It’s for the best.
I was worried about chemotherapy. In fact, I probably worried about it more than anything else. When most people think about cancer, they always think about chemo.
We’ve all heard the stories, and might even know someone that’s had chemo. The effects on your quality of life, the way you might look during treatment and some of the permanent side effects. It’s important to remember that everyone has their own experience of treatment though. There are lots of types of chemotherapy treatment, and it affects people in different ways.
Some certainly have a better time than others, but the doctors and nurses are monitoring things all the time. Chemo patients are always very well looked after.
Chemo is such an important part of cancer treatment. They’re wonder drugs really, designed to attack and disrupt the rapidly dividing cancer cells. Because of their awesome power, unfortunately they can affect all kinds of other cells too. They come with a wide range of potential side effects!
Because of all these things that could happen, I had a 24 hour hotline number to call. There were always lots of instructions and a ready made bed if I called ahead when anything went wrong.
I received chemo as part of my chemoradiation treatment, after all of my surgery and staging had been completed. It was primarily done as an adjuvant therapy, to hunt down and kill any residual positive cells that could be lurking in my body. But also, to further reduce the risk of any cancer returning.
My treatment was at The Royal Marsden, which is part of Professor Watkin’s penile cancer supra network. It’s an enormous, specialist cancer hospital, with campuses in London and Surrey. It also houses a large number of researchers and academics that specialise in cancer treatment. The Institute of Cancer Research is permanently partnered with the Marsden on both of their sites too.
Despite all of my treatment being scheduled in the height of a pandemic, it was business as usual every day.
I was to be prescribed five doses, or “cycles” of cisplatin over a 5 week period to coincide with radiotherapy. Research has found that chemotherapy has a greater effect when combined with radiotherapy.
My chemo day began with a leisurely check in after radiotherapy. I stood on the scales and was handed a bottle of water. Then, I sat in a nice comfy chair and had an electric blanket to get my arms warm, and your veins plump.
A big cannula was inserted in my arm, connected up to a pump and I was filled with all kinds of nice nutrient rich saline. Next, I drank another couple of bottles of water, and an hour or so would go by.
To get all the fluid back out, some diuretics were pumped into me. Then, I had some anti sickness medicine in tablet form which I took for the next couple of days.
I took a couple of domperidone tablets next, again to deal with any potential sickness. After that, the most useful drug of them all for dealing with swollen bollocks arrived through the drip, dexamethasone.
I don’t want to make a huge deal of this, I’ve written about it elsewhere too! But, within minutes of Dex being administered intravenously, all the swelling in my penis and scrotum was just taken away.
For people suffering the side effects of groin surgery, this could be a big help. I had unmanageably large balls and a cock buried away like jabba the hutt’s neck after a pizza meal deal. (You’ll never unsee that image) Dexamethasone was an absolute game changer for me.
Quick note on side effects. It’s impossible to sleep if you have dexamethasone after lunch. There’s a good chance of it making you feel fat (heavy), and diabetes is common in prolonged use. There are probably lots of other unwelcome things too.
But my super deluxe balls were crying out for some relief, and at one point I was honestly considering a bilateral orchidectomy to sort it. I don’t care what anyone says on this subject. Just about anything is better than walking around with bollocks the size of a Tesco value chicken.
Used sparingly and responsibly, a bit of dexamethasone occasionally in tablet form really helped me. *It’s not used as a therapeutic routinely for this kind of thing though. Doctors will always be nervous about administering it long term. As far as I know there haven’t been any official research studies on its use as a therapeutic in this area. Safety first, always.
It’s time for the coloured bag
After some more fluid, I would have my observations done. As soon as my body was used to taking on fluid, I’d get hit with my coloured bag of chemo.
Cisplatin is a fancy name for Platinum really. (yes the expensive heavy metal you make wedding rings with) There’s probably some other bits and bobs added, I wasn’t paying much attention.
I sat and waited for another hour as that made its way around my body. (my arm was always freezing cold as the chemo had been in the fridge)
I had another hour of fluid, and was weighed again, and given a big bag of drugs to take home.
It’s important not to forget the 15 trips to the toilet in every chemo session either!
What happens next?
Stairs or any kind of incline was a problem after every chemo session for me. I was often short of breath and got a bit of a headache on the way to the car.
Once chemo day was over with, I used to get an overwhelming feeling of relief.
The drugs could cause some difficulty with sleeping, so I always tried to have a long walk when I got home. However hard I found it, I forced myself to just get a bit of activity done, but everyone’s different. Some people might just want to fall into bed.
My body always fizzed with the drugs doing their work, my ears would ring and I felt unsteady on my feet sometimes.
It takes a few days to wear off.
The morning after chemo, I often had a nasty headache and the nausea would start. I never actually was sick though, the three part anti sickness pills were brilliant. (but I had all kinds of instructions from doctors and a hotline to call if you are) I didn’t actually take any of the other tablets I was sent home with, because I didn’t think I needed them. But that was my choice.
The biggest issue for me was indigestion, it was horrendous! After a chat with my consultant and another prescription – a tablet or two of lansoprazole first thing in the morning fixed that.
Day three, I started to sleep ok again. I would often have a bit of nausea in the morning, but the last anti sickness tablet would calm all that down.
I’d often still be breathless, and doing anything was a bit of an effort. I always went out for a wander though.
Anything, and I mean anything could bring a sweat on. This could be anything from jogging from the car to the house in the rain, or walking up stairs.
As soon as I got back to normal, I did it all again until the 5 cycles were completed. It definitely gets easier though, and the nurses are fantastic.
All the nurses specialise in this kind of treatment and they’re all so skilled and knowledgeable about what might come.
Chemo certainly isn’t nice, and it can sap all your energy. It often gave me blinding headaches, can make you feel really down, but it’s not for long and it’s so important. I still haven’t got shot of the ringing and clicking ears just yet though!
In January 2021, I was asked to give my top tips for people undergoing chemotherapy. You can find them here!