Living the chemo

Heidi Loughlin 3

Heidi Loughlin 3 - Credit: Archant

Before I was rudely welcomed to Cancerland five years ago, I had no idea what chemotherapy was all about. I thought that everyone who had chemo was bald, a complete physical wreck and spent the majority of the time with their head or bottom glued to a toilet seat. I believed that chemotherapy was a single drug that cured or aimed to cure all types of cancer and that patients spent hours in hospital on depressing wards where everyone presumably cried constantly.

Now, while some of these things are true for certain individuals, I am here to confirm that most of what I thought about chemo before I lived with cancer was absolute horse manure. As it goes, everyone’s cancer experience is unique. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is one of the most rare and aggressive forms of the disease which currently effects 500 women in the UK. However, each patient with IBC is different. We have different hormone receptors which can change our treatment and we can all respond differently to different drugs.

When I was first diagnosed, I had a drug that did nothing to cure the cancer but it made all my hair fall out. I was automatically moved on to other drugs. The second drug was meant to be the best available to me but it stopped working after just six months, made me feel sick and all food taste like soil (torture for me as I love my food). I could smell the bacon sandwich, imagine its taste and then biting into it was like chewing down on compost. This drug also made my fingernails fall out. I then moved onto my third line of treatment for stage four cancer with a metastasis (spread) to my lungs and skin; which was deemed less effective. This was my game-changer and that transition was in October 2016. The drug obliterated the tumours in my lungs and skin and to this day gives me little side effects. I have nose bleeds, fatigue and if I pick up an infection it floors me, but other than that my life is more than normal. I have grown back my own hair (clever girl I am), I exercise a lot, work, have young kids and a very active social life. I attend the Bristol Oncology Hospital every three weeks where I have intravenous chemotherapy over 30 minutes. This will be for life, as stage four cancer is incurable and expected to rear its head again sometime in the future, so they say. Yet the only time I feel like a cancer patient is while I’m hooked up to the medication and even then I’m on a ward full of people cracking jokes and getting on with their lives with cancer. It’s not easy and there are times when I feel sad for myself and that life is unfair etc. but I remind myself that I cannot control what will be and so I focus on what I can control, and that for me, is living my life. n

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