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!

5 thoughts on “Chemo Side Effects 101

  1. Dear Jill
    That was a long missive and was so coherent and informative.You must be very tired now. Thank-you for this though. A real gift. You keep saying that you are so blessed by having all of us in your life but know my friend, that you are ministering to us mightily, not only about your journey with cancer, but more importantly your journey with God, and the ever constant awareness and comfort His presence is to you. What a witness!! Thank-you Jill for sharing so openly. F&M xxoo

  2. Sounds very normal Jill . . . and you are doing what you need to do to care for yourself. Rest, proper food, list-making and extra caution. Tough journeys are best travelled with sherpas! And you seem to have a lot of great sherpas on your team. xoxo

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