first week but it was definitely bearable. I just need to be aware that normally with this chemo, side effects worsen with each session so I probably got off lightly with this first one.
Christmas was lovely and very relaxing and I didn’t feel too bad at all. We were going to travel to see family but my Oncologist had told me I couldn’t travel too far from the hospital after the first session. Instead we had our first Christmas ever on our own and as a family of four. It was so lovely to have quiet time, just for us and a little Christmas dinner together. Miss M loved being spoilt all day. It isn’t really the ‘done thing’ to not spend Christmas with other people so we really made the most of having a legitimate excuse to spend it alone. We probably won’t ever get the chance again. Not that we’d want to of course, but you know what I mean.
Two things were not good though. Firstly, on days 8 & 9 I felt completely wiped out and on one of them, I couldn’t even leave the house all day. We’re in the process of moving house and every other day, I’d been going to the house or shops and getting things moved and set up.
Psychological Symptoms of Chemotherapy
It’s difficult to explain but physically it was like I just couldn’t do anything except lie down. Mentally though, it was pretty horrible. A very weird kind of anxious and down feeling that I just couldn’t shake. It wasn’t that I felt negative as such but it was like all of the positivity had been drained out of me. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling positive and happy again. That sounds so dramatic I know but it hit me so hard and for those two days, I felt very very down. I had a good cry to my Mum about it.
Thankfully, and with the help of some lovely ladies in an online support group I’m in, the dark cloud did lift. I started feeling much better from day ten and still do now. When they advise you to take it one day at a time, they mean it. It’s good advice.
Unexpected Hospital Stays
However, the second thing that hasn’t been good and still isn’t it the bloody chest infection. Since December 21st I have done nothing but cough constantly and I’m completely exhausted with it. I’ve been hospitalised with it twice on Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve and had chest x-rays that have confirmed it luckily isn’t anything more than a chest infection but it’s just been a massive drain on me.
Chemo zaps the bad cells in your body but it also zaps the good ones and that includes my white blood cells which have been very very low in the last few days. I just do not have the resources to fight this viral infection as a normal person does.
I’ve just finished two courses of antibiotics and I’m now on a steroid spray and a Ventolin inhaler (my new best friend) and I think I’m slowly getting better.
I have honestly never felt more ill in my life than I have in the past two weeks and the stupid thing is that really, it has nothing to do with the chemo. Chemo has nothing on this chest infection! I just hope I’m over the worst of it because my next session is soon and the thought of going into it when I still feel so ill is upsetting.
That all aside though, my first chemo treatment has been nothing like as terrifying and unbearable as I thought it would be. Sitting in the chair was fine. Having the chemo administered was fine. The symptoms, so far, are fine.
I now know when I can probably expect my worst days to be and when I can hopefully expect to start feeling human again. This means I shouldn’t be as freaked out when it happens next time. I can also make future plans around how I will possibly be feeling.
My AC Chemotherapy Side Effects
I haven’t lost any head hair yet but friends have told me to expect some shedding at least from now on. We’ll see how that goes. I have lost a little bit of body hair and when I plucked my eyebrows a bit yesterday, I noticed immediately that they come away straight away. It isn’t even a ‘pluck’ to be honest, they just come away. Noooo eyebrows – don’t leave meeeeeeeeeee. I’m sorry I called you caterpillars, I like caterpillars!
Since I had my hair cut, and possibly since the cold cap, my head feels like it’s in a vice. It’s that feeling like when you have your hair tied up too tight and you just want to take it down to get some relief but I can’t take it down because there’s none there! Even when I touch my scalp, it’s numb. It’s just weird. Maybe it means it’s coming out soon. I’m only washing it 1-2 times per week with baby shampoo and barely touching it otherwise. It looks crap most days but that’s ok, I see other people walking around with crap hair too ha ha!
So, one AC chemo down, another three to do. I’m a 1/4 of the way there! Then it’s weekly Taxol chemo. You can find out more about my chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment plan here.
To sum up what chemo side effects feel like, it’s like your worst hangover ever. Think dehydration, upset tummy, anxiety and that feeling that you’ve gone too far and actually poisoned yourself this time. And I have poisoned myself but I just need to focus on it being all part of the ‘getting better’ process. I’m not doing this for nothing. I’m doing it because I’m doing everything I possibly can to ensure that I’m here for my family. I just hope I’m here with eyebrows on!
You can find out more about chemotherapy here.
Related: Download my Chemo Appointment Reminder Stickers here.
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