The title to this post references the fact that I have now completed four rounds of chemo. There are many more to go, however, and next week I have a scan to see how the chemo is affecting the cancer. I am nervous about it, trying not to worry too much, but I also believe that it is working. When I talk to people who have had cancer and are in remission, they tell me that every time they see their oncologist to be checked on whether the cancer has returned, they are nervous, stressed, and do not relax until they get the clean bill of health. That is, until the next time they check. My friend Deb, whose cancer had not metasticized, still sees her oncologist years later, still gets checked, still gets stressed about it. Having cancer changes your reality, changes any assumption you have that you are healthy unless you feel sick, and makes you well aware of your mortality.
Enough about that, however, because this post is to discuss the last two chemo treatments and how they affected me. Nausea has been my biggest issue. No matter how much anti-nausea medication and steroids I was given, I could not seem to escape it. The last two treatments were better because I used alternative remedies that held off the full blown nausea. While I still had many periods of bad stomach unease or queasiness, except for the morning my chemo pump was unhooked when the chemo was at its highest level in my system, I successfully fought off the full blown nausea. The day the pump was unhooked, I could not fight it off completely, and had a number of bouts of heavy queasiness and nausea, but it was not continuous. The next day was also a bit rough. I ate okay, I did not get sick, and I could function much better, albeit not great. Function on chemo days means being at home, not doing much, perhaps reading if I do not feel too badly, or watching something on TV that distracts me somewhat from how I am feeling. The dogs do not get much of a walk on those days – I can take them out but feel little energy to do much more.
The other symptoms, which I have not discussed very much because the nausea is so debilitating, are not fun, and are getting worse each chemo. I have extreme sensitivity to cold from one of the chemo drugs. Touching anything cool, washing with cold water, drinking or eating food that is too cold, is a problem. My fingers tingle, my throat could spasm. No ice cream for me. This lasts at least five days, but this time seems to be lasting longer. Making a salad, cutting cool vegetables, was a challenge today, although I have been able to drink cool drinks today. The neuropathy, which was only in my right hand, and then my right foot for a short time, now goes to both hands, and gets worse each time. It lasts about two to three days, but this time there were times I felt the way someone with arthritis must feel when trying to use their hands. My hands were difficult to use. Texting and typing, which I do regularly, was a challenge when the neuropathy was happening. Luckily it is is not constant. My right foot neuropathy caused me to injure that foot three weeks ago, and it still hurts when I go into lotus in yoga. It is not predictable. It just seems to show up one day as I am walking for a couple of hours and then it is gone. The peripheral vision loss from one of the drugs lasts for two to three days, and seems to come on any time I stand up or move too quickly. It is definitely stronger than the first two times I had chemo. For about four days, each time I eat the first chew really hurts my jaw and then it abates. Weird. Leg cramps and ankle cramps come on without warning, but at least I am aware of them and am careful how I stretch. I also think yoga has really helped.
This does not count the mysterious bruises showing up on my legs because I am on blood thinners. I seriously do not remember hitting anything with my legs, but I wake up and there is a bruise where none was there before. Nor does this count the chest tightness that comes and goes near the end of my chemo – that seems to happen at night so that it can interrupt my sleep. What a nice gift.
By far the most annoying reaction is my taste. The metallic taste in my mouth from chemo is lasting longer each time and I still have it today. It makes drinking plain water impossible, and I am constantly adjusting what I can drink. What works after one chemo may not work the next time. I have used lemonade with water, flavor drops, club soda with lemon or lime, lemon and lime infused water. It also affects my taste for food. I was gorging on watermelon each chemo. This time, the metal taste is so strong that the watermelon does not taste good. I am hoping that ends soon. On the up side, after my first chemo, the thought of fish, which I usually love, disgusted me, but the last two chemos I have eaten it with no problem except on my white bread and soup chemo days. Fatigue is a constant, but I am tough, in good shape and can keep up except during chemo days. I just lose it early at night, and crash.
This is not meant to be a complaint – I am up for whatever I have to face to beat this beast. It is simply noting that chemo is strong poison and really messes with your system and body. That is okay so long as it does its job attacking and destroying the cancer cells. I will deal with the metal taste, the cold, the neuropathy, and other symptoms. They have not stopped me from living my life, from doing yoga, from being with my family, from going out to dinner and enjoying my friends. Life goes on and it will go on. Now if only this metallic taste would go away…..