‘The feeling of the needle going into my skin and veins was the easy part. ABVD chemotherapy was being given to me for the treatment of my Hodgkin lymphoma.
I watch my nurse meticulously prepare the medication and she asks me if I am ready. For all the cycles of chemotherapy, I was never ready.
I watched her as she inserted each drug, one after the other over a period of two hours. It was when the ‘red drug’ came that I glanced and a rush of dizziness and nausea swallowed me up. Was it the colour of the drug making me feel sick? Despite the anti-sickness drugs, I found myself vomiting. The nurse stopped and waited until I became ‘stable’. This is hard. Why do we have to have cancer? I wasn’t even done with the second dose and I was already tired. The truth was, at that moment I wanted to stand up and walk away from it all. But my nurse always looked on the positive side of things, which I loved.
My vomiting gradually declined and my nurse explained that it was psychological as she had not fully injected the chemo yet. Two hours later I went home. I was feeling sorry for myself. The chemotherapy had engulfed me. My poor mother had to take me back to hospital that night. I knew she was fearful..
The next morning I sensed my consultant was briefed on the state I was in and she came to counsel me. I cried and told her I couldn’t take any more chemotherapy. She held my hand and said: “Reem you can. 10% is the chemo and the rest is you.” At the time I didn’t really understand what she meant.
I had 14 days before my next dose. I reflected, I prayed and I searched for a solution. I found Yanni. It was a CD that a girl at university gave me a few years back. At that moment, I listened and it comforted me. Two weeks later, with my head held high, I walked back to that hospital room, with its bare white walls, its ‘comfy chairs’ and its smell of chemo. I told my nurse that I was going to close my eyes and listen to my music. I told her, “Don’t wake me until you have injected all the drugs.”
Where did I go? As I listened to Yanni, I entered my interpretation of Heaven. It was where I wanted to be at the time; a beautiful garden filled with my freedom – free of the taste and smell of chemo.
For those who have been through cancer, or those that have supported someone going through it, you will recognise that it is not as simple as swallowing a tablet. Sometimes the treatment itself is harder than the cancer and its symptoms. If you are undergoing chemotherapy and are struggling to cope or feel helplessl, just as I felt at the beginning of my treatment, then you can search for something that makes you happy and hold on to it with all your strength during your therapy.
For me, I prayed and entered my own world as the nurse injected the drugs. Despite the treatment, I began to reconnect with my zest for life and dreamed and visualised my future. I dreamed of a little girl with long smooth black hair. When I told my mother, she said she understood that I wanted to get through the treatment and not just to survive, but to thrive! The girl in my dream was me, with my long black hair back, having lost it during treatment. I visualised the girl often and this visualisation was a really important part of helping me heal.
For me, it was my music, my mother and gradual faith that enabled me to get through it. I released the fear inside me and I accepted where I was. I no longer fought where I was, but I embraced it. I prayed and entered my own world as my nurse injected the drugs.’
Reem was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006 when she was 25 years old.