Today has been a busy day, I’ve had a bone marrow biopsy, a PICC line inserted (both of which I’ll talk about in further detail under the “procedures” section) and I’ve started the first days treatment.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve had a supply of saline solution, to keep my bladder clear. I’ve had steroids to keep me alert and to restrict the tumour growth a little (this has had the effect of making me feel quite good) and I’ve also had a couple of drugs to protect my stomach lining (all in tablet form).
Due to the size and fast growing (and therefore fast shrinking) nature of this tumour, there are concerns that my bladder and kidneys will not be able to keep up, so I’ve also been given an intravenous drug called rasburicase to help my bladder break down the dead cells to release into my urine.
How does Chemotherapy Work?
Obviously this is a very complex topic, but out of interest, I’ve been talking to the doctors here to learn as much as I can. As I understand, the range of chemicals introduced attack cells as they divide, the more quickly and frequently a cell divides, the more likely they are to be affected by the drug. In our bodies we have some cells that divide and replenish regularly (like your hair follicles) and some which divide much more slowly. Cancer cells tend to divide more quickly, which gives the chemicals a chance to attack and kill these cells in order to break down the tumour. During this time, good cells are also killed which leads to side effects such as hair loss. One other fast growing cell structure is the gut lining and mouth, so I expect to have a sore mouth and bowels as the treatment starts.
During this time, after the first round of treatment, my immune system will be very low. In fact they expect me to have 0% white blood cells and very low platelet count. They call this neutropenia.
Because of this, I have to be very careful about hygiene and washing so as to minimise risk of infection. I have single use toothbrushes, regular mouthwashes, and visitors must wear aprons and gloves.
What are the chemicals and what are they like?
Due to a delay with the PICC line, they changed the schedule slightly but the main chemicals used are as follows:
this lasted for just over an hour, I had some friends over so It seemed like no time at all. It’s mixed with saline solution so is a clear liquid. Due to the location of the PICC line, there’s no feeling or sensation of it going in, and I feel surprisingly well after this treatment.
The chemical in this bag was smaller and lasting about 30 minutes. Again clear in colour. I was starting to feel a little light headed at this stage, with a strange taste in my mouth, but nothing serious.
This third chemical is red in colour and in the smaller 30 minute bag. I was told that this could colour my urine so not to worry!
Each chemical was followed by a saline flush, as due to the nature of the PICC line, the nurses minimise the amount of times that the drip is disconnected at my end. All handling is done with specially packed gloves.
As a safety measure all drugs are double checked by two nurses to make sure the right person gets the right drugs and the outer container is placed over the drip so that it is instantly visible that the drip is a chemotherapy drug.