Health, Naturally! Health, Naturally! 2015

Health Naturally – February 2015 – Sarah Greenhalgh

A Guest contribution – A GP’s perspective of a patient’s journey

healthnaturally1In June last year, I wrote about my brother Mike who had just been diagnosed with bi-lateral breast cancer. At the time he had been a GP for nearly 33 years and to highlight the rarity of this diagnosis he had never seen a man with breast cancer in his practice.

His treatment included a double mastectomy, cycles of chemotherapy and then radiotherapy. Mike saw his consultant last week who said the scans were as good as they could possibly be. He felt everything had gone as well as anyone could have dared hope and a lot of the good response was due to my brother’s ‘positivity’ that his consultant would like to bottle if it were possible!!!

Mike’s blog has reached fellow cancer patients all around the world and comments posted show how beneficial his experiences and advice have been. With this in mind I thought it would be advantageous to include details of a GP’s perspective of his own journey as a patient through his 6 cycles of chemo; for those on the Roseland who find themselves or know of friends in a similar situation.

From November 2014’s blog – Chemotherapy some lessons learnt

healthnaturally2“It is great to complete the chemo, as you can imagine, but one must remember that the chemo has a job to do and I need to know that it has been successful before getting too excited about finishing.

Lessons learnt in no particular order:

  1. Stay positive. Keep looking at diet (some wonderful immune boosting recipes found detailed at the bottom of this link) and lifestyle changes and accept support in all ways.
  2. Long line – Portacath in my case, is very important and every patient needs to look after it and understand how it works and the ways of using, accessing it and looking after it. District nurses are usually involved.
  3. Understand what Chemotherapy drug regimen you have been prescribed and check that you are given what you think you should be having.
  4. Ask questions and if necessary write them down before appointments so that you do not forget what to ask. It is important to fully understand the treatment you are having and the reasons for it.
  5. In chemo suite relax you are in good hands, work with the nurses to let everything run smoothly.
  6. healthnaturally3Make sure you have blood tests as ordered by your doctor, preferably at your GP surgery , as it is useful for them to be involved and be aware what is going on. Letters from the hospital can sometimes take a long time to get to GPs and patients and are therefore out of date.
  7. Relax when having your chemo, read a book, listen to music or read a newspaper, anything that will help the time pass easily.
  8. Cold Cap: I used it for 3 sessions but should have stopped earlier. Do not be afraid to stop using it , the side effect of a nasty sick headache was too much for me. In the end I became more worried about the cold cap rather than the chemo!
  9. Hair loss- is variable. I have lost quite a lot of body hair but not all. Eyebrows are thinned, as is my scalp. For me this has not been a particular issue but I fully understand that for some younger ladies this is a very important subject. Nearly everyone says they know someone whose their hair grew back thicker and stronger post chemo, and where more than happy in the end. Time will tell.
  10. Rest. It is important to rest more when having chemo. I definitely think that days 5 – 9 are the most important and rest is essential during this time. For me it meant 2 extra naps a day for anything from 30 minutes to one and a half hours. Everyone is different but do not worry if you head back to bed regularly over these days.
  11. healthnaturally4Drugs for side effects: make sure that all the drugs prescribed are taken regularly. They are needed to prevent side effects rather than treat them. For me nausea was a worry but I only had the ondansetron for the FEC chemo of the first 3 cycles, and was lucky I had little serious nausea and no vomiting. Injections are sometimes given to help the white blood cells from going too low, these are taken for 8 days from the day after chemo, I self-administered into my abdomen easily, but otherwise district nurses or practice nurses will administer. They can give generalised aches and pains but on finishing usually herald the start of some improvement of the side effects.
  12. Bowels must be kept regular as any upset either way can make one feel rotten. Ondansetron causes constipation so take medicines to keep your regular. Lactulose is a softener and not a stimulant so if you are having difficulty with constipation may need Senna or Laxido.
  13. Steroids made me feel great but a little high! Sleep was affected only 3 hours per night, so again this has a knock on effect on tiredness. NOTE should be taken after meals breakfast and lunch not later in the day.

   14. Plan your better times carefully. Towards the end I was getting too busy during my better times this also takes its toll.

healthnaturally5These are just personal thoughts on my experience of chemo, that I hope you will find interesting and helpful.”

Another thing that has been keeping Mike busy is producing a Calendar for 2015 depicting some of the paintings he has done over the last year; proceeds are going towards refurbishment of Northampton General Hospital’s Chemotherapy suite where he was so well looked after. The photograph taken by Mike is from the cover of his Calendar and reminds me of the amazing sunset over St Mawes on 26th January; if you had painted those colours no one would have believed you unless they had seen it for themselves! The painting is my favourite from within the Calendar, what a talent and such a wonderful way to unwind.

Wishing you a continued happy and healthy 2015.

Best wishes

Sarah Greenhalgh

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