The side effect checklist

It’s been three days since chemotherapy, and my nurse called this morning to ask how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling alright, and she congratulated me, saying that today and tomorrow would probably be my worst days and that I’d be on the upswing soon. Really? I feel like I really dodged a bullet here. I’ve been going over my giant list of potential side effects and considering myself incredibly lucky that I seem to have avoided the worst of them.

Before I started chemotherapy, I was massively frustrated that no one could offer me a really detailed description of what it was like. So here’s my summary: It wasn’t as awful as the movies made me believe it would be, but it has been difficult and challenging and sickening in ways I didn’t expect. In the end, I decided to put together this little list of how chemo’s made me feel so far. I may not be out of the woods yet, but I’ve packed up my tent and I’m fighting my way through the leaves and rocks and trying to avoid the bears while I get back to normal.

Let me begin by saying that everyone is different and everyone’s body reacts differently, so just because this is my path, doesn’t mean it’ll be anyone else’s – and it might not even be mine on round 2, either.

[x] Fatigue

This is the big one. Last night I went to bed at 10pm, then woke up this morning at 10am to attend class via Skype. Despite 12 hours of sleep, I felt like I’d just eaten a giant plate of week-old sushi covered in mayonnaise left out in the sun, then ran an IronMan and gotten hit by an 18-wheeler right before I crossed the finish line. Since all I have to do to Skype-attend class is lay in my bed, I decided to call in anyway – but my computer had other plans, and my internet connection cut out after an hour. My professor decided to give me the rest of the afternoon off. I immediately fell back asleep until 3:30pm, when I finally dragged myself downstairs to eat some macaroni and cheese, then I fell back asleep on the chaise lounge until I just woke up to write this blog entry. I’m not going to lie, though, I could go back to sleep right now.

[x] Gagginess

I don’t want to say nausea because I really haven’t experienced much, if any, nausea. The combination of my medications – Kytril, Zofran and Compazine – have successfully kept any nausea at bay, which is amazing, because it’s truly the side effect I was most concerned about. I do, however, feel sort of oddly gaggy. Like, a picture of some food won’t really make me feel nauseated, but it’ll just…gross me out. I feel like I’ve gone back in time to 1992 when I was four years old and all I liked was cupcakes, macaroni and cheese, French fries, rice and plain chicken. I was scrolling through my TV options during the 20 minutes I was awake in between my naps and passed an episode of “Man vs. Food” and honestly had to just turn the TV off.

[x] Taste alteration

Things just taste a little off in my mouth right now. I don’t care, though, because my mom bought me Limeaid and it tastes amazing and I love it. When I was a kid I used to eat lemons the way other kids would eat orange slices during AYSO soccer halftime, so I’m glad that acidity still tastes awesome to me. I mean, would it really be the worst thing in the world if I didn’t want any chocolate for a few months? I’m sure my thighs wouldn’t mind.

[x] Bowel issues

I’m not getting into this, but yeah. If you ever need chemotherapy, just understand that nothing going on in your digestive tract will make sense for several days.

[x] Aches and pains

My wonderful oncologist agrees with me that chemotherapy can S a D and that I shouldn’t have to miss any important things in my life because of this little boob-shaped road block, so she gave me the go-ahead to attend my gorgeous and wonderful friend Jasmine’s wedding in St. Louis on March 9. However, this meant that I needed to get a little shot of a medicine called Neulasta that’ll ensure my white blood cell counts stay high enough for me to eat at a giant buffet kids are sneezing on and dance with a ton of people until midnight without getting a deadly infection. Neulasta has a little side effect, though: pain. That’s it. Just pain. Bone pain, muscle pain, aches, pains, all different kinds of discomfort. The reason for this is a “bone marrow flare,” when the meds cause your white blood cell counts to explode and put pressure on the insides of your bones until you get a full-body migraine. However, someone accidentally discovered that you can skip this unpleasant reaction if you take Claritin – just typical, OTC Claritin. I did, and my aches have been relatively minor so far. Fingers crossed.

[x] Hair

It’s still here. I’ve started compulsively tugging at it, but it’s staying put so far. My oncologist says it’ll probably begin to fall out between March 10 and March 15. I just want it to hang on until the wedding, because I’m concerned about my wig’s ability to stay put during myย ah-mah-zingย dance moves.

15 thoughts on “The side effect checklist

  1. mrsdeboots says:

    You are a wordsmith. So if that’s a box somewhere, make sure it ain’t checked cause that stuff about the sushi in old mayo? I laughed so hard I scared my kid and he choked on his toast. He’s ok, don’t worry.

    I so dermatology, not oncology, but the major chemo complaint is that your hair falls out…and then it grows back completely different. Like if it’s straight now, it’ll grow back curly, etc. Also chemo dries your skin out super bad so really good lotion is important, but I doubt you’d feel like putting it on. I’ll be honest, every female on both sides of my family has/had breast cancer, so I’m playing a waiting game. My plans are to buy a ton of CeraVe, fill the tub halfway with it, and nap there. Hydration and sleep. Ahhh.

    Hope you get some cupcakes soon.

    • Michelle says:

      Hahaha, I’m glad you enjoyed the mayo comment. I spent a while perfecting that one. I have developed a rash on my chest that my chemo books say to put lotion on, so I’ve been doing that…very fun stuff. I’m actually a little excited to see what my new hair will be like. Perhaps I’ll be a blonde!

  2. Jacki WJ says:

    I am so proud of you, and this blog is a marvel. During one of your “breaks” from chemo, please contact me and I will come out to see you. Have a great time at Jasmine’s wedding, and please give her a hug and congratulations for me. You are one tough young lady, so stay strong and hang in there.

    • Michelle says:

      Thank you Madame! I will absolutely give Jasmine your congratulations! Cannot believe we’re old enough to be getting married now…how surreal. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. ubensmom says:

    You rock, even sick. I am about 2-3 weeks behind you in the start of a 6 month chemo because one of my boobs tried to kill me too. Any info (as you clearly know) on the specifics of side effects is way helpful. I now have to go and buy Claritin. Hang tough.

    • Michelle says:

      I still haven’t had any bone pain so I swear by the Claritin. Good luck with your treatment. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions.

  4. Sonia says:

    That checklist doesn’t look so nice. But on a more positive note, 2 out of 6 months done, right?

  5. lisacng says:

    I found your blog via your cousin Devon at Mermaid Chronicles. I love your humor and spirit and wit, in your life, but also in your writing. I hope the Claritin helps you enough to get those dance moves on girl!

  6. kerithrae says:

    Hahaha I love the mayo comment. And the description of symptoms. One of our really good friends (a mom of two in her fifties) just had stage 4 ovarian cancer and is currently cancer free with a good prognosis. We would have lunch with her regularly and she said the weirdest thing for her was the taste buds issue, things she used to love she hated and all of a sudden stuff she didn’t like tasted like ambrosia. Let me know if there is anything you want sent your way ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hope you are doing well and p.s. LOVE the hair.

    • Michelle says:

      The taste bud stuff is weird! I can’t use metal utensils anymore at all. I need to use plastic forks, knives and spoons for everything. I’m glad you like the hair! It’ll be short for a while so I’m glad it’s not too awful-looking. And so good to hear your family friend is recovering well and her prognosis is bright. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Inquiring Minds says:

    …want to know.

    Is this a record for the most drugs you have been on at one time?

    And have you considered taking an advil to set a new record.

  8. I had a different cancer, but yeah, all cancers blow. You are funny and humor gets you far when you’re told you have (said in a whisper…..cancer.) I wish you well and look forward to reading more of your posts!

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