It is no mystery that Chemotherapy medicines damages cells within the body. This is the reason we sometimes experience hair loss and/or nail, skin or suffer stomach damages. This is why chemotherapy can cause temporary side effects. Side effects usually improve as the normal (or non-cancer) tissues repair themselves. However, the road to recovery can be a daunting one at times. I thought once I finished my last treatment on March 18th I was going to quickly get back to my normal life and activities. That wish could not have been farthest from the reality I am now experiencing; 6 weeks after my last treatment.
Not all chemotherapy medicines have the same late effects. A lot depends on the kind of medicines used. The dosage and whether chemotherapy was done with another type of treatment are also important. If an organ is damaged, a lot depends on whether it can repair itself. It is very important to talk to your Oncologist about side effects of the medications in your treatment program. I did and found out a very alarming fact. One of the medicines in my list causes heart failure and possible death if the treatment goes over a certain amount. This amount administered is a lifetime dosage. Education and key to understanding the medications we are administered is very important. I asked for the full list of medication and everything about them, including any associated risks. My Physician assistant, Dr. Jennifer Regan, provided them to me several months ago. I cannot say I did not know the risks, I did. Experiencing those risks is another story.
Some of the late effects of treatment can include, but not limited to the list below. Not everyone will experience these. I experienced or is experiencing the ones I discussed below.
- I get tired fairly quickly, but the good news is that taking a quick break or just laying down for about 15-20 minutes helps a lot. It is important for me to rest my mind as well as my body. Thankfully, I have a job where I sit down in a comfortable office chair with a foot stool under my desk. This is a tremendous help. As the weeks get farther and farther away from the last chemo, I am getting less and less tired. I can stay up longer and little later at nights. Since I started back at work, I have to manage my day carefully. Extracurricular activities are limited to non-existent at this time. Occasionally, I go to the movies or out to eat. My weekdays begin at 6am and ends around 9pm. This is a long day for me. I love my weekends when I can get my rest and relax a more than the weekdays.
- Difficult with focused thinking (sometimes called chemo brain)
- I find I am forgetting more than before. I forget names, I forget to turn the stove off, I forget my lunch at home, etc. Forgetting is part of being human and getting old, but when it is constant, it becomes an annoyance. I also forget that I actually turned the stove off. The stove is a big issue and I have to leave myself notes to remember to turn the stove off. Luckily, my son watches over and he turns the stove off a lot of times. This is going to get better from what I understand. I also forget that I remembered to do something, so I tried to turn off the stove when I already did! This becomes old and frustrating very quickly. Oh, then I dream I forgot to turn off the stove! This is happening less and less as the weeks gets farther and farther out from chemo. I am much better now that before.
- Early menopause
- This is a touchy one and a very personal for me. At the first chemo treatment in October 2015, I went into pre-mature menopause or what would be considered immediate infertility. I was hoping to follow suit with my other siblings and not have to experience this for another 4-5 years at least, but no luck. I am too focused on my health than to think about side effects of that. I will embrace whatever is thrown my way from this. I am really confused on what are menopausal symptoms vs. cancer symptoms. I find I am spending way too much time analyzing this, so I just try not to focus on it and move on to more important things. You can look up the symptoms of menopause, but it is rather long. Not for this blog, maybe another one.
- Urinary problems
- The urge to go to the bathroom on a very frequent basis was annoying in the beginning, but I learned this is due to autonomic nerve neuropathy and will subside is a few months. I am now very focused on where I go, how long of a drive I can take and where I can find a clean restroom. Before this, I would rarely use public restrooms now that is all thrown out the window. Most of us see the commercials on TV called, ‘overactive bladder’. Well, that is a really nice name for a peeing problem. I commend the drug and marketing industry for finding such a beautiful name for an annoying and embarrassing issue. My sister, Nina, said that to solve this problem temporarily (or permanently) she will insert a urinary catheter attached to a bag and strapped to my inner thigh. Something like this?
- Nerve problems such as numbness and tingling leading to neuropathy
- Lead leg as it is commonly know is a really heavy feeling as if I am carrying around weights strapped to my knees or ankle. It is very hard to get up from a sitting position or getting in and out of a car. I have to maneuver myself in my seat and with effort lift the feet in. This causes some level of instability as well as standing up and trying to walk, so I have to stand, get my balance for a few seconds then start walking. Once I start walking, I could walk for miles and miles with not much discomfort. This is supposed to last a few months from what I understand. My Oncologist is also asking for an MRI with and without contrast of the head and leg to confirm there is not any severe issues to deal with. MRI is scheduled for May 9th in Orlando at Simon’s Med.
- Nail Problems
- This is a painful one. My nails became black and disgusting looking as a result of the treatment drugs. I just could not bring myself to show them in public and I do not generally polish my finger nails. I tried polishing to cover them up, but that did not last but a week. One of my toe nails is on the very of falling off and it hurts. Closed toe shoe is a no no. I have to wear a workout sneaker that is two sizes bigger than I need to avoid any pressure on the toe. Other times, I wear open toe shoes. So bye, bye vanity boots and shoes…some day we will meet again.
- Stomach problems
- After about 2 weeks of the last chemo, I started to have some moderate to severe heartburn. I was taking the prescription Pepcid, but that was not helping. I did some research and found out that the pure extract of Aloe Vera juice helps with easing some stomach problems. I purchased a bottle for about $35 from my local herb shop in Clermont, Florida. They have a wide variety of other natural products I use from time to time. Pay them a visit if you happen to be in the area. http://clermontherbshoppe.com/
- Bone, joint and muscle problems
- I am aching a lot, especially about 2-3 weeks after the last and 7th I feel at time I am very weak in the lower part of my body. I stopped taking all pain and other related medications month ago, but I find once in a while, I am forced to take one. This has only happened twice since the beginning of the year. I also learned that this will diminish in time, possibly a few months.
Is it worth it for me?
This was the question I asked myself and still do when I experience the pain and discomfort. When I am in pain, I am leaning towards it is not worth it. When I am not in so much pain I am leaning on it worth in. In other words I am on the fence on that for now. I cannot honestly say it is worth it. However, I know that I am making the right decision to seek treatment and to combat this horrific disease. I will continue to seek out all possible treatment. I will continue to go to physical therapy. I will continue to work out and stay strong and fit. I will continue because I have two beautiful children, a loving family, great friends and a beautiful garden to enjoy for as long as I possibly can. So, in short it may not worth it, but I am doing it because it is worth it for all the beautiful reasons I mentioned. If this disease is to consume me and results in my expiration, will I have any regrets? Absolutely not! Am I afraid for exiting? Definitely not! I am going to enjoy each day? Of course. Don’t panic if you read this. You see, the body I am in dies, but my soul lives on to come back in silence and watch over all of you. This I know and have known since I was a young person. This is the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. I embrace both teachings.
I am in a Livestrong Cancer workout program at the local YMCA and it is a much focused group to help us regain balance, strength and posture. I have a great support team and thanks to Karen Butler for helping the 5 of us push forward. This is intense 2 days a week. I also workout and walk a lot, lifting light weights and doing Yoga and starting Zumba soon.
My journey continues. Cancer was found nowhere in my body besides the bottom lobe of my right lung accord to my latest PET SCAN on April 28, 2016. The lung has 3 lobes. The bottom lobe is going to be removed on May 10, 2016 at Weill Cornell/New York Presbyterian Hospital. A friend, Tony, so kindly remarked that it will be no different than a picture hanging in a butcher shop showing which part of the cow is being severed. This procedure is called a lobectomy. Of course my next blog will talk about that. Until then, keep me and my family in prayer and see you on the other side of surgery!
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