Tuesday 04 June 2019
Since deciding to pursue chemotherapy, I’ve felt confident in its ability to help me and I take full ownership in following this path. It’s none-the-less a strange feeling waking up on the first morning knowing what lies ahead. I suppose it could be a bit like setting out on a mountaineering expedition with equal measures of optimism and awe at the scale of the awaiting adventure. Having had less than six hours sleep, Pia and I left the house around 8:30 for the hour-and-a-quarter drive to the hospital.
My first appointment was for a PICC line placement at 10:00. PICC stands for “Peripherally Inserted Central venous Catheter”. It is essentially a narrow tube, up to around 60 cm long, which is inserted into a vein under the bicep. The line terminates in a larger vein in the chest (hence “central venous”) and allows for chemotherapy drugs and other fluids to enter the body, via a drip, and for bloods to be taken.
There are a couple of advantages to using a PICC line. The first is that some of the chemo drugs, notably Etoposide in my case, can be damaging to the veins, and there is less risk of damage to the veins in the arms if a PICC line is used rather than a cannula. The second advantage is one of convenience and comfort. Having a PICC line in for the course of the treatment (9 weeks for me), prevents the need to be continually punctured and bruised every time I make a visit to the hospital. Some hospitals do not have a PICC facility and so don’t offer lines to chemo patients, however it’s a standard part of the process for BEP chemotherapy at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre (BHOC).
The line was put in under local anaesthetic. Having it put in was probably the only thing I’d not been looking forward to, as I’ve never been great with needles or having things inserted into veins. However, there was no discomfort whatsoever in having it placed. Even having the anaesthetic injected was barely noticeable. It took about half an hour or so complete. After the line was in, some blood was taken to be tested for tumour markers, full blood count and liver and kidney function.
Following that, we headed up to the chemo ward to talk about the treatment with a nurse and go through a lengthy questionnaire. I was then sent for a chest x-ray. Pia and I then grabbed some lunch before heading to the audiology clinic to have my hearing tested. This was done to establish a baseline against which my hearing can be measured again after treatment. Chemo can cause some degradation in hearing in some cases, and tinnitus is a common short-term side effect. It can also, but rarely, be a long-term side effect.
We then headed back to the chemo ward, where there was a bed waiting for me in a room with three older gentlemen. After a bit of a wait, the last of my blood results came through (from the samples taken when I had my PICC line put in). I was weighed and had my blood pressure taken. Then I was ready to commence treatment.