Dancing with the Devil

Going into the second round of chemo, my GP oncologist advised me that I would be getting a double dose of anti-nausea medication moving forward to help alleviate the nausea that I experienced through the first treatment. This seemed to help a lot as I was able to eat when I got home and hold a conversation with my husband unlike two weeks prior. The only drawback though was that the medication in higher doses had side effects such as constipation and insomnia, both of which I experienced. I was so tired after chemo and felt like I could sleep all day but once I hit the pillow, I just laid there wide awake for hours. Not even a sleeping pill could help as my body was so flooded with all of the different drugs in my system.

After the second round of treatment, I noticed myself starting to associate certain words and items with chemo. Two things in particular were popsicles and ice. I had to suck on either a popsicle or ice chips while receiving the “red devil” treatment to avoid getting mouth sores (thankfully I only got one mild mouth sore in my throat the entire time which went away quickly with a prescribed mouthwash). Once I went through the third round of chemo, I couldn’t even think, look, or talk about popsicles and ice without gagging. My mind was playing games with me and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was driving me insane. I decided I needed to do something about it because I still had more treatments coming up and I didn’t know how was I going to get through them like this.

Through my work, there’s an Employee and Family Assistance program which offers short-term counselling services for free. I contacted the program and got set up with a counsellor the following week to try and work through some of the anxiety I was experiencing around chemo. The counsellor emphasized just focusing on the present moment and to associate chemo with something positive. My mind has always been one to wander and think about a million things at once so it was hard to slow it down and focus on the present. I had to train myself to stop thinking so far ahead to the next treatment (and those darn popsicles). I also started reminding myself again that the chemo was doing good for my body and killing all of the bad cancer cells. This was a little easier said than done when I felt the side effects cumulate after each treatment.

As the treatments went on, my energy level became worse and I had this constant off feeling. It was like a touch of nausea coupled with fatigue. The oncologist said that exercise could help lessen the side effects so I pushed myself to get out for walks almost everyday, even if it was just around the block. At first, this seemed to help and I felt better when I was moving around more than when I was resting. The difficult part was getting the energy to push myself out the door but I reminded myself every time of the reward of feeling better afterwards. By the time my fourth treatment was finished though, it didn’t matter whether I was resting or moving around…nothing could shake off how I was feeling. It just lingered and only time seemed to make it fade away.

One thing that seemed to thrive though during my treatments was my appetite. I could not eat enough in a day and was eating twice as much as I normally would. Yet, even though I ate so much, I never felt full and couldn’t keep the weight on. It was like a competition with the chemo to see how much I could eat and how much weight I could gain back before the next round. But I always seemed to fall a bit short. I wasn’t losing a lot of weight but enough that I knew I needed to keep eating so that I didn’t eventually become underweight and unhealthy. My GPO later explained to me that the chemo was killing off all of the rapidly diving cells in my body, including the cells in my digestive tract. As a result, my body didn’t have the ability to uptake the nutrients I was putting in my body like it normally would and instead was going straight through me.

By the time I went into my last treatment of the “red devil”, I was worn down both physically and emotionally. At the beginning of chemo, I was usually able to recover enough to start getting out and about after a week or so of treatment. The last round though left me with this slight feeling of nausea and fatigue for the entire two weeks until my next treatment. It was starting to drag me down emotionally not being able to go out and enjoy things on any given day without worrying about how I was feeling. I couldn’t go to the store alone without getting anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. It was difficult to even drive because I felt like I was in a constant haze. The days seemed long because I didn’t have the energy to do anything and I looked forward to my husband coming home or having visitors over to get my mind off things. I just kept telling myself that this would all be over soon.

After four challenging chemo treatments, I would now be switching over to a different chemo drug called Paclitaxel for the last half of my treatment which had less harsh side effects. No more nausea and no more taking pills all the time. I couldn’t wait to move on and kick the red devil to the curb.

Bye bye red devil!

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