Went to have blood taken. No Ferdinandos today. A very clever-looking woman doctor called Dr Elizabeth Cox came in. She asked me how chemo was going. I told her about the frightening depression. She explained that FEC causes oestrogen levels to plummet and of course it’s oestrogen wot keeps you up, as we women know: PMT is caused by oestrogen levels falling before a period. A nurse popped her head round the door to pass my blood results in.
‘Hmm,’ said the doctor, looking at them. ‘You are neutropenic.’
Ooh, sounded a bit rude. I felt like saying ‘I am not that! Are you disrespecting me? Are you calling me a pikey?’
To my affronted look she continued: ‘Some of the white blood cells which fight infection are called neutrophils. Your neutrophil count is very low. You don’t have enough of these for us to give you chemo tomorrow.’
I felt a mixture of relief and worry at the delay. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘It is quite common for the chemo to cause this. It might explain why you were feeling so low. Basically the FEC gave you a big knock.’
‘Does that mean it also gave the cancer a big knock?’ I asked.
‘Yes, absolutely, it does,’ she reassured me. ‘You can come back in on Monday morning. With any luck, by then the count will be higher and you can have chemo the same day.’
Hooray, the weekend I had written off is mine for the taking. She explained that cycle 6 (the last one!) will still happen as scheduled in three weeks time, all being well.
‘Is there anything I can do, or eat, to help the neutrophil count improve?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she replied. ‘There is nothing you can do.’
As you have already predicted I am sure, I didn’t believe this for a second. I will find ways to raise the count, ha ha, see, my fighting spirit is back!
‘But when you have the next chemo, we will give you Neutrogen which will boost neutrophil production. You’ll have to inject it into your thigh each day for 6 days.’
Oh shizzle on my dizzle thank God I live with a diabetic. Tabby can inject me. Phew.
I thought I would get another perspective on the nodules. I asked where they were for starters. One is apparently in the lower left lung and the other in the mid right lung. Better to know thine enemy.
I asked if I should phone the Breast Unit people and talk to them about booking a slot for the op as one of my little worries has been that I’ll get to the end of chemo and they’ll say ‘Oh, sorry, the next available slot is in December.’ By which time the lump will have grown again and all this shrinkage effort will have been in vain.
‘No, no,’ the doctor smiled. ‘We will do that for you. I’m booking you a meeting to work out a date and all the details.’
A nurse from Cancer Research UK came in as Dr Cox left. She asked if, when I have my op, they can have some of the removed breast tissue for research. They want to do two different studies looking at stem cells. I said of course they can use it. It’s not like I want to bury it in a box under a lavender bush, say a few words, have it cremated or anything. And the results of their research could help the doctors work out the best therapy for my cancer more accurately.
So, back home, with creation of white blood cells in mind, I have been making smoothies, using fruit that has a thick skin. When you are neutropenic you can’t fight invading germs so you don’t want to risk eating stuff that has earth or bacteria on it. So bananas, oranges, mangos and pawpaws are good. You want to avoid blue or unpasteurised cheeses and the like. I cooked some broccoli with lemon and black pepper, crispy kale in the oven, and Arulesh’s mum’s recipe of green beans with tomato and onion in garlic, chilli, fennel seeds, turmeric, cumin, curry powder and coconut milk. We baked butternut squash and stir-fried rice with scrambled Duchy eggs stirred in.
I have formulated a plan for next chemo. A simple strategy. Before Monday I am going to gather the sofas at the bottom of the big room and bring in lots of fire-wood. I’m going to make sure I have lots of lime and Volvic and ginger (and a bucket in case of the worst). I’m going to plug the phone in down there. (ooh fnarr fnarr sounds rude, but it’s not.) I’ll have a laptop, a pile of music and a flute. I’m going to get in some great films. We will light the fire, the dogs and cats will join me on the sofa under the blankie, pupils will pop in and play lovely tunes to me, and I will just stay there for a week and see what happens.
I am bearing in mind that the simplest strategies do not always work. My dad once decided to simplify Christmas. He found at a jaw-dropping bargain a rather handsome black umbrella and was so chuffed with it that he bought twenty five of them to give to neighbours and friends. He never suspected that they were a bad lot wot had fallen off the back of a lorry. He merrily handed them all out. Not til a week or so later did he venture out in the rain. At the first tiny gust of wind the umbrella flipped inside out and flashed its spokes lustily at the weather. ‘Never mind’ thought Dad, ‘this one’s probably a fluke. Chances are the others are all fine.’
Nope. We spotted the poor vicar struggling along Barton Road in lashing rain with what looked like a massive black flappy tulip. Mrs-Bliss-next-door’s umbrella’s spokes pinged clean off as she stepped out onto her front doorstep. One by one those umbrellas whoomped themselves inside out. We received dribs and drabs of news detailing that every single one of them had died a swift death on its first outing.
My brother Pete tells a funny story about one of Ferg’s failed plans. One day when we were away and had left the boys behind, Ferg, aged about seventeen, apparently came downstairs wearing one of Dad’s suits. Pete, a bit alarmed, asked ‘Why are you wearing a suit?’
Ferg said ‘I am going to the bank to borrow some money.’ (You kind of have to do the voice right: highly serious, heavily articulated, and formal, with a frown, if that helps.) He had decided that he needed to buy body-building equipment.
He came back an hour later with no money and no body-building equipment.
‘What happened?’ asked Pete.
‘It’s Saturday. The bank is not open,’ replied Ferg.
But anyway, my sofa/fire/film plan is a good plan. And I’m sticking to it. Means Fred will have to do the ponies. That’s OK, as he lost his job a week ago. (I know: it never rains but it pours.) Seriously though, if no job is forthcoming, we could sell up and live on a boat on the river Stort like Barney and Big Alf. We’d have to be tidy then.