Chemotherapy is a living hell. When everything started, I really felt dead inside. The medication made me feel so physically and psychologically bad that it made me wonder what hell could be like. I was dead. At least, I felt like it. I lived through what I thought was hell for 4 months.

During this period, I had time to think things through, to reflect and write about it.

                                                                                     

Raring To Go

At the time of my diagnosis in early 2015, I knew that I would have no choice but to go through chemotherapy. My tumour, on top of its substantial size, had developed a mix of invasive carcinoma in-situ which had affected several lymph nodes. Because of my age, the aggressiveness of my cancer, and the position of my tumour, I had to minimise the risk of a relapse at all costs so I made the choice to return to France and go through the French protocol. I had 6 rounds of chemotherapy to complete. I marked those dates in red ink on my battle plan – I looked forward to them just like the coming of a Messiah who would keep me alive.

 

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Before the start of chemotherapy, many of my relatives were quite amazed by my optimism and energy. People often ask me how I managed that. 

I was raring to go for my first session. I made the conscious choice not be accompanied by family or friends. It’s my own cancer and I felt I needed to confront it alone with these intravenous drugs. Nothing could have prepared me for treatment; the heart examination and needle installation on my port-a-cath awakened a fear of the unknown. I had the chance to speak with a health professional (sophrologist) who helped me calm down with breathing exercises. I realised that yoga and meditation would be one of my best allies during treatment. I started practicing it every day.

During my second round of chemotherapy, my cousin was with me. I accepted being accompanied by someone, but not just anybody. It was difficult for me to be accompanied during these sessions. I didn’t know how I was going to react to the first session and preferred to be alone. Nevertheless, at this stage, there were a few people in my life that I felt close enough to let them enter into the hospital room with me. They’re the people who don’t need to say much but who knows you well enough to keep calm when your worst side comes out; or who, even without a word, are able to understand you, to guess what you’re feeling. But above all, they’re the people who know how to react the way you expect them to when facing a difficult situation. 

In the end, my sister came with me for my third chemo, my father for the fourth and fifth sessions, and finally, my mother and two friends for the last one.

 

Side-Effects

Chemotherapy made a major impact on my body. There were so many side effects that the medical staff has to record them in some kind of “sacred listing”. I was lucky enough to be treated in a centre where patients can get all the support that they need. I didn’t go there just for the sessions! I received constant monitoring and attention so that I could get by better during the time between the sessions.

 

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They told me when to expect the occurrence of every side effect.

To briefly explain my protocol, I had 6 chemo sessions to complete. Half of those sessions administered FEC100 and the other half Taxotere. Side-effects are not the same. For FEC100, I experienced massive tiredness and nausea. That was the easy part! Taxotere had even more side-effects. After a few ‘good’ days following an injection, I underwent a week of pain in my muscles and joints (it felt like a powerful flu combined with an uncomfortable feeling of needles prickling all over my body) as well as burns, mouth ulcers, and lesions in my mouth and oesophagus. I had difficulties feeding myself during this time. I was also prepared to lose my nails and for my skin to get extremely dry. The medical staff spent time explaining every side effect to me so that I could be prepared for them, either through medication, special care, or new habits. I ended up managing quite well and found remedies that alleviated the side-effects I faced.

 

Shift In Perspective

I think that when faced with cancer, finding the right path depends on each of us. Each person approaches their path from a certain perspective, based on his/her character and personal experience. From where I stood, if I wasn’t satisfied with what lay in front of me, all it takes for me to enjoy again the things that come my way is to take a different perspective.

When I was first told about my illness, I took the decision not to consider the upcoming months of treatment as a real-life tragedy. We are all faced with painful experiences at some point in our lives. I am not the first person this has happened to, and I will not be the last. 

 

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Somewhere inside us, we all have this angel and this devil engaged in a constant battle. In my current situation, the devil wears the face of fear, anger, sadness and pain, while the angel is confidence, serenity, happiness, and hope. Inside our minds, the fight between those two rages on. Like in a cartoon. Often, the strongest of the two takes it all but I believe that each has a chance to win. It is up to us to decide which will be the winner, the angel or the devil. It’s a matter of choice. Aren’t we all in pursuit of happiness? I just need to make sure that I’m feeling as good as possible about my daily life, regardless of the treatment or illness. 

Sometimes, all it takes is a simple shift in perspective to change a life. Yes, I’m ill. Yes, I have cancer. Yes, chemo sucks. Yes, the treatment is tough. Both test my life and my patience. So be it. It seems unfair but now that cancer is here, I prefer to keep up my energy for fighting it instead of trying to understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ without any chance of ever getting an answer. 

Today, I have never felt so alive. I’m far from being defeated – I’m ready to take on whatever challenges await me and build my future. 

 

 

Cancer does not discriminate. It can strike any one at any time. We first met Deborah when she signed up for Race Against Cancer 2015 early last year, shortly after she was diagnosed and was still being treated. We've kept in contact ever since. Deborah will be sharing regularly about her cancer journey every month as a volunteer writer for SCS, especially about how she's readjusting to life after breast cancer

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