guest blogger, Side Effects

6 Things I wish I knew before I started Chemo

By Taylor Eames

Most cancer treatment centers require you to go through a brief “chemo class” to learn about possible side effects.  However, having been through both the class and six months of chemo, there are some things you just don’t expect to happen.  Upon hearing that my treatment plan included chemo, I automatically pictured baldness and vomiting like it is in the movies and tv shows.  But it wasn’t how I imagined it at all.  Here are some things that surprised me.

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Chemo sucks.

Think car sick, morning sickness, and a hangover all in one.

The nausea is constant and it’s pretty debilitating at times.  But in my experience and from what I’ve heard from many other survivors, vomiting is rare.  You just feel crummy all the time.  Anti-nausea meds help for some patients.  Others just find the feeling to become a new normal.  But I’ll remind you, and I’ll say this again later on, this “new normal” is temporary.

When they say, “You’ll lose your hair,” they mean all of it.

Chemotherapy targets fast growing cells in your body in order to kill the growing tumors.  Hair, nails, intestinal track, and even brain cells are all collateral damage along

the way.  One of the most noticeable side effects is hair loss.  I went from having a thick, full head of hair down to my shoulders, to nothing at all.  But what I didn’t expect was that the hair on top of my head was only a starting point.

It will happen later on in your chemo cycles, but soon you will lose your leg hair (yay, no more shaving!), your pubic hair (this one was kind of weird), and even your eyebrows and eye lashes (more noticeable and somewhat sad).  Don’t forget, it’s all temporary.

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Bye bye, eyebrows and lashes.

 

Chemo hurts.  (And so does Neulasta.)

I remember my chemo class nurse saying these exact words, “Some people experience some discomfort and bone pain during treatment.”  It was so nonchalant that I blew it off thinking it wasn’t very common, and if it did happen, it wasn’t really serious.  But, oh my gosh, I was wrong.

Chemo is attacking white blood cells just like it attacks hair follicles.  Neulasta is an injection used to boost white blood cells development during chemo so you aren’t as susceptible to infection.  The battle that ensues is painful…seriously painful.  It feels like pin pricks but deep in your bones. The pangs of pain come and go all over your body.  For me, my feet, ankles, shins, ribs, and jaw hurt so bad that I couldn’t walk at times, and I ended up on heavy opioid pain meds for the 3-5 days that I experienced the pain.  Do not be afraid to tell your doctor that you need something to help you through this.  If one med doesn’t work, ask for something else.  And remember, this is only temporary.

You will take more naps than you did as a child.

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Sometimes when I couldn’t get out of bed, my daughter joined me.

The fatigue is real, and it’s something you just need to give in to.  As I said, chemo is attacking your body while fighting off the cancer cells.  As in any battle, your soldiers get tired. You need to allow your body to rest so this battle can be won.

I spent a lot of time sleeping.  There was one day in my third cycle that I slept for almost 21 hours in a day.  I remember calling the chemo nurse concerned that I had slept so much.  They did blood work to make sure nothing serious was going on, but when it came back as normal, she said I just needed the sleep.

Even when you are awake you can feel how exhausted your body is.  There were times when simply getting up from bed to walk to the bathroom tuckered me out.

You may gain weight.

When I first heard chemo, I remember saying, “This will be the most expensive weight loss plan I’ve ever taken part in.”  I was wrong.  While doing chemo, you also have to take steroids.  Steroids make chemo more effective, help reduce allergic reactions, and can be used as an anti-nausea medication.  Steroids also make you ravenously hungry.

Unless your doctor decides to use steroids for your nausea, you will most likely have to take it the day before, the day of, and the day after infusion, and you’ll probably get one in your premeds before the chemo is infused.  Because of this, you will feel great for the first and second day of your cycle.  (The nausea, fatigue, and pain will start on the third day.)  During the steroid bursts, you will experience sweating, insomnia, and as I said, veracious hunger.  I remember the day after my first chemo infusion we went to Red Lobster to celebrate my mom’s birthday, and I wanted to eat everything on the menu!

It’s only TEMPORARY!

Chemo sucks. I’m not going to lie about that.  But it’s doable.  You have to keep remembering that the cruddy feeling you are experiencing for 3-6 months is not going to last forever.  You may be scared, you may be thinking the worst, but you are stronger than you think you are.  Each cycle will fly by and soon your new normal will become part of the past.  I look back at it and remember the side effects—nausea, fatigue, pain—but it really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be, and even knowing these things, I know I would do it all over again because it helped me kick cancer’s ass.  If you are facing chemo as part of your treatment program, you can do it!

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I did it! So can you!

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Taylor Eames is a single mom of four living in Yuma, Arizona, who was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in January of 2016.  She openly chronicled her experience during treatment and continuing through the aftermath on TaylorTough on Facebook.  Taylor is one of the founders of Breast Cancer Sisters along with her dear friend, Kristy Irizarry.

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guest blogger, Side Effects

It’s Just Hair

By Taylor Eames

Facebook memories are a wonderful thing, aren’t they?  A few days ago, it reminded me that I lost my hair a year ago.  I reread what I had written that day, and tears came to my eyes as I remembered the emotional impact this moment in my life had on me.  Let me share what I wrote on April 8, 2016:

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“Last night, kind of suddenly, my hair started coming out in fist fulls.  I went from having a firm grip on my hair to it coming out so easily almost within minutes. It hit me hard. The thought of waking up and finding clumps of hair on my pillow gave me an anxiety attack. So we did what most do during this phase in chemo and shaved it off. It was a very heartbreaking moment in this journey. I never expected it to affect me that greatly. Yes, it’s only hair and it will grow back. But I feel a huge part of my femininity was taken from me. Also, everyone’s looks change drastically when their hair changes. I wept as my mom took the clippers to my head. Actually we all did. My mom cutting my hair, my sister on skype [in San Francisco], Annie [my daughter] (who’s in Michigan visiting her dad) also on video chat. We all just cried. We had joked about the shaving of the head being a fun occasion, but it wasn’t. It was like mourning a loss. Yes it’s only hair, yes it will grow back. But it still hurt me to the core. It will take some getting used to. Eventually it will be the new normal. Maybe later, after I get up for the day, shower, put some makeup on, and don a cute hat, I’ll shar
e a picture. But I have to allow myself to feel the full gamut of emotions or I’ll implode.”

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I remember after the shave, I went to my room and cried some more.  Then I didn’t want anyone to see me for a while.  I hid in my room as my family continued their lives.  Finally, the next day I was forced to emerge from my solitary sanctuary and rejoin society.  This time as a bald cancer warrior.  Now I wore my badge, now everyone knew I was fighting cancer, I was getting chemo.  Now people looked at me differently.  Some with pity, some with admiration, and some with wonder.  Some stared, some purposely would not make eye contact.  And then there were the ones who boldly asked where I was in treatment and how I was taking it.  I didn’t know how to react to that.  Was it rude of them to ask or was it nice of them to make conversation with me and treat me like a normal person?  I guess I didn’t have anything to hide, so I was glad to talk to people instead of getting strange looks.

Later on in treatment, I was at a waterpark with my family.  I wore a cute floppy bucket hat for the most part because chemo makes you more susceptible to the sun, and my bald head was sensitive.  But we live in Arizona and this was the end of July where temps average 115 from day to day.  At one point, I was laying in a wading pool watching my kids play, and I decided to take my hat off because it was making me sweat.  (Don’t worry, I was slathered in sunscreen!)  It only took a few seconds for kids to start looking at me strange. Eventually, one little girl splashed up to me and said, “Why your hair like that?”  My daughter protectively said that I have an illness and the medicine makes my hair fall out.  She looked at me with concern and said, “You ok?”  I smiled and said, “Yes! Thank you!”  That satisfied her curiosity.  She smiled back and she happily splish splashed away.

I lost my hair in April, and it barely started growing back in September.  I kept my head covered in public with hats or bandanas until December.  Like I said, I didn’t think not having hair was going to affect me so much, but it does change everything about the way you look and the way people look at you.  I wasn’t comfortable braving the bare look outside of the home, but others are.  Some do just fine with the shaving of the head, some even celebrate it.  And some mourn the loss, like I did.

Whatever the reaction to losing your hair, it’s yours.  No one can understand what you are going through unless they have experienced it themselves.  Yes, it will eventually grow back, but the fact is your look is changed for at least 2 years.  It’s not just hair.  Regardless of how you handle it, just remember you are braver than you know.


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Taylor Eames is a single mom of four living in Yuma, Arizona, who was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in January of 2016.  She openly chronicled her experience during treatment and continuing through the aftermath on TaylorTough on Facebook.  Taylor is one of the founders of Breast Cancer Sisters along with her dear friend, Kristy Irizarry.

guest blogger

I Cried, But Then I Laughed

By guest blogger Kelly Nemecek

In the weeks after my diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer, I found myself crying, out of fear and hopelessness, devastated at the thought that my 12 year old daughter might lose her mommy.  But as I got closer to my surgery date, a strange thing happened.  The hopelessness turned into determination and a sense of purpose, like a soldier preparing for battle.

I knew that I would be relying heavily on my faith in God, but what I didn’t know at the time was that my sense of humor would also be a huge factor in how I would cope with this new threat on my life.  I have always been very self-deprecating, and my husband and daughter can pretty much make any situation hilarious.  Case in point- after my surgery as I was slowly regaining consciousness and trying to get my bearings in the midst of my morphine fog, random thoughts popped into my head, like “I wonder where my boobs are now?”  Turns out I said it out loud because on my hospital room white board, under Your Questions/Comments, my husband wrote, “Where are my boobs?”

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I know he was attempting to lighten the mood.  And it worked!  As I was already so loopy, I couldn’t stop laughing (which unfortunately caused more pain).  I started texting it to all my friends, who were probably like “What the hell? Kelly’s on some good drugs.”  I knew at that moment if I could continue to find the humor in this ordeal, I would be able to fight.

Prior to surgery I was fairly certain I wanted to wear breast forms, but realistically, afterwards, I could not even wear a bra yet.  The nurse gave me a snug white tank top with pockets to supposedly hold the breast forms, only they came with weird miniature pillows that looked ridiculous and nothing like breasts.  I looked at her like “Really?  And they’re white?  You understand I have two surgical drains emptying blood and other bodily fluids, right?  I can’t stand up and it hurts to move, and you really think I care about putting those pillows in this tank top pillow sham thingy?”

My surgeon wouldn’t let me wear a bra until I healed anyway.  As it turns out, I was okay with that.  I was sore, tired, and emotionally drained so I didn’t give a crap about breast forms.  I was a happy flatty Patty.  I felt comfortable wearing just about everything in my closet from before “The Big Chop,” from fitted T-shirts to flowy blouses.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, going braless was a good thing as I would end up with bad radiation burns in the near future.

This change of heart about the breast forms turned out to be true with my hair as well.  Heading into chemotherapy, I was nervous about the side effects, like nausea and fatigue, and really just the unknown.   Originally, my first thought when I heard I was having chemotherapy was “God no! Not the hair!.”  I had long blonde flowing locks so I figured I’d better cut it into a pixie in preparation for “The Great Bald Experiment of 2015.”  After I lost my hair, I thought I might never leave the house.  I was going to get a wig.  I was kind of pretty chunky so I thought I won’t even be cute bald like Sinead O’Connor or Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Sure enough, two weeks after the first round of chemotherapy it was falling out.  I could gently tug on it, and it would pop right out.  I became obsessed with pulling on it a little at a time. After someone caught me doing it at work, I decided it was time to buzz it.  First, my husband, Tomas took it down to an eighth of an inch, and I looked like GI Jane minus the six pack abs.

wp-1489976753757.jpgAfter that I couldn’t handle all the tiny needle-like hairs everywhere and subsequent itching.  I gra
bbed the shaving cream and the razor and just did it.  It felt awesome and liberating.  I know hair can be a sensitive subject for many cancer warriors and not everyone can whip out the clippers and go to town, but I surprised myself and did just that.  I mostly wore these cute cadet style caps but sometimes went commando.  It was summer in Phoenix after all.

My family must have found every bald joke ever written, and I loved it.  They supported me and took care of me with love and patience.  They knew when I needed to not be treated like an invalid, and when I needed to laugh.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing funny about breast cancer but sometimes laughter is the best medicine and cancer will not take that from me.

Recently, I saw a video that featured a woman dancing around the operating room prior to her mastectomy.  It went viral, and it seemed everyone had an opinion about it.  While some thought it was awesome, others, especially other breast cancer survivors, thought it was just cray cray.  Some were even super offended saying it gives the wrong impression of what it is to face a mastectomy like it’s somehow fun and games.  I honestly didn’t know what to think. I sure as hell did not feel like dancing at the time at the time of my surgery, but similarly, I had been making jokes and much like referring to my upcoming surgery as “The Big Chop.”  I get what this lady was doing now. She was coping.  I think as warriors and survivors we have to do whatever it takes to get us through this hell, whether it’s hiding, crying, laughing or screaming.  And yes, even dancing.


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Kelly lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, three cats and a bearded dragon named Pascal.  She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in 2015.  She can be found blogging about her good, bad and ugly experiences battling breast cancer at Kelly’s Cancer Beat Down Blog