I like to think of this as the attack phase. Kind of like when you start the Dukan diet, it’s time to blast those cells.
Prior to starting treatment we’d been allowed to return home for one night only. Looking back I can see now I’d focused too much on our brief night reunited as a family since diagnosis.
And as a result I think I’d not prepared myself for the thought of what we faced the following day.
We were to go into hospital Sunday afternoon in preparation for treatment on Monday. As the afternoon grew closer our emotions ran higher. I felt like a traitor taking Poppy back to the place she’d only just escaped from. Rationally I knew we were taking her to get help. But I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that we were taking our baby girl for medicine that was going to change her personality, her limitations, her looks and make her feel a lot worse before she was to feel better. I was going to make her ill and it symbolised the start of a very long road for us.
Not for the first time I felt I was offering her up for something I had absolutely no control over. It’s a strange feeling putting your trust in other people to protect your child. That’s my job after all, or it used to be….
Poppy was of course oblivious to all this, sitting quietly in the back of the car, unaware of what lay ahead. While in the front we felt guilty, terrified and alone. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as scared as I did that miserable grey Sunday.
Some wise ladies on the internet told me that treatment is pretty unremarkable, they weren’t wrong. I’d imagined chemotherapy involving those white spacesuits like in ET and face masks. But I was rather off the mark on that one.
Poppy started her treatment by taking steroids in the form of some ineffectual looking 5mg of medicine called Dexamthasone. The biggest effect this had on Poppy was that the fluids she needed whilst starting steroids meant she was to be attached to a drip for the best part of a week. So far, so inconvenient. But, never one to let these things stop her, off we trundled to the playroom desperately trying to keep up with her whilst pushing a drip stand on wheels akin to getting the most useless trolly in the supermarket.
Having been described by the doctors as ‘not very veiny’ they’d had trouble getting fluids to and from our Pops and this week she was lumbered with a cannular in the crook of her left arm. In what was possibly the most unhelpful move ever, each time she bent her arm to eat, play or move in general it prevented the fluids going into the tube and set off an alarm on the monitor it was attached to. Unfortunately the incessant beeping could only be switched off by nurses and this resulted in them having to constantly come in to switch it off and some very disturbed night’s sleep.
One old school nurse even took the time to fashion a splint in an attempt to keep her arm straight. As it was the hospital’s policy not to use splints anymore, she ended up with a makeshift device which looked the size of a cricket bat. Good on her for trying though.
Week one also saw chemotherapy with the strange name of Vincristine , which was administered through the line in her arm. It was over within minutes and seemed rather uneventful.
In addition to this and probably the most unpleasant for Poppy was an injection of medicine called Pegaspargase. Needles are never going to be well received but after everything else, this just seemed cruel. At least she didn’t know what was coming, but sadly it was to be the first of many.
During treatment week she also had her blood taken with an alarming regularity. Every six hours. I was glad they were being thorough, but, well I was amazed she had any left.
She also needed a trip to theatre for a Lumbar Puncture whereby they check the fluid around the spine. The doctors rather breezily mentioned they check to see if the cancer has spread to the brain. What is standard procedure for the doctors sounded like another potential nightmare for us. This was Poppy’s third theatre trip in a week and they were getting harder for us each time. Only one parent is allowed in as the patient goes under anaesthetic, so we reluctantly took it in turns to say goodnight as the ‘special medicine’ puts our baby into a deep sleep yet again.
As traumatic as it is for us when Poppy goes to theatre, her biggest grumble is being nil by mouth from midnight the night before. As the steroids kick in and her appetite increases we had to pretend our walk to theatre was a trip to the cafe to get sausages. And we certainly have to ensure we have them waiting for her when she wakes up….
And so, in spite of drips, alarms, anaesthetics, needles and going hungry Poppy’s treatment week came to a close. She’d managed a few visitors, trips to the playroom and the minimum of fuss. She amazed me yet again. She handled it all with good grace and without too much protest.
Doctors who had been eyed suspiciously at the beginning of the week were now tolerated. Nurses disturbing her for constant observations were met with a weary resignation. A sad sign to us that she was beginning to accept what was happening and we’d better get a handle on it as quickly and impressively as she had.