Pre – Chemo Procedures

I thought it might be of interest to others going through similar experiences to know what some of the pre chemo tests are all about. These don’t apply to everyone, it depends on what type of chemo you are having.

Kidney Function Test
The Waiting One.
I had this done to make sure my kidneys are working properly before I started treatment.
It was quite straight forward but involved a lot of waiting around.
I had to go to a department called Nuclear Medicine which sounded quite scary! All the nurses wear protective clothing like a lead apron, as they are dealing with radioactive substances every day.
I was injected with Chromium which didn’t hurt, then my weight and height recorded.
As I’m having my injection I discover I have two more tests coming up, one the following day, which involves being injected with radiation. So I have to stay away from children and anyone who is pregnant, for 24 hours…
They tell me this off the cuff, no warning, I have little time to sort out the matter of an 8 year old who happens to live with me!
Then I leave Nuclear Medicine and it’s a case of waiting. First a wait of 2 hours, then I had to have my bloods taken. Then an hour, bloods taken again, another hour and last bloods. You can eat and drink normally and nothing is painful. It’s just a nuisance having to wait around!

Heart Test (MUGA Scan)
The Radioactive One.
This test was important as I’d had chemotherapy before, they wanted to check no damage had been done to my heart and it was up to the task of more chemo.
So another trip to Nuclear Medicine, and an injection of radiation. Weird to think of that stuff travelling round my body!
After half an hour wait it’s back for the scan. Just lay on a board for about half an hour with a scanner placed right over the heart. It’s very close to my face. The radio is on so I have something to take my mind off it but it’s very simple and nothing painful, don’t feel anything. Everyone is very friendly and talks me through each step.
I have to use a special “I’ve just had radiation” loo in the hospital to prevent others being affected by it! I did feel like I should be glowing green and wearing a radiation suit!
Then it’s home and pack my bags, off to my parents caravan to quarantine myself overnight! It was very peaceful and quite nice to be away from the mayhem of home briefly! Hard to explain to Macie why I had to do it but it wasn’t for long.

Bone Scan
The Scary One.
This was to determine if the cancer was in my bones…
If it was, I had a 20% chance of beating it. Very scary indeed. Especially as the cancer I have, Ewings Sarcoma, is a bone and soft tissue cancer. The consultant had said he was very confident it would be clear, but even so, until you get the results it’s terrifying.
So back to my new second home, Nuclear Medicine, where the same lovely ladies injected me with radiation again. Then it’s a 3 hour wait until the scan. It’s quite hard to know what to do in that time, not long enough to go home but I have to be careful who I am near in shops etc. Mum and I managed a wander round without getting close to anyone.
Back to the hospital to have the scan and everyone is very kind, they know how important and daunting this is.
It’s the same machine as the heart scan but this time the board I’m laying on reverses extremely slowly out of the scanner, which is like a long tunnel, taking in every part of my body. It’s cold so I’m wrapped in a blanket. The radio doesn’t work, so they have cd’s on…Frank Sinatra…not exactly uplifting!
I realise I can see a monitor with parts of my body highlighted. I panic as it shows great areas of white highlighted. I panic very easily! Soon realise it’s just showing the area being scanned – numpty alert!!
It takes about 30 – 45 minutes. Laying there a lot of things go through my mind and it’s hard not to find it upsetting. I wonder what the ladies can see on their monitors…is it going to be ok? Has my luck run out??
Scan over and I wrestle myself upright (not easy after hysterectomy!)
I’m told to wait, they might need to re scan some areas. Why? Panic again. Anything unexpected is a worry. They come back and tell me I’m going for an x-ray. They can see something in my shoulder. WHAT?? VERY scared now. I must look terrifeid as they tell me it’s nothing to worry about, lots of people have x-rays, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad. Hmm, easy for them to say, I am now very worried indeed.
Off to x-ray. Change into a gown and into the x-ray room, stand on a certain point, very quickly my x-ray is done.
Straight away it’s taken to a doctor to determine what’s there.
I sit waiting in my gown, incase they need to do more tests. The radiographer comes back smiling and I take this as good news. She explains it’s just something degenerating slowly in my shoulder, like arthritis.
I have never been so relieved. I had been wondering how on earth a cancer that was found in my womb could’ve travelled to my shoulder without me knowing about it…PHEW!!!
I ask her if the fact that they haven’t needed to x-ray anywhere else means the bone scan didn’t reveal anything, she says as far as she’s concerned that’s correct…FANTASTIC!!
It’s been a pretty long and emotional day, but to hear that news when you leave and not have to wait until the next doctors appointment is amazing.
This time it’s Macie’s turn to go to the caravan overnight as I’m radioactive once again. She thinks it’s great, an adventure!

Bone Marrow Biopsy
The Painful One.
This I was scared of, big time. Injecting into bone. It’s never going to be a breeze.
Nobody had really told me a lot about it, all I knew was it was going to hurt but wouldn’t take long. Although when things hurt it can seem like a lifetime!
I took a very good friend with me for support, this is definitely not something to go through on your own!
I was taken through to a huge room where after signing consent forms I had to lay on a bed on my side, they were injecting into the hip bone. I lay there feeling very sick with nerves and hoping to goodness I wasn’t ill on my friend next to me!
Then the nurse got everything ready which seemed to take forever. At this point I just wanted her to get on with it and stop faffing!
I was asked if I’d like gas and air…oh yes! Not had it since I’d had Macie but remembered it was good stuff, anything that’ll help take the pain away please! Then they didn’t have a mask for the machine so we had to wait for that. Everything seemed to be taking so long…
Gradually aneasthetic was injected into my hip, four times. It wasn’t pleasant but not horrifically painful either. As the nurse pointed out, this would only do so much, nothing can prevent the pain of going into a bone.
Once the anaesthetic had taken hold it was time to get that bone marrow. I clung onto that gas for dear life! My friend was holding my hand and I had a lady pushing against my bent knees whilst the nurse went in with the needle the first time. I hadn’t realised it would be more than once she’s be going in! They didn’t really talk me through it as it was happening and I didn’t want to be constantly on the gas, just when it was needed. So I felt a sharp pain run through my leg as she went in the first time. It’s strange, I could hear a kind of tightening noise as she did it, which wasn’t pleasant!
This was repeated 3 or 4 times, I can’t remember now. I managed to take the gas as they were doing it the next times so didn’t really feel much pain.
It’s not a very nice procedure but I can honestly say it wasn’t terrible pain and it was over fairly quickly, all in all not as bad as I’d thought. Even so, VERY glad when it was all over.
As I’d had the gas I had to wait half an hour before I was ok to drive. Nobody had warned me about pain afterwards. I suppose I should’ve realised but I didn’t appreciate just how painful and sore it would be when the aneasthetic wore off.

PICC Line
The Easy One.
It is the day I’m being admitted onto the ward for my first chemotherapy but before that I need to have a PICC line fitted. There are various ways of having chemo, some have tablets, some a pump that they use at home, others go in for the day and it is proabably administered through a cannula in the hand. For me, as I’m having so much chemo (it takes 3 days, every 3 weeks) it is easier and less painful to have a PICC line which is a permanent fixture until my chemo finishes.
It is a port at the top of my arm which has a very thin tube leading from it to my heart. The nurses can then hook up the bags of chemo to a pump which is attached to the line and it all goes through there, pain free.
With a line like this there is a high risk of infection so I have to keep an eye on it that it’s not hot, sore, red or painful. If it is I have to ring the hospital and probabaly go in and have antibiotics to get rid of the infection.
Every week a district nurse comes to my house to flush the line with saline just to check it’s clear and working properly, and change the dressing as well.
The nurse that put the line in was brilliant. She had everything laid out ready and talked John and I though the whole procedure, and how to look after the line.
She asked if I was nervous, but nothing would ever compare to the bone marrow, I was fine about it!
I lay on a bed on my side and she used an ultra sound scanner to find a suitable vein in my arm. Oh the excitement – I have amazing veins!! Lucky me! So that part was easy!
Then anaesthetic into the arm and she placed the line whilst watching it on the scanner to make sure it went into the right area. It didn’t hurt at all.
Then I had to have an x-ray to double check it was in the right place.
It was quite straight forward and nothing to worry about.
Afterwards it was very sore, bruising from it being put in. It took some time to settle down but now it’s fine, I’m used to it.
It’s a bit of a nuisance, I have to cover it when showering/bathing etc and can’t go swimming. It’s not great having to wear a bandage over my arm which doesn’t stay in place so I have a make shift cut off tights cover thing going on – not attractive!! But it does the job when I’m having treatment and that’s the main thing.

So that’s what happened to me before chemotherapy. A lot of people asked when I was starting treatment and it seemed a long while, but that’s because all these things need doing first and then waiting for results. I’m also due to have my stem cells harvested as a purely precautionary measure. If anything happens in the future, they’ll be there ready to help me out.

One thought on “Pre – Chemo Procedures

  1. Thank you for sharing this Alice, I never knew so much had to be done before you even start Chemo! you are sounding like a human pin cushion, having all those people prodding you and regardless of what you say I reckon most people would pass out at the thought of that bone marrow test – your clear determination and positive attitude is amazing. Thinking of you lots xxx

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