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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giveaway

Giveaway #16: EduCare Handbooks

Author Judy C. Kneece, RN, OCN has donated a copy of each of her handbooks for our giveaway.  You are welcome to enter to win one or both!

To enter for Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook, CLICK HERE.

To enter for Breast Cancer Survivorship Handbook, CLICK HERE.

EduCare Inc., a dedicated breast health education company, was founded in January 1994 by Judy C. Kneece, RN, OCN. For more than 20 years, EduCare has been a leader in providing the highest quality breast health educational materials for patients and healthcare providers, along with training healthcare professionals.

Read more about the company at www.educareinc.com.

guest blogger

Place of Yes

By Rebecca Weiss

As a writer, I’ve never liked clichés much, but there are a few that ring true to me as I get older, and one of them is “Coming from a place of Yes.” This really is a meaningful phrase for me now that I am a breast cancer survivor.

Because, as I can see now, I’ve spent most of my life coming from a place of “No.”

Growing up I was chubby and at times awkward, a kid who loved playing basketball but got embarrassed by my hot, red “sweaty tomato” face. Interested in the dramatic arts, but mostly relegated to the set crew. I often saw the world in terms of what was for me and what wasn’t. Eying girls in Seventeen Magazine who were waifish with long straight hair and perfect skin, I got used to thinking, “No, that’s not me.” “No” became my default setting after a while. No, I’m not pretty enough for the lead in the play. No, I’m not smart enough to join the debate team. No, I’m not popular enough to get elected to student government.

And, this thinking stayed with me as I went through adolescence and young adulthood. No, I wasn’t polished enough to land the job I really wanted. No, I wasn’t worth a second date. No, I wasn’t going to get a raise. And so on. This kind of thinking invaded my life to the extent that over time I began to experience a lot of anxiety. Among other things, I was a pretty bad hypochondriac, and I think that had a direct impact on my health because I became so used to combatting my panicked thoughts about my health that when I felt a lump in my right breast I told myself I was imagining it and put off seeing a doctor for much longer than I care to think about now.

I spent many years watching my friends and co-workers rise through the ranks, start their own businesses, go to grad school and travel overseas while I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get anywhere—in my career or in the world and I even developed a fear of flying. On a smaller scale, I would watch people dance at a wedding or sing karaoke and sit it out worried about looking silly on the dance floor or my not-so-great singing voice. I might have thought I had a long life ahead of me back then, but I wasn’t really living. I often saw my life as a waiting game. Waiting for things to change. Waiting until I lost weight. Waiting until my boss finally appreciated me. And, then, in May of 2014 at the age of 43 I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.

wp-1490930844494.jpgAt first my anxiety took over, and I breathlessly and sleeplessly navigated through the dark fear of losing my life—of leaving my husband and children without me for the rest of their lives, of breaking the hearts of my parents and other loved ones. But, once I got into treatment and stared down the true risk of not making it through, I found my fighting spirit. I faced a hairless, breastless, potentially futureless me, and something shifted. It was gradual, but it was significant. Here’s what happened: I started to see the things I was afraid of before, the things I was so quick to say “no” to, as, just perhaps, being FOR me.

The only no’s I hung on to were related to giving up. No, I’m not going to go down without a fight. No, I’m not going to stop doing the activities I enjoy. No, I will not become a victim. And then, I decided to experiment with “yes.” I sought out what it would feel like to get on the dance floor at the weddings and bar mitzvahs I was invited to. I started interviewing for jobs at organizations and in fields I had always wanted to work. I took the honeymoon trip to London my husband and I were going to take in 2002 but put off. In short, I began to say yes to things big and small that I finally realized I wasn’t going to do if I lived my life waiting. Yes, I realize that’s another cliché. “What are you waiting for?” but, seriously, what was I waiting for?wp-1490930840700.jpg

Here’s what my life is like now that I’ve learned to say yes: I am famous—infamous perhaps—
for my crazy moves on the dance floor. I have a go-to karaoke song that I sing loud and proud despite my near tone-deafness. I’ve been to London—and Utah and Alaska—in just the past two years. I left a job I’d held for 12 years to pursue my dream of working in public radio. And, now the only downside is that I love my life so much I’m afraid to lose it. Yes, I want to be there for my kids and I want to make my parents and friends proud, but mostly I want to continue challenging myself and finding the joy that I never allowed myself before.

There’s room for you—for everyone—here at yes. But, there’s no waiting. Bring your dance moves, your favorite 80s rock song, and your travel itinerary. Then, let me know what you’re saying yes to now.


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Rebecca Weiss is a 46-year-old breast cancer survivor whose life changed completely when she was diagnosed as stage 3 in 2014. A journalist and corporate communications professional, in 2015 she started Bob’s Boxes, a 501c3 nonprofit that sends post-mastectomy care packages to women with breast cancer. Rebecca has appeared on the Today Show, was featured in Parents Magazine and the book Live Happy; and serves as a Model of Courage in Ford’s Warriors In Pink campaign. She lives in Rutherford, New Jersey with her husband and two young children. You can find Rebecca on Twitter and Instagram @BobsBoxes, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Bobsboxesorg/ and at www.bobsboxes.org