Triple Whammy or How to Cope with Multiple Cancers – Part VII Witches Brew – by HD
Last week I described some of the issues (and horrors) involving my radiation treatments, this week I’ll discuss the chemo part. I think the often severe side effects of chemo therapy are some of the most dreaded and feared things for any cancer sufferer; and I must admit, I was not at all keen on the prospects myself. – So, put your hazardous-chemical-protection-suits on, follow me, and lets have a closer look.
Of course every cancer is different, and the chemicals used for chemo are different depending on the type of cancer that is being treated. – But all chemotherapy really works in very similarly ways.
Let’s review how chemotherapy does its job? The chemical cocktail they give you damage or kill all newly growing cells (that of course includes the usually rapidly dividing cancer cells). But since all cells are affected, newly growing cells, like hair follicles (or finger and toe nails) will also be severely damaged, and your hair may even fall out completely. Unfortunately there are no good cancer fighting chemicals (yet) that can reliably differentiate between cancer cells and healthy ones.
The chemo drug I received is called Cisplatin, it is related to the precious metal platinum (and at a jewelery store you have to pay real good money for it). Its long list of side effects include: severe nausea, hair loss, hearing loss, nerve damage, or kidney failure, and a few others. (I warned you that the treatment chapters are indeed like horror stories).
So once a week (for six weeks, concurrently with my radiation) I was sitting in this rather comfortable reclining leather chair with a tube going into my body through the mediport. For almost four hours they dripped the chemo chemicals into my veins. At first a goodly amount of saline solution to hydrate me (to minimize kidney problems), but then towards the end came the real and toxic stuff. (Yeah, let’s face it, chemotherapy is a controlled poisoning of your entire body).
Actually I received an entire cocktail of various drugs besides the saline fluid and the Cisplatin cancer treatment. Most of the other drugs given were to help with the nausea side effects. One in particular, called Emend, is known to really help, but it is rather expensive (like nearly $2000 for my six chemo sessions. Luckily (after some initial barking) our health insurance reluctantly paid for this medication). – And it worked beautifully. I did feel woozy a few times, but I actually never vomited during the entire course of my chemo treatments.
The very last drip was a strong diuretic sending me to the bathroom in a hurry. Oh what a weird feeling it was when that tingling and constricting and icy cold sensation goes from your chest right through your torso into your bladder and penis. Yikes, definitely not a good feeling at all! – Witches brew indeed; and not the penile sensation I enjoy at other times.
With the Cisplatin as active ingredient and at my dosage, I had a 50% chance of losing all my hair. I was prepared for that, and accepted this possibility. Again I was fortunate and did not lose any hair (I did have to shave off my full beard though, but that was from the radiation not the chemo. Somehow the radiation made my whiskers so spotty on the treatment side of my face, that it looked ridiculous. And I had no desire to start a new fashion fad of “half a full beard”). – Anyway, if my hair had fallen out due to the chemo, I would have asked someone to paint a mustache and a cowlick on me to look respectable again. – To me the hair issue was not a big deal, but I do empathize with those to whom it is an extremely traumatizing side effect of chemotherapy.
While I was sitting in that chair with the IV-bottle and its drip, drip, drip, – I usually listened to audio books or talked to other patients in the same treatment room. – Audio books are great and help pass the time, but they have one disadvantage, – a normal book, when you snooze off, falls into your lab and you’re ready to go again after waking up; but audio books merrily keep on spinning their yarn, and it is a pain finding the spot again where you left off; especially when you are real groggy from the chemo juices anyway. But I highly recommend audio books for things like lengthy chemo sessions or other waiting periods at the doctors.
After a chemo session, It is important to have someone to drive you home. I was rather wobbly on my pins after each treatment, and probably a real danger to the public were I behind a wheel. (For those of you who unfortunately have to do it all alone, our cancer center provided volunteer helpers that picked up and later drove cancer patients back home. Check with your facility if you need this type of assistance, they may have it too).
Though I was groggy right after each chemo sessions, its effects really hit me full blast about two days later. Then I was completely exhausted and extremely weak, and I mostly slept it off day and night (well, they say, he how sleeps doesn’t commit any sins. Haha!).
One other side effect of chemotherapy is the so-called “chemo brain”. Patients reported memory lapses, or trouble concentrating, – sort of like a brain fog. I was told about it by a doctor friend who underwent breast cancer chemo treatment. Her doctors did at first not admit that is could be real, but after pressing the issue with her oncologist, they later admitted that it is reported by many patients. – I think I had some first hand experiences with it too. – Is it real? The American Cancer Society thinks so, – but the Mayo clinic isn’t so sure.
If you had chemotherapy yourself, what advice can you give other sufferers? We are interested in hearing from you in the comment section. Please chime in, would you?
In the next installment I will write a bit more about treatments, this time about my thyroid cancer treatment (a topic that many folks here on DearThyroid are of course very familiar with). See you next week.
Here is to your health!
HD in Oregon