Friday, 29 April 2011

Stepping back from the precipice - a treatment update

It has been a very scary 5 weeks, during which I had two allergic reactions to Docetaxel and two episodes of neutropenic sepsis, the last of which nearly cost me my life.

All the trouble began when I started the course of 4 Docetaxel after the 4 AC. Up until that point I felt that I had been generally dealing with things quite well physically, even if I was occasionally struggling with it all from an emotional standpoint. I was in no way prepared for what Docetaxel would throw at me, even though I had read on some cancer forums that it can be a tough drug to cope with.

The first time I had treatment I had an allergic reaction as it was being administered. Scary enough but at least I was in the chemotherapy unit and the staff arrived in moments to deal with it. Everything was fine for the first six days until I went to my GP surgery to have the Hickman line flushed etc., as normal. At which point the practice nurse said she thought I had a temperature - she wasn't kidding it was almost 40oC! I went from feeling a little unwell to being very ill in the space of about 30 minutes and had to be rushed to hospital where I spent 5 days being nursed through neutropenic sepsis. At the time everyone treating me thought it likely that the Hickman line was the source of the problem but I did also have an infected toe, so the line was left in and I was pumped full of antibiotics before finally being allowed home.

Two and a half weeks later I have my second Docetaxel treatment and manage to get home before things started going wrong. I developed a high temperature and had a very tight chest and was advised to go to hospital where I was admitted for the weekend with a delayed allergic reaction.

So we get to the following Wednesday and I am once again having the line flushed at the local surgery. This time I'm not taken ill until I've been back home for about an hour at which point all hell breaks loose! I developed severe rigors and a very high temperature which caused me to have a seizure and briefly stop breathing - thank heavens that my quick thinking husband was at home with me and able to summon an ambulance! 

By the time I got to hospital I was in a very bad way indeed. I had a temperature of almost 41oC and my blood pressure had dropped to almost fatal levels, whilst my heart was racing at a dangerous speed as it desperately tried to keep my blood circulating. I spent 3 hours in A&E's resuscitation unit whilst the doctors tried to stabilise me and then it was decided that the best place for me was the intensive care unit. I had an emergency central line put in so that they could give me drugs to improve my BP and to look after my heart, as well as a broad spectrum antibiotic. At this point the doctors were convinced that the Hickman line was the source of the infection, so once I was admitted to intensive care it was removed. Cultures taken from it and blood tests confirmed that it was indeed the source of the infection.

I spent 5 days in intensive care before being nursed in a separate room on a ward and was allowed home after 8 days. I have been left incredibly weak and 10 days on I am still only really able to get about with the aid of two walking sticks, although that should improve as the days go by and I'm able to get out more. I also lost a lot of weight and as a result I am on a special diet and supplement drinks in order to try and remedy that.

As a result of everything that has happened my oncologist has decided that chemotherapy will be stopped as she feels that the risks far outweigh the benefits of having the two final treatments. I cried when she told me as I had nightmares whilst I was in hospital about what would happen when I had my next treatment!

When I saw my GP earlier this week he went through all the notes he'd received from the hospital and said that I was very lucky to be alive. Part of me still can't believe that it all happened and whilst I don't have clear memories of a lot of it, I am still having flashbacks and bad dreams about it all, so I am very relieved that I won't be having any more chemotherapy.

Once again I take my hat off to all the staff at the local hospital who gave me such wonderful care. I am so lucky to live near such a good hospital!

So what happens now? Just before I had the second Docetaxel I went to a planning session for the radiotherapy treatment which was due to start mid-June. Whilst it hasn't yet been formally confirmed, I'm pretty sure that this will now be brought forward to start shortly along with my starting on the hormone regimen.

The whole Docetaxel experience has been an absolute nightmare for me and I am hugely relieved that it is now over. I should also point out that what happened to me is very, very rare. Yes, chemotherapy patients are at risk of neutropenia which is why we are told to be so careful with hygiene and to look out for signs of infection, but it is only a small percentage of patients who develop it and an even tinier one that ends up in the condition I did. 

Now it's just a question of waiting to see when the next phase of treatment will begin and to count my blessings. I am very lucky to be here to write about it and believe me, I do know just how lucky I am!

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