Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chemo Side Effects

Before I started chemo, I was given a big three ring binder at the Cancer Center with special tabs for all kind of things I would need to know about like important numbers to call, radiation, etc.  I was also given a large 61 page book titled "Chemotherapy and You."

I like how it uses a feel-good title like "Chemotherapy and You" like chemo and I are of one.  Like we are dating.  Like it's a beautiful relationship.  The cover even has a lovely landscape picture that has nothing to do with chemotherapy except that you wish you were THERE instead of at the Cancer Center having chemo maybe.

The majority of the book, from pages 14-51 are all about the side effects you may experience during chemotherapy.  I remember I read the book bravely before I started chemo and I hoped that most wouldn't happen to me.  They always write about the worst case scenarios, right?

That may be, but now that I'm finished with chemo,  I went back to review some of the listed side effects and try to calculate how many I'd suffered - it wasn't pretty.

Here is a list, in alphabetical order like the book, of the side effects listed:

I've been struggling with anemia for a while now, so it's not a surprise really that this would affect me.  I did have a good iron infusion right before the double mastectomy to boost my system and I'm sure it helped.  But, now, after surgery and four rounds of chemo, I'm anemic again.  My oncologist says it's not too bad yet, we'll wait and see what happens as I get further out.

I was one of the lucky ones in that my appetite didn't change drastically.  I've heard stories of people that really can't eat much at all during chemo and I didn't really have that experience.  Each time after a dose, I wouldn't have much appetite for a week or so (mostly due to nausea) but it didn't last.  After that, I was back to normal and gleefully stuffing my face with anything I could find.  I had really hoped I might lose some weight (and I did every time after chemo but I gained it back each time).  I mean, if you are going to have cancer, something good should come of it!  Sadly, whenever "weight loss" is listed as a side effect - it never seems to happen for me.  Damn.

This section talks mostly about bleeding gums and excessive bleeding from cuts which are not issues I had.  However, it does also talk about nose bleeds and excessive monthly bleeding for women, both which have been problems for me.  I really don't think you want any more details so I'll just leave it at that.

I didn't have issues with constipation until the third round of chemo but then it hit with a vengeance.  It was so bad that I, once, considered calling 911 in the middle of the night.  But, what do you tell 911?  "Um, Hi, I have a non-pooping emergency..."  This is a small town, I don't want to be known for that.

If I didn't have constipation, I had diarrhea.  It was lots of fun each day guessing which I would get.  Made life interesting.

Zzzzzzzzzzzz....oh, what were you saying?
Yes, the fatigue has been overwhelming to say the least.  I still sleep much more than a normal person should need to - sometimes 12 hours a day or more.  I'm sure this sounds heavenly to some people, but it also means I don't get much accomplished in a day.  If I can manage to keep everyone alive and fed in a day, I'm doing well.

No surprise here really except that I lost much more hair over my entire body than I thought I would!  I've even lost hair from my nose.  I know this because now anything in my nose just comes running right out without abandon!  Ugh!

Though I did run a fever (a main sign of infection) and was hospitalized, it was determined that it was a side effect to the chemo and not an infection.  *Whew*

And I have no plans to try to get pregnant to find out.  Sorry.

But, really, I didn't have much - a few mouth sores here and there.  I was "lucky."

I "only" threw up twice.  That's not too bad.  But the nausea was really debilitating at times.  I had THREE medications to control nausea though, and they worked well.  Laying in bed concentrating on not moving a muscle worked well too.

This is an issue I've only been dealing with since my last treatment.  My hands fall asleep!  It only happens in the middle of the night.  I wake up and my hand is asleep.  I think it's usually my right hand but I'm too interested in making the tingling sensation stop and getting back to sleep to really keep track.  It's really annoying.

One of the main side effects that I've had to deal with this whole treatment has been the aches and pains in my body.  And now that I've been through all four, it's gotten much worse.  I'm in quite a bit of pain.  My legs are the worst.  They just ACHE!  This makes walking a chore but also quite humorous, I'm sure.  I feel like I'm 80 years old.  I feel like I need a cane.  I feel like I've worked out all day long.  I've heard this can last for months - that's scary.

Another aspect of this is the lightning bolt sensation.  I will be sitting around, minding my own business, when suddenly I get a shock of pain.  It's like lightning shocks.  It is incredibly painful and not at all fun.  I think I'd rather get struck by lightning.  Well, maybe not - but I do think I know what it feels like now.  Luckily, the lightning bolt sensation was worst after the first treatment and has seemed to calm down now a bit - but I'm always waiting for another one...

Also one of the main problems that I've had manage during my chemotherapy has been the horrible headaches.  I'm prone to headaches anyway and I've had migraines in the past so this shouldn't be a huge surprise.  But, I started having to take pain medication to manage the headaches.  Now, nearly 3 weeks after my last treatment, the headaches are subsiding.

As much as I know all my readers like to read about the details of my sex life, I think I've covered this already so I'll spare my mother and brother the pain of having to reread it.

Finally!  One that I missed!  Ha!

I was lucky to have only had one urinary tract infection.  I caught it early.

So, for those of you keeping track, I had 13 of 16 listed side effects.  That's 81%!  I get a B for Chemo!  Woot!

Too bad it doesn't work that way!  Unfortunately, when they gave me this handy chemo guide, I never imagined I would have 81% of the side effects listed!  In fact the book even says, "You may have a lot of side effects, some, or none at all." (Chemotherapy and You, page 14)  NONE AT ALL?!  I wanted THAT to be ME!  But, of course, everyone that knows me knows that I don't do things half-way, including chemo.  Lucky me!

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