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  • Writer's pictureTanya Louise

I had Adjuvant Chemotherapy like Kate Middleton, but what is it?

Understanding Adjuvant Chemotherapy: My Journey with Cancer Treatment

Tanya Louise by the sea

Cancer is a journey you always think happens to someone else, but it isn't, not in my case anyway. A diagnoses brings with it a whirlwind of emotions, before you even start treatment.

As a two-time cancer survivor, I’ve walked this path twice, and I’m here to share my story and shed light on the treatments that have helped me along the way.

One such treatment is adjuvant chemotherapy, a term that might sound familiar to many, including those like Catherine, the Princess of Wales, who are navigating similar journeys.

Adjuvant chemotherapy refers to the additional cancer treatment given after the primary treatment, such as surgery. The main goal of this therapy is to eliminate any residual cancer cells that might be lurking in the body, reducing the risk of cancer recurrence.

When I first heard the term, it sounded daunting. No one wants to go through chemotherapy really. Visions spring to mind of sick, weak, hairless patients, but understanding its purpose and benefits brings some much-needed clarity and hope.

My experience with adjuvant chemotherapy began after my first initial surgery. The surgery had successfully removed the visible tumour, but further tests on the tumour (an Oncotype test) reveal the probability of the cancer returning. I was told my chances of a recurrence without chemotherapy were around 25%, with it around 5%. My oncology team recommended adjuvant chemotherapy to target any microscopic cancer cells that could not be seen or removed during surger that could be 'floating around my body' as they put it.

This approach is crucial because even after a successful surgery, there’s always a possibility that some cancer cells remain, and these can grow and spread if not addressed.

Adjuvant chemotherapy acts as an insurance policy, ensuring that every last cancer cell is targeted.

The journey through adjuvant chemotherapy, however, is not without its challenges. The regimen typically involves multiple cycles of chemotherapy drugs administered over several months.

Each cycle brings its own set of side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and a weakened immune system. It’s a tough road, one that requires immense strength and support from loved ones. Medication is given to try and counteract some of the side effects, but these themself cause other problems, such as 'steroid face', or 'moon face' as its sometimes called.

During my treatment, I found solace in connecting with other survivors at Maggie's Centre in Nottingham, who shared their stories and coping strategies. Their experiences and encouragement became a beacon of hope, guiding me through the toughest days when you not only feel worse, but think the worst.

Despite the physical and emotional toll, the benefits of adjuvant chemotherapy cannot be overstated. Studies have shown that this treatment significantly improves survival rates and decreases the likelihood of cancer returning. It’s a proactive step in the fight against cancer, one that gives patients like myself a better chance at a longer, healthier life. For me, knowing that I was doing everything possible to prevent a recurrence provided a sense of empowerment and control over my health.

Its not fool proof however as I found out when just three years later the cancer returned and I had to go though it all again. It some ways I felt prepared knowing what to expect, in other ways it filled me with dread.

I was told about the days when I wouldn't even have the energy to lift a kettle. Not me I thought. How can that be possible? But those days came, when I didn't have the energy to even get out of bed, never mind lift a kettle. Laying there thinking that death was an easier option than a trip to the kitchen.

I was wiped out. So I understand what Kate means about making the most of the good days. I find it weird though that she appears to talk about 'feeling better', and plans to do more as she gets through the rounds of chemotherapy, because if anything, you get worse with each cycle. Chemotherapy kills the good cells as well as the bad, the toxicity building up with. each cycle.

I had chemotherapy every three weeks. By the third week you are starting to feel a little better, and just as you are, bang, they hit you with it again - but only if you are well enough. If you white cell count is too low, they won't allow you to have it. In other words you need to be well enough to be made unwell again. Even though you dread it, you hope upon hope that you can have it - because it is literally saving your life.

The first time I had chemotherapy back in 2016 I lost my hair. The second time in 2019, I used a cold cap, and also my hair thinned in places, I mananged to keep the majority. Is this what Kate has done? We've not been told. There are many different types/drugs that make up your chemotherapy. Not all mean you lose your hair, but many do.

Not all cancer patients look sickly either. The steroids mean you often actually gain weight.

I'm sure whatever Kate has had, as the future Queen of England, she will have the best team behind her. That includes her medical team, as well as those who will be ensuring her hair and make up looks on point.

The difference between chemotherapy and adjuvant chemotherapy is that chemotherapy alone can be used to try and kill cells or shrink tumours for removal. Adjuvant is after removal. Adjuvent chemotherapy is still a critical component of cancer treatment, offering a safety net against the disease’s return.

While the journey is arduous, the potential benefits make it a no brainer.

As a two-time cancer survivor, I can attest to the resilience and determination required to undergo adjuvant chemotherapy. It’s a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the incredible advancements in cancer treatment.

If you or someone you know is facing this journey, remember that you are not alone. There is a community of survivors ready to support and uplift you, and together, we can overcome the challenges.

Do we emerge stronger on the other side? We emerge changed. A person doesn't go through cancer and chemotherapy and come out the same person they were before. We've seen darkness. Darkness which will follow us around for the rest of our life, waiting in the wings to try and fully encompass us. But we've also seen light, the hope of a second chance, and that is what keeps us going.

Love Tx

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