September 27, 2013

Side Effects - Nearing the End of Treatment

As I round the corner to chemo #11 on October 7, I start pondering my recovery. I wish that the day after my last treatment that everything in my body will magically revert back to my old self (minus the cancer, of course). Unfortunately it will be months until I'm feeling like a non-chemo laden, positive, post cancer gal. The nasty chemo has done a number on my body. Now I know everyone has different reactions to chemotherapy as different cancers call for different types of chemo drugs. What I'm sharing today is MY reactions to my chemo treatments for colon cancer and how it affects me. You or your loved one's side effects may or may not be similar. 

I'll start with my feet/hands. One side effect that I had only one time was my feet swelling up like big o' sausages. The left foot was worse than the right. The doc prescribed something and it went down in about 3 days. The BIGGER issue with my feet is numbness - which also affects my fingers. This problem has been getting worse with each treatment. So much so that on treatment number 10 the oncologist reduced my 5FU by 25%. Sorry to say that didn't help and the numbness is only increasing. This side effect can last months, years or be permanent after chemo. It is one that the doctors try to monitor very closely. God forbid I lose more feeling. It's hard to be on my feet too long when they are numb and just typing this right now is awkward as I'm continually missing keys and have a pins and needles sensation in my finger tips. 
My sausage foot
Knees/weight/eating habits. My knees are puffed up and look like old lady knees. Actually my whole body is puffed up to the tune of 20 pounds thanks to the steroids in the chemo drugs. Finding food that agrees with your digestive system during chemo is not easy. I learned the hard way (days spend chained to the toilet) that I can't eat salads, fruits, veggies or too much coffee on certain days during treatment. My diet primarily consists of carbs (ugh). Easy to pack on 20 pounds with that diet!! Drinking fluids is uber important too! I learned that the hard way by getting dehydrated a few times. Gatorade is now a regular part of my day. 

Hair loss. This one is the worst in my opinion. I have always struggled with my crazy curly hair until a couple years ago when I found out about Keratin Treatments! Since then I've love my hair, only to lose it all with chemo. OK, I didn't lose ALL of it, but there are big patches of baldness all over my head and my hair is very thin and wirery.  
My patchy head of hair
Skin. Your skin gets awful during chemo! I have cellulite where I never had it or imagined I'd ever have it. My skin is dry all the time. Any cuts or sores take a long, long time to heal. I constantly have raggedy cuticles. Oh, and I have this charming rash that started on my arms and has moved to my chest and is slowly working it's way on to my face. It looks like chicken pox. This may or may not go away after treatment. This was not a side effect the chemo nurses or my doctor have seen before. 

Crazy rash

Muscles/joints. My knees joints and lower back ache a lot. Those have been problem areas for me in the past, so I'm guessing chemo amplifies any aches and pains in those areas. Getting in and out of my car, which may be a little on the low side, makes me feel like and 80 year old. 

Finger nails. Some people lose their finger nails during treatment and others have their finger nails go hog wild, growing like crazy. I got the grow like crazy nails. This would be great if I was allowed to get manicures and grow them long, but long nails hold germs under them so you gotta keep them short. And, manicures open you up for infections from even the most sterilized manicure tools. 

Stomach/Bowels. This one is not for those who get queasy, so if that is you, you may want to skip this paragraph. I believe it's important to be very transparent on what can happen to a body during chemo so here goes. As mentioned earlier your stomach will not tolerate certain foods. You'll need to learn to gage that on your own by trial and error. I use to have major constipation week one of chemo. By week two, I could be living on the toilet with diarrhea. And some days getting to the toilet in time was impossible. I'm not talking about a shart, folks. I'm talking about sneaky liquid poo that shoots out of your bun-hole without ANY warning. Its times like that when I was glad to be home on short term disability! Learning what I could eat and drink eventually helped me avoid problems, but it was a steep learning curve for a while.

Teeth/Nose and other orifices. During chemo your membranes get weak and tender. Usually the first week of chemo is the worst. I'd blown my nose and had bloody noses as a result. I'd brushed my teeth and my gums will bleed. I've even bled like a young, virginal girl after being intimate with my lover. You just never know when it will happen. You just need to take it easy on your orifices!

Brain. Ah, my favorite (she says sarcastically) … chemo brain. No it's not a cute phrase, it's an actual medical side effect of chemo. It's a lot like a slow-mo version of A.D.D. Your brain is foggy a lot. You forget the simplest things, sometimes mid sentence. Concentration for an extended period of time is difficult. You don't react as quickly. God forbid you needed to have a debate when you have chemo brain, it just wouldn't end pretty. 

Sleep. For many sleep may be difficult. As if the anxiety and stress of having cancer isn't enough, the steroids they pump in you during week one may have you up at night. In the beginning that was the case for me so they cut me back a bit and now when I'm at home with the portable pump I pretty much sleep constantly. 

I hope this didn't come across as a long diatribe of complaints. My goal is to help you glean some information that may help you or your loved one have an idea what to expect when it comes to side effects. If you ever have any problems, talk to your chemo nurse, they are amazing and so very helpful. They will likely have some tips and tricks to help you out. 

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