The warnings about the side effects of chemo had been diverse and dire, including the life-threatening rise in temperature to fever level where medical help should be sought urgently. Less dire are sickness, loss of hearing including tinnitus, bruising, bleeding (use a baby’s toothbrush), anaemia causing tiredness and/or light-headedness, loss of hair, diarrhoea, constipation, sore mouth, loss of appetite, tingling and numbness in fingers and toes, and effects on kidneys, lungs, and liver. The main problem with chemo is that it doesn’t discriminate: it attacks both bad cells and good cells, so that one’s immune system is weakened. We’re vulnerable to anything that’s going. One thing that did give me pause for thought was that one patient might experience all these side effects. (I later learned that this was unlikely.)
My first side effect came the weekend after the all-day treatment … 48 hours of virtually non-stop hiccups. Often there were three convulsions at a time, sometimes even four. They were so noisy Anthea had to go and sleep in the guest bed. I could have hiccupped for Team GB. I can hear the National Anthem. Although this hadn’t been mentioned, I was told later that it is quite a common reaction. I evolved a cure: sip water very slowly via the nipple on a water bottle while not breathing – closing the nose. You have to take it to waterboarding lengths. When you panic, come out of it.
There were two other side effects … sleeplessness and tiredness. I’d get up, shave, take a bath … and need a sit down before breakfast. (As I write, 10th September, I’ve got lots more energy and I’m much more active.) Looking at the above list I feel I’m lucky. I asked a nurse whether the lack of side effects meant I was on a low dose of chemo. She looked at the notes: ‘No. You’re on the maximum: the particular chemo drugs you’re on don’t generally have bad side effects’. And there was me thinking it was my fitness!
I visualise the cancer hugging the wall of my bladder as a group of diminutive trolls – mainly just ugly brown heads spitting and snarling at me. I take a length of 4×2 and lay about them. Any left I kick into touch. The mound they were on becomes a grassy patch with daffodils pushing through.
I’ve been wondering why I’m so calm about everything. I think it’s because I’m not being subjective about it. My perspective is objective … I see myself as an object going through a routine, a process, a programme. There are stepping stones along the way to becoming a new man in the New Year.
All this isn’t without its moments of humour. After our first meeting with Dr Jagdev looking at the possible side effects I was feeling positive and confident in the car home. And then Anthea said ‘And make sure you finish writing that novel’. I wouldn’t mind but I’m three quarters of the way through it.