Chemotherapy is the ultimate frenemy. One day it hangs out with you at the mall. The next day it tells your friends you’re a bitch. It can save your life, but it will make you so very sick.
I was initially on chemo for 12 months and then off it for 13 months. Then new tumours appeared, and I began a second course in August, 2013. That’s 19 months of chemo, or about 24 rounds and counting. The drugs in question are ifosfamide and doxorubicin.
Here is a list of all the side-efffects I have experienced, in the rough order that I encountered them. Some were temporary; some appear after every round.
Fatigue: I had an infant son, so this was nothing new.
Nausea: Not as bad as you think, thanks to six different pills.
Infertility: That one hurt.
Hair loss, head: For a few terrible days, I became one of those knobs who wears a fedora.
Sore mouth: Gargling salt helped.
Abscessed tooth: With a depressed immunity system, a minor infection ballooned and I lost a molar. It made a crunching sound when the dentist pulled it from my jaw.
Dehydration: Which lead to…
Constipation: The worst. So bad that I have twice gone to Emergency. Both times, I walked out after a six-hour wait, because Emergency nurses prioritize the guy with the gunshot wound above the guy who can’t poop.
Change in taste: Even water tastes gross after chemo.
Infection: The port implanted in my chest to receive chemo injections became infected. I went septic. My doctor, who can be dryly funny, called it “a minor life-threatening incident.”
Hair loss, eyebrows: I officially looked “sick”.
Hair loss, eyelashes: My eyes compensated by secreting a protective goop overnight. Most mornings, I literally pull my crusty lids open.
Cracked, soft fingernails: This one costs me money, as I cannot pick up a dropped coin from a flat surface.
Neuropathy: Tingling “pins and needles” feet.
Hair loss, everywhere else: Great, it’s grade nine gym class all over again.
Mucositis: Inflamed esophagus caused heartburn and made every meal feel like I was swallowing rocks.
A blood clot in my leg: I spent a week on the couch, unable to move. Painful, but what really hurt was daytime television.
Low platelets: My nose bled like water. My doctor called this “a major life-threatening incident” that could have triggered a stroke. He reduced my chemo load by 20 per cent.
Rashes: Two types at once, on my face and body. Itchy!
Then there’s the most dangerous side-effects: the ongoing damage to my heart, kidneys and bone-marrow.
On the plus side, the periodic loss of appetite has me at my ideal weight!