The Real Truth About Chemo Side Effects

Chemo is an effective traditional method for many types of cancers most specifically to me, Breast Cancer. Like many treatments, the “poison” that chemo is made of has MANY different side effects that obviously differ per person. NO TWO PEOPLE have the same story, nor do they react the same to these evil medications.  Many side effects depend on the specific type of cancer, drugs and dosage used during a specific treatment, age, and overall health of an individual prior to the diagnosis.

The job of chemotherapy is to have an affect on active cells. What does that mean? Active cells are cells that are growing and dividing into more of the same type of cell— I’m ready to take you back to your 9th grade biology class. When I was first diagnosed one of the initial things the doctors began to explore is where my cancer came from.  Was it genetic i.e.: a gene mutation, was it environmental, or just plain old bad luck– which wouldnt be that unexpected for me! Lets just say… I havent won the lottery just yet!;)

Cancer cells, or how I look at them anyways is picturing them as little mutants in my body,are technically active cells, but healthy cells are also active. (OKAY Meghan i’m confused). Well, to keep things simple… our bodies are filled with all sorts of different cells. There are cells in your blood, mouth, digestive system, and hair follicles just to name a few. So… when people go through chemo, there really isn’t a way for the drugs to only affect the mutant cancer cells, it turns our healthy cells also get damaged along the way…

“Meghan what kind of side effects are you experiencing?”

Here is my tell all post, the ewwy gooey and all that is in between.  The below list of symptoms are the most common and typically what my chemo nurses ask me about every time I go for a treatment session.

Fatigue: Anyone that knows me would probably describe me as something like the energizer bunny.  Normally I work as an Occupational Therapist in a hospital. Some days I do home health after work to  make a few extra bucks, then I go home cook and clean and then find some other project to take up my night.  Weekends I wake up around 7:00 am and am literally on the go from the time I wake up till I got to sleep.  I NEVER thought chemo would make me feel tired. I was wrong again… (HOW RUDE!).  I can truthfully tell you that I now know the real definition of exhaustion.  Not that I feel it every single day, but the first day or two, or three after a treatment my body im tired from the inside out.  I actually CRAVE sleep! When I get out of bed it feels like im crawling through quick sand. Even things like washing dishes or vaccuming i have to sit down and take a break because I get so tired… Its so weird.

Pain. Each and every time I go for a treatment the nurse asks me if I have any numbness or tingling in my hands or feet. What she is actually looking for is signs of nerve damage from the chemo!  KNOCK ON WOOD, thus far I have not have any specific nerve damage type symptoms, however after the NEULASTA (my white blood cell booster), the next day my body literally feels like it is covered in bruises. It has only lasted 1 day both sessions, but it is awful and literally puts me in an awful/ emotional mood. I feel like Oscar the Grouch mood wise and the Tin Man when I go to move my joints because they get so stiff! Again, chemo really does suck!

 Mouth and throat sores. “Do you have any ulcers in your mouth?” Okay, prior to chemo I literally thought the only mouth ulcers were herpes… WRONG AGAIN!  My first chemo session I was clear of sores… however dreaded session 2 I met another enemy.  The following day, not only was my throat sore but my tongue was on fire!  When I looked in the mirror, I noticed my taste buds to be sort of swollen.  Of course I call my doctor because I tried to eat and any food just felt like a million razor blades in my mouth.  Turns out, yup you guessed it!  I have mouth ulcers.  They prescribed me a rinse called “Magic Swizzle”– no joke, thats the name on the bottle. VOM! I could hardly let it touch my tongue before gagging it into the sink.  Hey, noone said chemo was pretty…  Drinking water really helped me through my mouth pain, I also used some ora gel to provide some numbing relief. (Literally I’m like a little baby again)

Diarrhea. Like i’ve said before… “girls do not poop!” However this is a very important question for doctors to ask. Some chemotherapy drugs cause loose or watery stool or the reverse very hard compacted poo. It is very important to make a head turn after a potty trip because when diarrhea is not treated, there is a high risk for dehydration– which in my case is very important because adriamycin can have very harsh effects on my kidneys.  Lucky for me, my poo is pleasantly perfect and smelling like roses at this time :o)

Nausea and vomiting. Chemo session one I woke up with nausea one day maybe the 3rd day post treatment.  Chemo session two, my days were filled with nausea.  Thankfully, I am yet to vomit KNOCK ON WOOD AGAIN… but the feeling of nausea is the worst!  I do have Zoran which is a prescription anti nausea medication however it didn’t seem to work for me this time around.  Needless to say, my face and the toilet bowl have become best friends throughout this journey!

Changes in thinking and memory: AKA: Chemo brain. How crazy is this one.  So, when I first began treatment and met Mr. Bob, my reiki master– he told my mom and I to not be discouraged if I start getting confused or have trouble remembering things because it is a very common side effect.  Me, being an occupational therapist, 26 years old and having a master degree never ever thought this would happen to me.  So, over Thanksgiving I was doing some holiday baking.  I was simply doubling a recipe okay.  Let me remind you, I went to a private college and took calculus for heaven sake!  I also perform cognitive testing on patients on the daily working as an OT.  Anyways, so I’m mixing all my ingredients together and something just wasn’t right.  I began hysterical crying to John because literally I could not figure out the recipe. So crazy!  I had to take a deep breath and ask for help… which is very hard for me to do but I guess it is all a part of this process. Dont worry I didnt kill anyone with my cookies!

Sexual and reproductive issues. Chemotherapy can affect your fertility. I’ve told you all in prior post my experience of my egg retrieval etc.  I also recently had an IUD placed (brand: Paragaurd) which is copper based as an alternative to hormone birth controls because my tumor is estrogen +.  will do a post all about that experience later… Stay tuned! As for sexual drive… I mean, im busy and just dont feel pretty or sexy naked so I guess that plays a part… But if I want some sexy time Im sure John can penicil me into his schedule;)

Appetite loss. ABSOLUTELY, this may be one of my biggest side effects.  It might sound weird to someone reading this but I can literally go until 4:00 pm or later if i’m busy doing stuff around the house and never even think about eating!  I mean, before treatment I wasn’t the biggest of eaters… okay I’m actually really picky and would rather eat junk; ice cream, chocolate… you know, the good stuff!  Now a days…. I hardly even have cravings for that stuff! No wonder people use medical marijuana!  (No I DO NOT use marijuana, never have, never will!)

Hair loss. Sadly… must we actually bring this one up again.  Just look at my pics…


AFTER– cheers to my little sis for supporting me and cutting of her hair while I go through this bump in the road! Love you Beaner!

These are the big ones that my nurses ask me about when I have treatments.  All in all when people say “Chemo Sucks” or “Cancer Sucks”, the truth is that it really really does! However, what doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger… and side effects aside, that is exactly what I am becoming… STRONGER THAN YESTERDAY— another Britney reference 😉