Chemo side effects …and how I ignored them

I got the red chemo first. The scary chemo. The strong one as I was told.

I didn’t get rid of them all, but I did ‘delete’ them to the point of almost feeling great.  And just in case my mind didn’t prove to be strong enough, my husband filled the fridge with easy to swallow and digest foods like yoghurt, fruit and juices. He bought what we had learned were good for nausea and diarrhea. Then he prepared rice, stew and bone broth.

So there, we were all set and ready for whatever came my way.

The first 24 hours were as if I had not gotten any chemo at all.  I felt ‘normal’.  Then fatigue kicked in and I think it was the worst symptom as it didn’t allow me to do anything, but what helped a lot was drinking lots and lots of water for a week, starting 24 hours before chemo, to help my liver to get rid of the toxins.  My husband would wake me up every 2 hours for me to take a sip and eat at least a spoonful of something.  With those two things I felt good enough to brainwash myself.

The doctor would not tell me about the side effects as he said I’d be unable to forget them and then I would have them all. Like a hypochondriac! So I went ahead and did some research to -contrary to what doctors assumed I’d do- prepare myself to not have them.

All of these side effects are a drag if you allow them to be. I was constantly telling myself that I felt good and that life is great so, how could my brain tell my body any different? My body will mostly feel as I tell it to feel.

I lifted my arms up in the air every single morning to feel alive.  ‘Cuz when you lift your arms up you cannot feel but happy!  Well, my brain believed me and I couldn’t have been happier. I had decided to beat the chemo side effects and after the first one I knew I had succeeded big time!  And I proved to everyone around me that even chemo side effects are somewhat of a choice.

About side effects… well here’s a list of the most common ones and what I felt:

  • Fatigue – I got the chemo on Fridays so I slept a lot during the weekend and drank plenty of water to help my body water down the chemo… or so I told myself.  And it worked because I was working remotely by Monday and back at the office on Tuesday.
  • Nausea and vomiting – Mild nausea during the first four to five days Taking deep breaths helped and I also ate constantly.  Even if it was just humus spread on half a Melba toast… eating healthy helps feel better.
  • Nails cracking or falling apart – I had seen chemo patients wearing black nail polish and I thought that it just made the whole picture look worse.  Well, I researched a bit and found that it could help, particularly if you are out on the sun, so I did my nails with black or dark blue and they did not fall.  They did turn a little dark around the 4th chemo and both my big toenails got so thick that I really thought they’d fall… they didn’t.
  • Hair loss – Couldn’t get rid of that one!  I shaved my head at week three when the first bunch came off.
    • As the hair weakens, the hair bulb (the tiny little transparent thing) disappears and every remaining hair feels like a needle and I couldn´t even bear putting my head on my pillow… so I decided to grab some masking tape and stick it on my head to yank those tiny needles away.  It helped so much that I was able to sleep again.
  • Diarrhea – Not a sign of it as I ate foods that helped, but I did have cramps
  • Feet and hand pain or numbness to the point where they say one might not be able to walk or touch one’s skin – I did have some pain right after chemo that lasted about 2 or 3 days but no numbness.  It helped wearing comfortable shoes and pretending it didn’t hurt.
  • Bone pain – I’m good with pain, however, it was very mild until the doctor decided to give me a different medicine to boost my immune system and it made me ache all over. Discontinued it and that was that!
  • Sore skin – A bit sore from chin to waist for a couple of days and it’s like from the inside out so not much to do here but drink water, lots of it.
  • Headache – Mild ones for a couple of days after chemo and drinking water helped.  I didn’t want to add any more chemicals to my body so I decided to not take any painkillers.
  • Loss of appetite or increased appetite – Increased appetite! And I ate every 2 hours or so to avoid an empty stomach, even if it was just a spoonful of soup or a cracker
  • Mouth and throat sores – My tongue was so red that I thought it would bleed.  I had a sore mouth during the first week but nothing I couldn’t live with.  I gently brushed my teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Taste and smell changes – I could smell an ant for miles and many foods had a metallic taste. The worst part was that I could even smell when someone hadn’t taken a shower
  • Low white blood count – Well, my test results come back normal every time because I ate healthy stuff all the time. No junk food whatsoever!  Humus and lentils are the best for this one.
  • Increased chance of infections – I did get a cold that lasted a month after the first chemo because someone sneezed on me!  From then on, I was really careful about wearing a mask when out in public.  I had to apologize to everyone for not shaking hands and did not kiss anyone but my husband.
  • Hot flashes – During the first 4 to 5 days after chemo but not uncomfortable at all as wearing a sweater that I could put on or take off helped.
  • Memory loss and/or lack of concentration – Oh, yes, the ‘chemo brain’ they all talk about. But post-its helped! …and a husband who doesn’t mind repeating things.

As I’ve said before, the secret is believing that I’m not sick. My body might be, but I’m not. I’m energy and energy does not get sick. My spirit is intact.

Of course, everyone was cheering for me and saying I must be from another planet for being so strong, but I don’t believe it has anything to do with how strong we are, but with how we choose to live. And I -the soul within my body- chooses to live a happy life for as long as the universe decides.

Now, every time someone came to me and asked me how I feel, I said ‘great!’. And with a huge smile on my face I changed the subject whenever I saw that the person in front of me had that you-poor-little-thing look on his/her face. Which, in the end, made it easier for that person to relax and continue as if nothing were wrong and got rid of that deafening silence side effect of chemo that I mentioned on another entry.

It’s been 4 months since I was diagnosed and it took two sets of chemo for some of those around me to finally believe me and understand that everything is a choice. We choose to be happy …or sad, feel healthy…or sick, and feel alive …or dead. We choose!

This had the advantage of having my doctor immediately worry and react when I, for example, told him my bones hurt. He knew me by then and would do something about it without even hesitating.

With every cancer-killing chemo, I visualized the cancer being melted away and I could feel the tumor shrinking from the very first chemo cocktail. It went from a lemon size to a pea size by the third one. Nevertheless, I do have to confess that I never asked -nor wanted to know- how many red chemos I’d get so I told myself it would be somewhere around 4. And so I got my wish. Four cancer-killing chemo cocktails and then the doctor decided that the HER2 chemo treatment should begin.

He looked at me straight in the eyes and asked what my secret was. Well, a positive attitude, dude! And, of course, specific foods that help boost our immune system as well as get rid of some symptoms (read a bit more about foods that help here)

Although… the one thing that did get me down on my knees were the white blood cells booster shots called Filgrastim in this last round as bone pain was almost unbearable. I had had 4 rounds of Filgrastim already to know how I was supposed to feel and I hadn’t felt anything like this at all.  So I decided to call the doctor when I couldn’t even focus at work to ask him what I should do or take -as I still had two more shots to go and he recommended I suspend it. He said they’d changed providers and that it was causing more side effects than the other one.

That was a tough one. You see, pain has never been an issue for me as I can take a lot of it. But the bone pain I was experiencing wouldn’t let me focus on anything else!

I’m now seven days into the first HER2 chemo and I feel fantastic!. It has been 36 hours since the last shot and the bone pain is almost gone this morning so it’s like a walk in the park, so to speak, and I don’t even have to brainwash myself as hard as I did those first three days with the Filgrastim.

I know that side effects are easy to ignore if I’m not focusing on them, but bone pain… bone pain is a hell that will not allow anyone to fully ignore it.

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2 thoughts on “Chemo side effects …and how I ignored them

  1. […] did I look like I was getting the strongest chemo cocktail treatment a couple of years ago to fight breast cancer! To a degree in which some said I was lying about it only because I was not bedridden like others […]

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  2. […] will talk about chemo side effects somewhere else, but right now I feel like talking about the side effects of cancer I consider more […]

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