Chemo Side Effects 101

When I first learned I was to receive chemo, I fully expected that to include all the horrible side effects that others have experienced. In fact, when my oncologist told me that 80% of people who receive the treatment I was to receive don’t ever vomit, I didn’t really believe him!

They give us great meds to help with nausea, and so far I’ve only experienced mild to moderate nausea. If it gets worse, there are extra pills I can take, and if they don’t do the job I can call a nurse day or night to come over and give me an injection. I haven’t had to take either of these extra steps – praise God!

Many people lose their appetite, or find that the flavours of food really change. So far, I’m doing great! I can’t always eat large portions of food, but I’m eating quite well, focussing on loads of veggies, fruit, and trying to take in the huge amounts of protein my cancer dietician tells me I need to eat!  🙂

I also am not meant to lose my hair, although it is thinning a bit. Good thing I started with a lot of hair! I really can’t complain … especially when I see so many people weekly who have lost most or all of theirs, and this winter is so cold.

Fatigue hits me powerfully at times (typically late afternoons until I go to bed!). I have to carefully monitor my energy levels and discern my priorities throughout the day, making sure I do important things first, and letting go of many of the other things I want to do … I love to squeeze every possible drop out of life! I’m generally not sleeping well, which is very common for cancer patients. I wake up several times most nights. Part of this is because I have only been able sleep on my right side since September (due to coughing in any other position), and another part is that I wake up sweating up to five times per night.

There are some very serious possible side effects from the meds I’m taking, but so far it seems I am avoiding them. Some of the most difficult so far have been a bit of numbness in my feet and hands, swelling in my legs, bloating, and some painful blood clots which thankfully are not really dangerous, and seem to be improving.

The numbness in my feet is kind of funny: this morning, for example I had been up for a over an hour when my 7yo asked me why my shoes didn’t match. I was wearing a slipper on my left foot and a slip-on shoe on my right, and never noticed! It’s so unlike the “normal” me, but I confess it’s definitely not the first time this has happened in recent weeks!

But it’s not so funny when it affects my balance. I’m paying more attention, holding handrails, and sometimes feeling very vulnerable – especially when I’m out walking. I’m also being careful with my hands, because I’ve cut & burned myself without realizing it initially, and that can be dangerous: pain is a gift to protect us from worse injury!

Then there’s this whole thing called “chemo brain”, which is kind of like “baby brain” (if that means anything to you) only more so. It can be impossible at times to type properly, to multi-task, to think things fully through, to remember that I’m making toast … it’s wild!

I’m also sporting a few new bruises, which I like to think of as art, although some are definitely prettier than others. It’s interesting to watch them change colours and shapes as the days pass, a reminder that life is not stagnant. I am not stuck here. I am travelling through this valley …

One of the things that strikes me powerfully lately is that we don’t tend to know what’s happening for another person we walk past, or drive past, or even talk to. We can be all kinds of combinations of strong / fragile / faith-filled / fearful / hopeful / tearful / etc. We can all benefit from grace and mercy extended towards us. As my pace slows and some things are much more difficult, I am increasingly aware that we all need mercy and help. I am so grateful for the many kindnesses of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers – so clearly and graciously offered especially in recent weeks. God, my Good Shepherd, is always with me, meeting all my needs and so much more – often through this great community of which I’m so blessed to be a part. I am overwhelmingly grateful for this crowd who is surrounding us, uplifting us, cheering us on as we travel through. Thank you for your part!

Our Cup Overflows …


Word are completely inadequate as I try to describe how blessed we are. People are so kind, thoughtful, generous to us, and we are overwhelmed by the love and goodness!

We are so grateful for the emails, notes, gifts, practical help, thoughts, prayers, food, … We feel surrounded and uplifted by our amazing circle of amazing folks, both near and far. This deluge of support encourages us on so many levels. We know we are not alone in this journey, and that makes an indescribable difference.

Let me just tell you about the food. When people started to hear our news, they began bringing meals and muffins oh my! It was wonderful, because I was having a hard time getting dinner on the table each night. I was enlisting the help of my kids who are great helpers, but it was still too much. Eating healthy is really important to me, and it cheered my heart so much as well! But as the news started to spread, the food started to fill our fridge and freezer and … Not only was our cup overflowing! We borrowed a small freezer from friends (which started to look fairly full too!) Another friend set up a website to help coordinate the flow of food, and now it’s a fantastic rhythm of three meals per week, plus a bit extra that lovely people seem to slip in!

This is wonderful, because I still get to cook but when I don’t have the energy there is always healthy food (often arriving hot at our door at mealtime!) …  but there’s something else that I don’t really know how to describe. The love that people cook with nourishes our hearts, and when we sit down to dinner, we are enjoying a kind of community with them. I don’t tend to have enough energy to be with people in the evenings, but we sense their presence, their love, their generosity as we eat the food they graciously prepare. We give thanks for them as well as the meal, and pray God’s rich blessings on them.

Even more, I’m surprised by how much gratitude permeates my thoughts and feelings throughout the days and nights. I never would have expected to feel so thankful so much of the time in these circumstances, but that is another hugely significant way in which our cup overflows. I really do feel carried on an immense wave of grace and gratitude, for which I give deep and heartfelt thanks (and credit!) to God.

Not only does our cup overflow, but so does our saucer!

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;

for you are with me; your rod and staff – they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

About this blog …

“Through the Valley” is from Psalm 23, and especially meaningful to me in my current journey through a recent lung cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy. My name is Jill. I am a 48 year old child of God, follower of Jesus, wife of a song writer/musician/music teacher, mother to three children (12, 10, 7).

I am new to blogging. I planned to never start a blog without focus, purpose and commitment … but circumstances change. I imagine this may become an eclectic mix of brief and/or rambling updates, prayer requests, and reflections … My hope is that it will help communicate with the loads of lovely, supportive people who care so much and gently ask for updates. We are so grateful for the amazing people who are surrounding us, helping us, praying for us, cheering us on and walking with us – whether from near or far.

Chemo 101

We received my diagnosis on Thursday December 12, 2013, and in what felt like a crazy whirlwind, started chemo on Tuesday December 17th.  We anticipate four to six cycles. Each cycle is three weeks long, and the chemo takes place on Tuesdays (so far):

Week ONE: Long chemo. I spend about three and a half hours at the hospital receiving two chemo drugs by IV. The longer of the drugs is really tough on the kidneys, so I drink lots of fluids to help protect my body. I take loads of anti-nausea meds, and so far they are working really well! For this I am very grateful!

Week TWO: Short chemo.  I get the quicker of the two chemo meds, which takes only about an hour or an hour and a half.

Week THREE: No chemo.  Which is good, because at this point in the cycle I tend to be really tired and my bone marrow is wiped out of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, which renders me rather vulnerable.

Cycle ONE:

  • Dec. 17: Long
  • Dec. 24: Short
  • Dec. 31: Off

Cycle TWO:

  • Jan. 7: Long
  • Jan. 14: Short
  • Jan. 21: Off

Cycle THREE:

  • Jan. 28 (scheduled): Long
  • Feb. 4 (scheduled): Short
  • Feb. 11 (scheduled): Off