Debilitating, that is what cancer treatment is, it knocks you to your knees, it’s merciless, and can be deadly. Who would want to endure such a thing? Why would you ” watch and wait” knowing what might be in store for you.
Most of us would not elect to put ourselves through such a thing. You have no idea what the drugs are going to do to you until the treatments begin. They say it is ” different” for everyone. ” You may or may not have this or that happen!”
The thing about cancer treatment is it affects the inside as well as the outside. There is no system in your body that isn’t affected. Nothing escapes those cancer drugs, not the good cells, not the bad cells. It is a crap shoot that the good will out last the bad.
So, here is my list. Starting at the top. My hair fell out two weeks after my first treatment. Thank god I cut it really short before I started treatments so the first time I held a wad of it in my hand it was only small pieces, not a handful, but it still made me gag, and made me cry.
I couldn’t even look in the mirror as I shaved my head. I had to shave it. I could not just let it keep coming out in the wash. It was one of the hardest things I had to do. Surviving was the other. The dam thing was my head was always cold. I can’t figure out these people who run around bald. I mean I needed a hat on even in the house.
The first week after each of my treatments was the worse. I had headaches, hot and cold spells. I couldn’t sleep because my body felt like it was boiling inside. My skin was hypersensitive so I couldn’t stand the sheets, and it actually hurt. I don’t know how to explain the sensations but I felt weird inside all the time. Like there was a colony of ants living under my skin, and they were pushing hot water through my veins.
My bowels went from trying to pass a baseball to rivers of poo, and my bladder was tender. I’m sure the red dye in the drugs didn’t help although they said it wouldn’t hurt ” you.”
Have you ever felt bone pain? Hurts like hell. I had to get a drug called neupogen to boost my white blood cells because my counts dropped way to low. Low counts can be very dangerous. It sets up the body so that if you get an infection it could kill you. The white blood cells are made in your bone marrow FYI.
I have not suffered from a lot of pain in my life so this was an eye opener. My spine hurt, my pelvis, my hips, even my neck. I also had a terrible headache and ran a high fever. All in the name of saving my life. Let me say here when I say hurts, I mean it feels like someone is crushing your bones. You ” feel” things happening inside of you that you don’t even know where they are coming from.
Eating was a chore. I had a metallic taste in my mouth all the time so I could never really taste the food. Often I was nauseated anyway. Lucky for me I did not end up with any vomiting which happens to many others on chemo.
My sense of smell was off so I was always getting these weird olfactory hallucinations, meaning I smelled weird stuff all the time. Doesn’t help to improve your appetite at all.
I was lucky I didn’t get thrush or vaginitis. Those are fungal infections that you get from your own fungus in your body. There’s also lung infections that can occur, as well as skin. Normally your body keeps all these in check. Chemo gets rid of that protection. With a low white count there is minimal protection.
And so the list goes on. My brain was always in a fog. I was emotional. I had crying spells. There were times when I “almost” couldn’t keep doing “it. Then I would feel more energized as I moved into the second week, and by the third week when I got my next chemotherapy treatment I could almost forget how bad the first week was. But, then it would all start over.
Keep in mind that while all of this is going on I was going to school full time working toward my nursing degree, working as much part time as I could due to my money problems, raising a sixteen year old son, and trying to appear normal to my family and friends.
Need I mention the assault to my body. The poking which hurts like hell. I had a lot of poking going on. Poking my central port when I got my treatment. That hurt. People give you the idea that it is nothing, but they are still sticking a big bore needle through your skin into your port each and every time, sometimes more then once if they couldn’t get it the first time. My port was positional so ” opps” they had to stick it again. I had to get lab after every treatment, to check those white counts. Still hurts after all as they are using needles. Don’t kid yourself, and I am not a big baby…
There are many indignities along the way. I remember before my surgery the radiologist had to give me a drug that contained radioactive ingredients for my sentinel biopsy. I had to sit on a table with my breast exposed while he injected this dye around the areole surrounding my nipple. There I sat exposed to the world, really only him and the tech, while he jabbed me multiple times. It was necessary, I was embarrassed, and it hurt. He did spill some of the dye down my back before he even started. He had put his hand on my shoulder with the syringe in it while he explained what he was going to do and accidentally squeezed it a little. The tech had a fit, he said it was no big deal, and the injections went forward. I hope I don’t get spinal cancer from the exposure. What was I to say? I was only the patient sitting there waiting for her world to end…(true story.)
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Depending on where your cancer is located, if it has spread or not, and what cocktail of drugs you get determines the severity of the symptoms. I was fortunate. I only had to get treatments every third week. Some cancers required weekly, if not biweekly treatment. I would not have survived that.
Let’s not forget the aftercare, the after treatment problems, the brain fog that may last a lifetime, the drugs we have to take for years that can cause many health problems in their own right. And the gigantic fear that the cancer will return.
No one can know the journey a cancer patient must face once they hear those horrible words ” you have cancer.” I know that many of us try to put on a good face for our loved ones, sometimes it helps us too, but NEVER forget it is hell that they are going through, day after day.
As I say, and will continue to say, it is no longer about awareness, it needs to be about taking action NOW so that the treatment that you may have to endure will be the lesser of two evils. So for today, take care of you, take action, and have a great day today.