Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Know your enemy

So, a lot of people tell you not to spend too much time looking at horror stories on the internet when you have been diagnosed with a life threatening illness.  I would agree that there are probably lots of websites to steer clear of- but there is also a ton of useful information out there.

Prior to having cancer, all I really knew about it was that people die from it.  All I really knew about chemotherapy was that it killed cancer but also killed lots of good cells.  I knew that you might become bald and you would get really sick.  But now I know so much more- okay maybe too much more.  But I thought I would share some interesting other possible Side Effects (What we in cancer support-group land call SEs) that people don't often know about chemotherapy.

  1. You will quite possibly lose your hair- but the worst thing many people say is losing your eyebrows, eyelashes, and nose hairs.  You really do need nose hairs.  It is quite inconvenient not to have any.
  2. Many people will have a port put in for the chemotherapy to be administered through.  Chemotherapy medications are pretty toxic and you can quite easily "blow a vein" if you just do it intravenously.  (I am having my port put in tomorrow... I am sure I will have more to say about this later)
  3. You can get extremely uncomfortable mouth problems.  Your mouth can become desert dry and you might develop horrendous mouth sores.  
  4. Your sense of smell becomes acute and people often claim that they can smell the chemotherapy drugs in their body.  It supposedly doesn't smell very good.
  5. Chemo patients might prefer a plastic fork over a metal fork because the metallic taste becomes overbearing.
  6. Your skin gets super dry and feels like rubber.
  7. Because chemotherapy drugs attack fast growing cells in the body, not only your hair is affected.  Your nails are too.  You might get ugly brown lines on your nails or other discoloration or ridges.  Some people's nails simply fall off.
  8. Contrary to popular opinion, people often do not lose weight during chemotherapy.  The drugs are many times given with a large amount of steroids which create ravenous appetites.  Chemotherapy also tends to slow down your metabolism.  Nausea is a problem, but today there are many effective anti-nausea medications that really have made a difference.
  9. Chemotherapy leaving your body can feel like a bad bladder infection.
  10. Many people are now given drugs to help with the low white blood count that is often an unwanted side effect of Chemotherapy (Neulasta is what I will be given).  Unfortunately, these drugs can cause excruciating bone pain.
  11. Many of the chemotherapy drugs given to women can cause them to go into menopause- especially the older you are.
  12. Chemotherapy medications can cause diarrhea and from what I have heard, some of the worst constipation you have ever had.
  13. You might swell up- especially in the face. As if being bald isn't enough.
  14. You are incredibly tired, but also can struggle with extreme bouts of insomnia. 
  15. Chemo brain! - more about this later.
  16. And lastly, you can end up with nerve pain and numbness.  I have heard people talk about this in their hands and feet.
There are other side effects too, but these seem to be the most common.  It is important to note that Chemotherapy is not my enemy.  I think of it more like some rogue soldier I have in my corner.  A little unpredictable, but I have faith it will get the necessary job done.  Kind of like how Dirty Harry always got the bad guy, but there were lots of upside down burning cars all along the freeway where he chased him down.

 It is part of this journey.  And I am lucky that because of all of my research,  I have put together a nice chemotherapy care package with lots of remedies for the above ailments.  I will persevere.  And who knows, perhaps I will be one of the lucky ones who has only mild discomfort.  Some people work through out chemotherapy treatment.  I heard of someone who traveled out of the country in between infusions.

So the title of this post is more about my latest piece of art.  I needed to have a visual for cancer.  That way, when I am doing visualizations about destroying it- I know what I am visualizing.  I made this watercolor tonight.  I was going to do a nice watercolor of a port, but they really aren't very interesting - and plus I might throw up if I think too much about it.

Wish me luck tomorrow.


  1. Rachel, You have always been one of mine:-)

  2. Oh are so strong. I am sorry you have to use your strength and creativity this way, but I know you are going to win. Thinking of you all the time.

  3. Wow! You have learned so much. Glad you opted for the port. I don't know much about ports but I know about "blowing veins". I've had iv lines for all three labors and several ob/gyn surgeries all of which were a struggle. Many tries, pain and anxiety. The last two surgeries took 5 attempts from nurses who did iv's on a daily basis. But yes my veins were a special case. In the end the anesthesiologist stepped in and got the iv done. So the port although i'm sure will take some getting use to will hopefully save you a lot of unnecessary pain and anxiety. Brave pick!

  4. Your list reminded me of some of my dad's experience. I love that you've made a care package for yourself...the chemo SE survival kit. I love it!