Breast Cancer Blog - Episode 17: Affairs of the Heart

To you lot, the build up to chemo may well seem like the build up to an end-of-season sale at a really shit pound shop. Some over-zealous newbie with a diploma in social media has been hyping the ad campaign up to the point where even you, a discerning yet compassionately tasteful consumer, have taken an interest. But deep down, you know that whatever is on offer once the doors finally open on Sale Day, it’s going to be shelves of the unfloggable total shite that even the most ardent of thrifty shoppers have refused to purchase on several occasions in the past. No one wants what chemo has to offer.


And if you’re starting to feel that the wait has been somewhat drawn out, imagine how it feels for me. Boredom and apprehension do battle with each other to fill my days. My happy, chirpy stiff upper lip chafes regularly against my grinding teeth, and my positive smile is tautened by the pull of my clenched jaw. I want chemo to start, but there is nothing on earth that I want to happen less. Apart from dying, which isn’t the greatest of choices, so chemo wins by dint of no one else turning up.


Chemo Prep

You may be surprised to hear that there is a large amount of preparation that goes into pumping someone full of poisonous chemicals. There are infusion lines to be inserted, bloods to be tested, height and weight calculations to be taken, decisions over the mix and type of godawful toxins to use, and markers to be recorded so as to measure the impact and damage of the chemo drugs on your vital organs once the treatment programme kicks off.


The chemo team called me last week and talked me through the next few appointments and we booked them in. First off is a heart scan. An echocardiogram. Smartarse me feels smugly confident in this one, I had an ECG at the pre-op, so this will be a breeze. But I google it anyway (because hey, what the fuck else have I got to do?) and it turns out that an Echocardiogram isn’t an ECG - that’s an Electrocardiogram, the one with the beeps and the pulses, the star of so many episodes of Casualty that it really should have its own Equity card. No, the ‘Echo’ is an EKG, even though there’s no ‘K’. It’s an ultrasound, you know, the one with the KY jelly and the blue paper towels. But hopefully no second tiny heart beat. Just the one hugely powerful adult healthy one is what we’re after. They do it to check out your heart and arteries, to make sure they’re OK to cope with the poison-laden twat-festering chunderbus that is coming their way.


And so now I’m heading off the Cardiology, alone, as Mr G was being an arse about something or other, so I flounced out with full dramatic effect to “DRIVE MYSELF TO THE HOSPITAL FOR A HEART SCAN BECAUSE I HAVE CANCER, ACTUALLY, BUT NO, YOU KEEP PLAYING YOUR COMPUTER GAME, I’LL BE FINE”.


Stress levels are high. Moving on.


All About C

Once you have cancer, everything that happens in your life is henceforth totally about cancer. Your conversations, your diet, your social life, and also every tiny thing that happens to your body. You get a hangnail, you think it’s cancer. You get a headache, it’s cancer. You fart, it’s cancer. Living with the cancer you know you have is hard enough, but learning to live with the fear of the cancer you might have, now or in the future, is very much worse. You are also constantly expecting to hear the worst possible news. All of the time. So obviously, as I’m now having a heart scan, and because I am an over-dramatic, anxiety-ridden loon, and despite the fact that I have no previous heart problems, I am fully expecting to be told that I have total heart failure, and that I will be dead by Thursday lunchtime.


Luckily Darcey, my cancer buddy, is by my virtual side, and she reassures me that I am unlikely to die this week. As I am flying solo on this one (Mr G really is in the very depths of the doghouse now), I will have the added anxiety of having to work out how the car park ticketing schizzle works. Big angst, as this is very clearly Mr G territory. I imagine scenes where I lose my ticket and have to walk home. Eastbourne is hilly, I clearly have a weak heart, so I will die. Or I try to pay with cash and it only takes contactless cards cos this is a hospital and Covid, and my card suddenly stops working, I am arrested for fraud, get sent to jail, the stress affects my weak heart and I die. Obviously I also explore the flip side of this where the card machine isn’t working and I don’t have the right change. I check my purse, I have £1.80 in cash, and everyone knows that hospital car parking is £200 an hour, so I will not be able to pay, I will be left with no option but to walk home, up the steep hill, heart, death, da capo al fine.


Cardiology

But I navigate the entrance to the car park, get my ticket and put it safely in my purse. So far, so good. My success boosts my confidence and I remember to note whereabouts I have parked the car because my cancer-brain will forget, and I march into the hospital, flick the hand sanitiser, grab a blue mask and flounce past the Reception desk with the swagger of a seasoned pro. I don’t need to check in any more, because I, ladies and gentlemen, am now officially a regular. I have a post-it note of the directions that the lady on the phone gave me - straight past Reception, end of the corridor, up one flight of stairs, Green Zone, turn left into Cardiology, ring the doorbell that looks like a light switch. The fuck?


No, no, no, this cannot be happening. The doorbell that looks like a light switch? How much more laden with potential for utter disaster could those few words be? My mind’s way ahead of me. I will undoubtedly flick the wrong switch, turn off all the lights in the hospital, trigger a critical incident and cause the whole hospital to be evacuated. Or I will turn off all the machines that are keeping all the heart patients alive, they will all die, or I won't even find the switch and I will be wandering the corridors for all eternity. And don’t come at me with any of your ‘it won’t happen’s, because my life truly is an episode of Airplane right now, and statistically, chances are, it will.