March 14, 2010

side effects 101

so, lots of you have asked about the side effects of treatment that i've experienced for the last six months. it was something i chose to keep relatively private while i was still going through it. i think it probably has something to do with how unpredictable it all was, and how i had no control over it - so, sharing it would just open up a wound i wanted to keep covered. i also don't like to have anyone feel sorry for me...which i know is a normal reaction, but i had it pretty easy in the world of cancer treatment, and i just did what i had to. but, now that treatment is over, i'll give you a little glimpse of the world of side effects...

...and, just as a note, this post is really for the benefit of those of you reading this who have to face, or have faced the hodge, because we all know how nice it is to know what other people have experienced. for those of you who haven't, it's not intended to be a list of complaints...more an explination of my experience for those of you who have asked what it's like, or those of you who haven't asked but have wondered anyways. so, read with that in mind...

nausea. this was the worst, and also the most unpredictable. some treatments i'd be fine, and some i was so sick i couldn't even get water down. for the most part, i'd start feeling sick right after treatment, and feel really sick for day two and three, and start to feel better on day four. it rarely lasted past day four. i really have no idea what made some worse than others, but the bad ones were really, really bad. i didn't vomit once, but some days i wish i had. this side effect also ruined some foods for me. when they tell you not to eat anything you like around treatment, they mean it. ugh.

fatigue. really not too bad for me, but my main complaint leading up to my diagnosis was fatigue, so i guess it's all relative. in fact, i started to feel more energy than i had in a couple years after about four treatments. it wasn't until treatment eight or so that the fatigue really hit me. but, it wasn't the same kind of fatigue i had before diagnosis...i really only noticed it at the end of the day when i had done a lot and just felt tired earlier. it was not at all life limiting, and aside from being in bed at the same time as people in their eighties, i think i fared quite well.

neutropenia. stem cells are rapidly dividing cells, so as the chemo drugs kill the cancer cells, they also wipe out any other rapidly dividing cells. white blood cells take the hardest hit as they are the fastest to grow and die. this leaves you prone to any infection...colds, the flu, or what is called a neutropenic fever - which is when the bacteria inside your body, which doesn't cause a problem for someone with a normal immune system, causes an infection. throughout treatment, my white counts (specifically neutrophils - the ones that fight infection) were always very low. below one thousand is considered neutropenic and high risk for infection, and mine were below one thousand almost every time i had treatment, and as low as three hundred for a few treatments. i was lucky that i only developed one cold, and never had a fever. but, i had to be super careful, and had to be mindful of who i was around, washing my hands, and avoiding certain foods. i'll be happy to shed the restrictions that came with this one.

hair loss. i didn't lose all my hair, but it's definitely more shabby than it was pre-cancer. i lost quite a bit of hair on my head, my eyebrows are pretty pathetic, my eyelashes are thinner, and i don't think the hair under my arms is growing anymore. but, of course, i still have to shave my legs...figures, right? oh, and the hair in my nose has mostly fallen out...which you'd think wouldn't be a big deal, because everyone thinks it's gross anyways. i would have agreed with you, until i realized the source of my constant runny nose was the lack of hair to slow it down. i could do without the hair under my arms growing back, but i'd like to put a rush order in for the nose hair returning.

those were the big ones i had to deal with. some other less prominent side effects included; constipation, headaches, insomnia, hot flashes (hormones get a little whacky as the chemo surpresses your ovaries for a bit), sensitivity in my fingertips, rining in my ears, sore throat, weight gain, messed up tastebuds, acid reflux, difficuly concentrating, and i'm probably missing a few...

so, there it is...a little glimpse into my world for the last six months. it wasn't glamorous, not even a little...but, i did it, and it's over, and that's all that really matters.

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