As I sat in mass (good Catholic girl here) this morning, I was reflecting on my chemo days. Tomorrow marks being two years post chemo. I am not what or who I used to be.
The side-effects I suffered during five months of chemo were so painful and horrific that I am still processing the trauma. My chemo treatment was 4 Adriamycin & Cytoxan and 12 Taxol. I almost passed out when my oncologist revealed what my chemo treatment would be. I thought there was no way I could work or even survive that much chemo. How would my body tolerate this poison? That’s the scariest thing…the unknown.
I’ve listed the top five of my toughest moments battling chemo, in no particular order:
- I would rather vomit daily than battle with nausea. It was beyond horrible. It was hard to keep on top of it. Plus, add my tongue swelling and mouth sores to the mix. My taste buds died and have yet to return. I no longer like going out to eat. It’s a waste of money since I can’t really taste the food.
- The night ALL my hair fell out in the shower. I literally had a buzz cut with some bald patches walking into the shower and came out completely bald. I can still hear the echo of my screaming in disbelief and fear.
- The fatigue and neuropathy continues to be unbearable, but I just continue to push through it. My energy has not come back like I thought it would. I would say my quality of life is around 30% because of the chronic fatigue and daily pain. It also caused severe dizziness to the point where I could no longer drive and walking with a cane for a few months. I got neuropathy within the first 10 minutes during my first Taxol chemo treatment. The nerve damage to my hands and feet was done. If one more person suggests acupuncture or B-vitamin complex, I will scream. This was not gradual. I can’t even fully express what it felt like when it happened.
- My hair growing back completely different has been one of the biggest struggles. I know it looks cute and all that. It hurts when people don’t validate my grief over my hair. You see, each time I look in the mirror, it is a constant reminder of how cancer and the chemo literally changed my physical appearance. I can’t ever NOT think about what I’ve been through because the reflection staring back at me still looks like a stranger.
- The palms of my hands and feet looked burned. The chemo literally burned me from head to toe. I look at my pinkish, white palms now and just shake my head. It took almost a year for those to heal.
I was so weak by my 16th treatment that I had to get a blood transfusion two weeks before my surgery to boost my system. That was an odd experience. It was the one time I actually got grossed out…seeing those two huge bags of blood ready to flow into my system. *Gag* my whole face was flushed and my eyes were red. Who knew I would morph into Bella from Twilight!
I’m a slow healer. I know that stems from being born three months premature. It always takes me a long time to heal from everything. So, I am hoping my taste buds will return by the end of this year.
I had many more side-effects than the ones listed above and didn’t even list all the infections. My oncologist actually said not only was I getting the “mother load of chemo”, but that I was getting the “mother load of side-effects.”
The toll chemo can take on the body is tough. It depleted me of all energy and affected my cognitive thinking, which I have mentioned in previous posts. The term “chemo brain” is too benign. Though I am mentally sharper, it has taken two years to get to this point. Writing, coloring, reading complex articles and books helped to strengthen my thinking. I still have some slight issues with my short-term memory but can function okay. It’s no longer affecting my ability to learn new things.
In my chemo experience, it was not about losing weight either. The dosage and number of steroids needed before each treatment completely blew my weight up. It made me feel bad about myself. It hurt my self-esteem. I didn’t feel pretty. I actually haven’t truly felt beautiful until recently.
Me on that final chemo day 2/26/16. What you don’t see in this pic are the band aids on each finger because my fingernails had fallen off.
A few weeks after that final day…even after blood transfusion…
The weight gain really showing in my face…
Me this afternoon…two years later!
What a difference two years makes, huh?!
Chemo is hard. Chemo is painful. Chemo is scary. It will try to break you. It takes a long time to heal from it. I’m pleased to say it did NOT break me. I felt like dying sometimes but fought like hell with everything I had to live.
I continue to walk with purpose but with some struggles. I’m physically weaker and have modified many areas in my life after this battle. That is why I always call myself a warrior because chemo nearly killed me.
Until next time,