Sometimes, the Dutch language literally makes me giggle – a Prikkammer is where they take your blood – it literally translates as a ‘prick room’ and, in the usual Dutch no nonsense fashion, the efficiency of the process is great. You rock up and take a ticket, have a seat and wait your turn, no standing in a queue (perfect for me right now, as I can’t stand for long!) When it’s your turn, you show your ID, they print off your details onto stickers and send you to a Prikkammer, where a nurse is waiting and welcomes you by name. They check your date of birth, take your blood, stick your stickers to the little sample bottles and send you on your way in minutes. An hour later, you see your doctor, who already has all your results on their system, ready to discuss. Back home, I’d still be waiting for an appointment…!
Anyway, after each round of chemo, my Oncology team want to check how my blood’s held up, to get a feel for whether I’ll be strong enough to crack on into the next cycle. So on Friday morning, I headed off to the OLVG and into a Prikkammer.
Just don’t bump into anything…
You know when someone puts a plate of food in front of you and says “be careful, the plate’s really hot…” In my defense, this was before they told me the plate was hot, but hey…
So following the “use it or lose it” advice of my rehab team, I’m consciously trying to use my left hand as much as possible, even for things I’d typically do with my dominant right; holding my toothbrush, opening doors, I’ve even turned all my cutlery round in the kitchen drawer so the handles are now on the left, forcing me to use my left hand to pick things out. But unfortunately, as I discovered on Thursday night, this can backfire when you get an itch on your forehead and go to scratch it with a slightly uncontrollable left hand… I not only manage to slap myself in the face, but following the “it’s only a scratch, give it a rub, you’ll be fine” advice I was given as a child, I give it a rub…
AN: when you have no platelets in your blood, it won’t clot, so you bleed, a lot. Chemo kills platelets…
So I rock up to see my Oncology nurse (Monique) on Friday morning to get my blood test results sporting a delightful red scab on my forehead – classy Boxy, classy – and seeing a line of numbers on her screen highlighted with asterisks, my first comment is “my platelets are low, right?” Yep. Damn that hot plate…
Of course, in my usual fashion, I want to understand the detail. But Monique knows me well now, so she’s ready for my barrage of questions:
My red cell count – what’s ‘normal’?
And what’s the threshold for giving me the green light on the next cycle of chemo?
Well, they carry oxygen round your body to give you energy. So as long as you feel ok and not too fatigued, we’re happy.
So at 6.9 I’m ok?
Cool. And my white cell count?
Normal is anything between 4 and 10.
So at 5.6 I’m ok?
Happy days. And my platelets?
Normal is 150-400 but as long as you’re above 100, we’ll go ahead.
Mine are down to 71 – not dangerously low, but too low to continue chemo.
Yes, but we still have a few days for them to recover, so we’ll test you again on Tuesday and see if they’ve come back up.
Looking for the positive angle, something I can influence, I ask if there’s anything I can do to help boost them, like eat more kale or something?!
Yes – don’t bump into anything…
Can’t argue with that I guess!
So am I ready to fight?
Humour aside; the numbers don’t really tell the full story. Whilst my blood may recover, the chemo is targeting the areas where my body is weakest, and right now that’s the stability and dexterity in my left arm and hand. So the progress I’ve made in rewiring and retraining my brain is going backwards, and some things I could do a month ago, I now can’t do again.
Chemo is a killer, but the idea is that the benefits of it killing the bad shit outweighs the hit of it killing the good. I get this, but seeing my little wins disappear is frustrating, heartbreaking at times. I’d be ok with this if I knew they’d recover during the rebuild week (in the same way my bloods have) but so far, they haven’t.
So if my platelets are good tomorrow and I get the green light to go ahead with cycle 2 of chemo, I’m doing it knowing that my hand / arm are starting from a weaker position than they were three weeks ago. And if they don’t recover in between cycles, how far backwards will they go? Will I end up where I started before surgery? Or worse? And will I be able to fix them again afterwards?
I could sit and dwell on this forever. But I can’t do anything about it, not even by eating more kale. What I can do is focus on the fact that, if my platelets have recovered, my blood is strong and we go again. We know my left arm and hand are damaged – Dastardly did his worst there – but right now I still have more back that he took. So cancer is NOT winning, I am.
So bring it on…