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.
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.
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.
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!
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.