I never got round to writing about the Brachytherapy did I? One reason for this is that I was exhausted. Not just tired, lethargic, whatever. Exhausted. I could barely do anything. Anything but cry, that is. Of all the things I’ve been through the past few months, even being told that I had Cancer in the first place, Brachytherapy was the thing that broke me. Which links in nicely with the second reason I haven’t written about it; I really didn’t want to think about it at all.
But now I’m going to, because this blog is pointless if I don’t write about the hard stuff, right?
I had two sessions of Brachytherapy.
The first session was a week after my last dose of Chemotherapy, and four days after my last Radiotherapy session. Basically, on the day when I’m usually somewhere between being curled up into a ball in bed, or being curled up in pain in the bathroom. So, not the best day for it. I had to leave home at 7am to get to the hospital by 8am, and then they took my blood, then walked me round to the Brachytherapy suite. It’s basically a radiation zone. The walls are lead lined (bye bye wifi) and you realise that for the next twenty-four hours you’re going to be alone in a room with only a bed, a table, and a tiny 3×4 inch tv suspended from the wall. They’re building a new unit at the hospital at the moment. In the new unit they’ll have big flat screen TV’s and there are more home comforts. But that means nothing because it’s not ready yet, and I was stuck with the room with no view.
The first hour wasn’t so bad; just filling in forms, answering questions. After that though, and it’s all go; through to the anaesthetist to be put under while they assembled the soon-to-be radioactive rods inside me; through to x-ray, and to the MRI scanner to make sure everything is in place. And then at some time after 11am I wake up and they take me back to the tiny lead-lined room. They push and pull me from one bed to another on the Pat-slide and it’s weird to me how many times I’ve seen them move other people but never had to be moved myself before. And then they tell me that I won’t be able to move from now until they remove the rods. At 6am the next morning. No sitting, standing, rolling onto my side. Just lying there on my back, because if I move too much the rod that’s inside my uterus might puncture it and then I’ll really be in trouble.
They warned me that it would be uncomfortable. That’s actually an understatement. You can tell they’ve never had to lie there with 9 inches of a metal rod inside them, times three. All wrapped up and packed together with a gauze to stop them moving. It’s horrible. Absolutely horrible. And you can feel the pressure inside, you can tell that your body is protesting. But you know that this is the next stage of your treatment. That this is the bit that’s going to blow that tumour out of the water. That this is going to finish it off. So you lie there. and pretend it’s not happening, and talk to your mum because she hasn’t been made to leave yet because they’re still prepping the lady having the same thing next door. And then they’re ready, and you say goodbye, And you can see that she knows you’re in pain and putting on a brave face, but tell her you’re fine anyway.
The machines don’t get switched on until 2pm. So you’ve been lying there with all this stuff for five ours before you’ve even started. You can feel the whirring when the dose starts, feel what? Magnets? Moving the tiny radioactive ball-bearings up and down the tubes connected to the rods that are inside you. At this point it’s kind of exciting. The painkillers they gave you when they put you under haven’t quite finished wearing off and you’re sort of full of adrenaline at just getting started. So you don’t start counting the doses, you lie back and start texting your sister because at least you have your phone signal still. And you have some toast, because you’re allowed to eat again.
There are two nurses and they are nice to you. They make you as much toast as you like, hot chocolate, they even root around and find a sandwich you’ll eat at tea time. They find you a portable dvd player and some dvd’s you might want to watch. Sure, they still insist on making you move slightly every two hours but they’re gentle and it’s embarrassing but okay. Then they go off shift and the night team take over, and all they do is try to get you to go to sleep, which is impossible because you have radioactive rods inside you and you know they’re just going to wake you up in an hour’s time anyway.
At midnight you’ve had enough. You’ve had enough of feeling like you’re in slow labour. You’ve had enough of the tiny TV. You’ve had enough of being shifted every couple of hours. You’ve had enough of the tube from the catheter catching on the rods when you bend your leg. You’ve had enough of drinking lying down and you just want it to be over because all the people who have been distracting you by texting or messaging you on facebook have started to go to bed. This is when you check again what time you’ll be having the rods removed. This is when you start counting the times the machine goes off and on and start watching the clock on BBC News 24.
When it finally comes around to the last dose, you’re relieved, and you think it’s over until you can hear the woman in the room next door crying as they try to remove the rods without any anaesthetic this time. You realise the paracetamol they gave you probably isn’t going to cut it. And then they come in to remove your rods. They tell you to relax which is impossible because you know you have to have medical implements removed. And you’re tired and a little bit wired from it being almost over. The catheter and the gauze comes out first; this should be the easy part except you have radiation burns from the Radiotherapy the week before and it stings and you can’t help but cry and you tense up even more, even though you know this will make it even harder. You try the gas and air even though you didn’t bother with it when you gave birth to your son; but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. Then you get through that and it’s time to remove the rods themselves. And that is like labour. The first rod takes a long while to come out, but the nurses know you’ll relax after the first one, and they pull the second and third out pretty much straight away while you’re still taking your deep breath and they don’t hurt as bad. And then they put a bedpan beneath you and pour warm water over you to wash away the iodine or whatever the gauze was soaked in and you finally relax because it’s the first time they’ve done something that hasn’t hurt you aside from getting you the toast.
Then they change your covers, and they leave you with some hot tea and toast and you try to have it but end up curling up into a ball in the bed instead because you can for the first time in hours and hours. Then they tell you it’s past 7am and your mum is on her way to come and get you because they need the room back for someone else at 8am. So you get up as gingerly as you can, put your own clothes back on and sit on the bed waiting for her. She comes and packs away everything you brought with you, and helps you walk out of the building at a snail’s pace.
As you get to her car you begin to cry, because you realise that you’re unable to sit down on the car seat, and all you want to do is go home. It takes a couple of minutes to get inside the car, but then you carry on crying because you’re so relieved to get out of the hospital and away from there. It’s like you didn’t realise how traumatic it was until you got out of the building. Or maybe didn’t allow yourself to be traumatised before you were safely away. I guess it’s a normal reaction, the way some people deal with things. After a few more minutes you stop crying in the car, and tell your mum how much it hurt. And before you know it you’re home, and your mum helps you climb out of the car, and you can see people’s curtains twitching. You walk slowly to your own front door and your three year old is dressed in his school uniform, ready to go. He jumps on you and you start to cry again because you’re so worn out cuddling him hurts. Your husband is ready to take him to school, so he kisses you and gives you a hug but then is out the door with your son before you have time to tell him that you need him to stay for a while longer because you need him. You need his arms around you. Instead you go up to your bed with your hot water bottle and sleep for the rest of the day.
The second time you go in for Brachytherapy, you liken it to going off to the front line a second time. You know what’s in store but you have to go anyway. You think it will be easier. It’s not. This time, nothing seems to be going to plan. They don’t have your notes on the front desk and you contemplate being able to slink away without being noticed but know in your mind that that would be stupid because you’ve been prescribed two sessions – therefore you need two sessions. An hour in and they’ve only just taken your blood and you realise it’s going to be worse this time. But you know what’s coming. You even brought your own sandwiches this time.
You get the rods put in, but they decide to give you morphine before they put you under because you told them last time it hurt. You think, they should give me this at the end, not now. And then remember it made you sick last time you had to have it. So they give you something for that too. And then you’re out, and then you wake up and they wheel you up to the lead room again. Your mum has already gone home this time because everything is taking too long. The machine next door isn’t working properly and there’s a delay. They can’t start your treatment until they fix it because they run the two machines at the same time. Also, The lady next door is on for longer than you this time, so they want you to leave the room as soon as they’ve got the rods out this time; they’re taking you up to the ward after. You try to look on the bright side that you might get some sleep, then remember this is a hospital and no one gets to sleep in a hospital.
At 4pm they start, and this time you’re counting from the offset, You’ve already checked the TV guide and know what films are on later, and you try to rest early on so that maybe you won’t be so fraught later on. It doesn’t work. The night shift nurses are rough compared to the week before. They remove all of your covers when they insist on turning you, leaving you exposed. And at midnight one of them drops all of the covers onto the brachytherapy rods, causing you to scream out and almost sit upright, in a flinch. Then they shout at you and tell you you’ve moved, that the rods may have moved. They talk over you that they should call the Dr but then override themselves and put your covers over you again, this time from the feet up instead of putting them directly on the rods. They leave the room and you just cry.
The next time the machine goes off you begin to vomit. It’s another fifteen minutes until the nurses are allowed to come in and clean you up. So you just cry some more. They come in and strip you and the bed down and leave you like that for a few minutes and you’re aware there is a camera in the room and a screen on the unmanned desk outside and you feel like you’ve been robbed of the remainder of your dignity. They come back in and give you a new gown but won’t tie it for you and this time you only get one sheet. But you’re past caring now. You hate the nurses and you just want them to leave and let you cry to yourself in the dark. You vomit the next two times the machine goes off, and then it’s time to have the rods removed.
It’s easier this time because you’ve got no more energy to be tense. You let them pull you out of the bed onto a wheelchair and they wrap some blankets round you and pile your belongings onto your knee, and they write that your temperature is higher than their thermometer says because they can’t account for the vomiting otherwise. You get taken up to the ward, where everyone is great but you’ve had enough of being poked and prodded and all you want to do is sleep. They take a lot of blood to try to figure out why your temperature is so high when you say you feel fine, and they tell you you’re to stay in overnight, and you cry again because all you want to do is get out of that hospital and go home and never have to go back. A couple of hours later when your blood work comes up with nothing and your temperature is only 36.5 they agree to let you home.
You walk out of the hospital remembering only this one bad night, out of all of the times you’ve visited in the last six weeks and you feel sad that it’s ended this way because of two nurses who have no common sense. You cry anyway as you walk to the car, sleep when you get home, and sigh with relief that you don’t have to go back.