It’s been a full week since my first chemo treatment, so I’m going to dish the details on what it feels like. And it’s not going to be pretty. Rather than engage in image-crafting or build some kind of Trixiebrand, I’m just going to put it all out there. It might make you uncomfortable, and if you want to scroll on by, that’s cool. But maybe you’ve just been diagnosed or maybe your mom or a partner is about to have chemo and you just want someone to give it to you straight. If that’s the case, I’m your huckleberry.
In The Beginning
Propped up by steroids (I was prescribed two tablets per day for three consecutive days starting the day before chemo and also received steroids intravenously) I felt pretty good the first couple of days. On Day Two I got up, went to the hospital for my Neulasta shot and then shopped at Target, wrote a lengthy blog post, and made dinner for my daughters. In retrospect, I was shockingly productive!
I wasn’t hungry and felt mildly nauseated, like morning sickness. My bones were a bit achy, but not unbearably so. I spent Day Three on the sofa getting caught up on Mad Men. I’m a bit concerned about Don Draper…
A Downhill Slide
On Day Four, the diarrhea began. Here’s where you’ll want to stop reading if you’re squeamish. How to describe the chemo-shits? Hmmm. Let’s say my butt is a soda fountain like at a fast food restaurant. The button for Solid Poop is marked “out of service.” The button for Liquid, Yet Still Recognizably Fecal Matter is covered by a Post-It note that just says “Sorry.” There’s no ice, no Fanta; there are only two selections:
- Firehose of Antifreeze
- Tar Drip
If you saw this stuff on the sidewalk you wouldn’t go, “Someone shit on the sidewalk!” you’d look up and wonder what the hell alien sludge had fallen from space. After a couple dozen rounds of this, you may find yourself sitting on an ice-pack in hopes of soothing the ring of fire.
On Day Five my mouth turned on me. Everything tastes like burning. Water tastes bad. Between the nausea, knowing what will happen on the other end, and the fact that nothing tastes edible…there’s not a lot of incentive to consume food. Except that I know I need to. I’ve got to rebuild the good cells that are collateral damage in this cancer-killer cocktail. People tell you lots of things you should be doing. Eating lean protein. Exercising (!), drinking smoothies.
If the only thing I can choke down in a 24-hour period is a piece of toast, a shortbread cookie, and two bites of vanilla pudding? That’s what’s for dinner.
I thought I was doing pretty well, considering, until I actually attempted something more taxing than shuffling to the hammock on the back patio. Because this fatigue…damn. Sitting up for an entire episode of Law & Order SVU was too much for me. I got winded halfway through folding a load of laundry and stopped. I take hot baths to soak my achy bones (it’s worst in my hips/pelvis) and rest my head on Allison’s plastic whale that covers the faucet—a leftover from her baby days. When my hair is wet it feels too heavy for my head.
So, on Mother’s Day, I got my first taste of real life: Brunch at 13 Coins with my whole family and some friends. Table for 10. This was my arrangement, by the way. I set this up knowing it would be post-chemo and all that. So I don’t blame anyone else.
I did make an effort. I put on a dress! I put on mascara! I’d meant to straighten my hair (or at the very least, work through some tangle-curls) but ran out of time. I felt car-sick on the way to the restaurant and we almost had to pull over. Then the walk from the parking garage almost did me in. The service was super duper slow and I snapped at the waitress that I needed water NOW. I was just weak and miserable and my French toast (late, and cold btw) was unappealing. I gave away my bacon. The worst part was I felt like a terrible hostess. I just didn’t have the energy to keep the conversation going. I sat at the end of the table and wished I was home in bed. The looks on my family’s faces as they saw me struggling through the meal was sort of heartbreaking. I feel like I let everyone down.
That’s when I knew: I am a huge wimp. I know some people spring up from chemo and go back to the office. They drive their kids to activities and they put dinner on the table. I am not that woman. I am a pale lump that spends 20 hours a day in bed contemplating my choices:
- Will drinking a couple swallows of water trigger a Bathroom Event?
- Is my headache due to caffeine withdrawal? Caffeine will bring on heartburn and I can’t have that.
- My bones ache, but I took extra-strength Tylenol one day and spent the entire night with a heating pad on my gut for the stomach pain. Do I dare dip into my remaining Percocets?
- I’d really REALLY love a good night’s sleep, but if I call my doctor and ask for something will he think I’m a drug-seeker and put me on the naughty list?
- How did I become such a goddamn wuss?
The good news is that I think the worst has passed! Sunday night I ate soup. I’ve learned what will trigger the killer heartburn (caffeine, orange juice, carbonated drinks) and avoid it. Monday I ate two meals of actual food (both lovingly prepared by my sweet and patient husband who has really gotten more than he bargained for with that “sickness and health” vow) and felt stronger. Last night I broke down and popped a Percocet and got a refreshing sleep. I actually woke up before the alarm, got out of bed and got Allison off to school. Right now, I’m sitting upright at my desk in my office writing this blog post. This is a definite improvement.
Brilliantly written. I have been provided travel sickness bags from my lovely night nurse so I’ll make sure I carry them everywhere. It does not sound like much fun at all. I still dont have a chemo date but I do see my oncologist tomorrow about it. I worry that my brave warrior face will be a thing of the past if I have to go through what you have. Eeeeek. I am glad you managed to write this blog post. I think. hehe
Thanks Amanda. I never once puked! I’ll be thinking of you and know you will soldier through!
You’re not a wimp. You should feel what you’re feeling and you should be allowed to feel that way.
Please remember that the people who “spring up from chemo and go back to the office” are not in their first week of treatment, nor are they necessarily on the same regimen, nor are they you.
Usually they say that the only person you should compare yourself with is you, but in this case, cut it out. Because Christa who can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan is being injected with poison. Lots of it.
Of course you are exhausted.
Please be kind to my cousin. I do love her so. I know it’s frustrating when your body won’t do what you want it to, but I dunno, maybe pretend for a minute that you are Allie, not Christa, and cut yourself a break.
I love you so very very much. I wish I were clever enough to send you a Thor standup thing or one of the other many wonderful pick me ups I see.
Nothing I come across seems worthy of you and your amazing spirit.
So I do what I can from here. I send my unconditional love and support. I send whatever brand of good and healing vibes you prefer. Occasionally I send unsolicited advice.
You are loved. Even on days when you feel like a wimp. Perhaps especially on those days.
Love, hugs, and tons of support.
Please remember that not everyone gets the same chemo and that different chemos have different effects on different people at different times. My dad was one who could keep going when he was going through his first bout of chemo. He was also on dialysis and somehow managed to teach middle school students while going through all of that. I can’t do that on a good day, let alone after receiving a serious dose of chemicals!
However, the second time through, even though it was the same chemo and his kidneys had rebounded to the point of no longer needing dialysis, it took him completely out of commission. I’m talking nearly bedridden on many days with the ridiculous diarrhea level you described. Having the feeling that you’re about to explode in public and knowing full well that it’s bad enough that you just might isn’t something anyone wants to experience. As a family, we adapted and learned to plan activities around it to make him as comfortable as possible, both physically and mentally. We didn’t see it as a burden; we just rolled with whatever came.
My dad shared similar feelings of letting people down, but he described it more as feeling like he was disrupting plans or keeping us from doing what we wanted. What we wanted was to spend time with him and for him to be as comfortable as possible, and it didn’t matter if it was at a restaurant, in a store, or sitting at home watching reruns of Law and Order.
For those of us who are staunchly independent – I get where you’re coming from. We’re used to handling business and not having to rely on others for much. It’s OK to use your supports. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to acknowledge pain, scream, cry, curse (even more than usual), be candid, and take time to yourself. It’s OK to come up with a “List of Demands” and ask your family and friends to honor them. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go suck an egg.
Now go kick Turdy’s ass, and then kick it again!
I’ve had Multiple Sclerosis since the 90s and have had 5 chemo infusions ranging from 3 days to 5 days. I can say with RESPECT and admiration, thank you for speaking the truth about chemo. Like my dad has always told me “life’s a bitch and you can’t skip the bitch part”…my dad’s the best, right? When you feel you’ve let your family down start calling them to talk about what you’re FEELING. Lastly, this note may be mildly retarded as I had infusion just last week. Cheers to the invention of indoor plumbing!
You are not a wimp I have been on an experimental oral chemo for a year now and some days im ok other days im a lump wherever i land and stay there until it hurts. I take chemo seven days a week and truthfully it sucks! Im tired, pale, weak, ive lost almost 100lbs and a husband. My dog is my rock she keeps me sane. But i soldier on because the alternative is unacceptable. Good luck and God bless.
Oh my gosh you poor thing! Every day?!? Sending you hugs and strength
Totally get this. Same results, emotions, everything. Feel like a total wimp when I go in for iv fluids because I cant drink enough. I try. But I fail.
Ty very much. I needed a good lol and cry time. The last seven days since my first shot, just about did me in, whuch is weird bc I-ve always been the freaking stallwart warrior in my clan… anywho. Big HUG and forever ty.
I couldn’t have stated it better – I’ve experienced the very same side effects, on my 4th treatment (every 2 weeks for 6 months). Thank you for your honesty.