I had my first chemo treatment about two weeks ago. I thought I was ready. I thought I understood that chemo would not be pleasant, could be a horrid experience, could produce nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite and other symptoms. I thought I realized that while before chemo I felt strong and healthy, chemo would knock me out and I would not be the same. I was wrong in thinking I was ready and knew what to expect. The actual experience, the horrid nausea that was so debilitating for three days afterwards that I spent hours in the clinic getting hydrated and pumped with anti-nausea medication, was far worse than anything I imagined. The only thing I can compare this to is labor for childbirth. When I was pregnant, I went to Lamaze classes, I read up, I was prepared, I thought. Then actual labor hit and I thought, REALLY, REALLY, this is far worse than any pain I could ever have imagined, and this Lamaze stuff is DOING NOTHING TO HELP….it only distracts me so that I do not scream endlessly from the pain. Chemo was much the same.
It started almost immediately after I had the chemo. I was queasy on the way home, despite the infusion of anti-nausea drugs and steroids before the chemo. An hour later the nausea was of epic proportion, almost unbearable. I had never experienced anything like it. I spent the night in a fetal ball moaning, and even apparently told Alan (I don’t remember this) that I could not do this again. The next day I e-mailed Dr. P early, and he told me to go to the clinic. I spent four hours the next two days being infused with hydration and medication. It did not take away the nausea but it put it at more bearable levels. By day four, I was wiped out. This does not even cover the rest of the side effects – neuropathy only in my right hand, and of course, I am right-handed, extreme sensitivity to cold for five days, such that even picking up a cool bar of soap caused tingling in my fingers, constant unease even when I was not nauseated, and then, of course, extreme fatigue, which hit about 5 days after chemo. I do not even want to talk about the whole digestive system issues I have had but those continue today. All I can say is that every time I think I am done with side effects, something else seems to show up. Oh Joy!!!
I ended up at the clinic again the following week when my stomach distended so much I looked eight months pregnant, which started the middle of that week and continues today, although now I would estimate I look about five to six months pregnant instead. That has also been interesting. None of my pants fit me, other than leggings and yoga pants, and I have to wear dresses that do not have a waist and are not too fitted. Unfortunately, a lot of my dresses have waists and are fitted. I guess I could just proudly show up the bump….
Loss of appetite was more than expected because so few foods tasted good or appealed to me. My normal diet is pretty much a mediterranean diet – heavy on vegetables, fruits, grains, olive oil, feta cheese, olives, and fish. None of that worked. Instead, for a while all I could eat was bland, white food – cottage cheese, white bread (which I usually never want), white rice, rice pudding, crackers. It was the opposite of my normal diet. Slowly, now I am able to eat some fruit and vegetables, but the truth is my digestive system is a mess, I have to stick with mostly easily digestible foods, and to make matters worse, Dr. P asked me to cut out dairy. When he said that, I thought, what the heck am I going to eat if I cannot eat cottage cheese, yogurt and pudding. Lucky for me there is lactose free alternatives.
I have always been sensitive to drugs and do not take them, at least until now where my bathroom looks like a drugstore. Antibiotics upset my stomach, and I was happy not to take them very often, pain medication bothers me. When I took a xanax, it was half a pill and that did the trick. Given that, I should have expected my body would violently react to being poisoned with chemo. But no matter how much you think you are prepared, you read up on it, until you experience it, I do not think you can be completely prepared. You hope for the best. I did, but unfortunately, the best did not happen.
I am now in week three after chemo, and for the first time in two and one-half weeks, have an appetite, food tastes good again and I have energy. While I forced myself to do some yoga last week, it was hard to get through the class. Today for the first time, I enjoyed the yoga class and felt strong. I am not sensitive to cold, so tonight I am looking forward to having coconut milk ice cream. This week I almost feel normal. I say almost, because no matter what, my stomach always has some unease, nights are challenging, because I usually feel the worst at night, and I have not slept through the night since I had chemo.
I am dreading next Monday, my next chemo treatment. While my protocol has been changed and I am no longer going to be given the third and most toxic drug, and will be given different and more anti-nausea medication, this does not ease the dread I feel. Now that I am finally feeling good, not perfect, but good, I hate the thought of going back to that sickness, that nausea, and everything else that comes with chemo. But I have decided that this time will be different. At least I know how bad it can be. The most toxic drug is gone. My doctor knows how I reacted and is responding. I have more anti-nausea drugs available to me, and it has to be better than last time. At least I know, by week three I will be feeling better. On to the battle…..