*DISCLAIMER* The following is not for the faint of heart. PS. You may want to cross your legs!
Twenty-three sessions of radiotherapy – done. Five sessions of chemotherapy – done. Three sessions of brachytherapy – done. Six weeks – done.
The final week of treatment was very difficult. I was admitted into hospital for my final two sessions of brachytherapy. Brachytherapy is internal radiotherapy which targets the tumour directly. As a result this allows for a high dose of radiation. The treatment itself lasts a mere five minutes per session however the preparation involves a great deal of discomfort. Each session requires a general anaesthetic so an applicator and sleeve can be inserted to my cervix to direct the radiation to the tumour. In order to protect my bladder and bowels from the treatment the doctors had to ‘pack my vagina’ to keep them out of the way. Sounds glamorous, huh? In addition to the sleeve, applicator and packing (!?) I required a catheter. Following the general anaesthetic I woke up to spend the remaining two days with my new array of accessories. Initially I thought the catheter would be a welcome break from the agony of cystitis – how wrong I was! It appears having a catheter aggravated my symptoms. I struggled to settle in the hospital. In hindsight this was a combination of discomfort, anxiety and fear.
Discomfort due to my new accessories and being forced to stay in bed. Anxiety about having a bowel movement. The catheter took care of number 1s but I was told if I felt the need for a number 2 I had to call a nurse to help. Similarly I would have to do this in my bed… Where I sleep! I am aware assisting someone in toilet matters is something nurses do everyday but not me. This was not something I was comfortable with. Thankfully I was constipated for the duration of my hospital stay. And finally I had the fear. I was in pain for the majority of my stay, largely caused by cystitis and cramping in my bladder. However I knew a greater pain was yet to come.
When it came to the evening I was prescribed a new cocktail of morphine based pain killers and a sleeping tablet. This provided a welcome sleep for all of 90 minutes and brought with it an increase in body temperature. I woke at 1am relieved that it was the final day of treatment but equally angry at the prospect of another 18 hours in hospital. Little did I know then that I would be awake for the remaining time and goodness knows I wish I wasn’t for parts of it.
Thursday! Final day of treatment! I was on a countdown and time was moving slowly. The morphine made me sick. Due to me being unable to move this required a costume change but finally I was called for my final session of brachytherapy. The finish line was in sight!
The treatment itself took a rapid five minutes. The experience that followed took an equal length of time however it felt much, much longer. The removal of the sleeve, applicator, packing and catheter was all done with no anaesthetic. I was armed with gas in one hand and a supportive nurse gripping the other. As welcome as these were they failed to mask the pain that followed. It felt like someone was excavating my cervix in search of dinosaur bones! Have you ever been in so much pain that it made you feel sick in the pit of your stomach? Thinking about it now sends shivers down my spine!
It was horrid but the second my cervix had been fully evacuated of all the paraphernalia I felt a sudden relief. The nausea remained but I could finally move again. Two days flat on my back left me walking like Bambi on ice and upon my first toilet visit my constipation suddenly lifted but I didn’t care because treatment was over and I was going home!
So for the first time in two months I have a full week of no hospital visits! As expected my side affects have flared up since finishing treatment plus I have spent a large part of the past five days sleeping. As previously described this whole process has been like getting hit by a truck very slowly. Hopefully I am at the peak of it now which means tomorrow brings the start of recovery. Although this is the finish line of treatment in a way it is only the beginning: in eight weeks time I will return to the hospital where the results of the treatment will be revealed. This revelation will lead to further hospital visits regardless. At best it will mean 3 month check ups for the next five years and who knows what the alternative is. Understandably the next eight weeks is going to be an emotional time for me and my family. What I do know is that I am incredibly lucky to have had my army of supporters to get me through the first step on what is sure to be an ultra marathon.