My Story: Side Effects

WARNING: This continues to be my own blend of humor that might make you laugh, observations that might make you think, and TMI facts that might make you gag.  Enjoy.

WEIRD METAL THIMBLE.

Chemo sucks.  There’s a million different ways to go through it depending on your cancer, so I can’t speak for them all, but even my relatively tame version sucks.  I’ve heard that some people get their chemo therapy through pills they can take at home.  Not metal reservoirs implanted under their skin for easy access to major veins for IV drips of poison, but pills.  But we all have our own thing.

I have a scar now where this weird metal thimble has been placed under my skin and I can’t help but think that I don’t need another permanent reminder of this whole experience.  Really, it’s not so bad, I just need to not stretch too far in any direction or I get a sudden, painful reminder that there’s a weird metal thimble that’s been placed under my skin.

With my schedule of three days in a row once every four weeks, I’m actually pretty grateful for the weird metal thimble.  I have notoriously difficult veins in the medical community.  My arms are whispered about in frightened, hushed tones among nurses and anesthesiologists.  My record for having an IV inserted is eight stabs.  The nurses always feel bad…those poor nurses.  Having the thimble means that every treatment day, I don’t have to go through the stabbing process and my veins won’t melt from the corrosive nature of the chemo – so there’s that.

BREAK IT DOWN

I have three medicines that I’m injected with.  The first day has all three and the second and third day have only two injections.  That first day is the kicker, though, since it requires the most time and does the most havoc to your immune system.

The first drug, the “long drug,” is slowly introduced over 6 or more hours.  Part-way through my first experience with it, I started scratching my head.  Not from the confusion and general “how is this my life, now?” but from a sudden onset of hives.  Side Effect One!  It’s OK, though, as long as I don’t get the chills and shakes.

Guess what?

I don’t know if you’ve ever had severe uncontrollable chills, but your jaw starts to chatter and then lock, your blood pressure skyrockets, and your muscles spasm in ways that make you believe in the power of breakdancing unmatched since “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.”   After my chills and hives were under control with medication, my body kicked in with its natural defenses and counteracted with a fever.  Side Effect Two (and Three, I suppose)!

Swamp Thing.
Swamp Thing.

When hiccups like this happen, the medicine has to stop, be corrected, and then start up again. Following that, there were still two more injections.   When all was said and done, my first day of chemo lasted 11 hours.  Days two and three, just about 3 hours long with little to show from it other than extreme exhaustion.  I’ve been through a second round as of this writing and I’m happy to say it went much smoother.

Slightly less Swamp Thing.
Slightly less Swamp Thing.

THE LONG RUN

All that was Day One.  So what was I in for next?  I was told that I’d really feel the effects of chemotherapy about a week after it started.  Here’s a short list of what I was told to expect and what I actually have experienced so far:

  • I would get nauseous and throw up at least once a day.  –> Half right.
  • I would lose my hair.  –>  I’m still rocking a full head of thinner-than-I’d-like tresses. (So I voluntarily shaved.)
  • My taste buds would change & should avoid my favorite foods.  –>  Nope, still love bacon and avocados.
  • I would lose my appetite.  –>  Nope, still love bacon and avocados.
  • I would lose weight.  –>  Well, fuck.

At a follow up appointment, when my doctor explained that all the side effects should show up after the first round, I had to ask him if I was being given placebos.  Obviously I’m kidding and if this is as bad as it gets, then I certainly realize the bullet I’ve dodged.

SAME MATT-TIME, SAME MATT-CHANNEL

Next time, I want to talk a bit about attitude and outlook.  There’s lows and highs, but keeping the highs and allowing for extreme perspective changes is a major part of the fight.

For example, on my first day of chemo I started watching Breaking Bad.

Matt-senberg!
Matt-senberg!

The next of many,

Matthew

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One thought on “My Story: Side Effects

  1. Chemo is never fun. I remember a friend going through it while she battled cancer, and it’s depressing as fuck. These were the days before tablets, so we’d take turns going in with her to keep her company (talk, play Magic, stuff like that).

    As for the needles, next time I’m in Hawaii I’ll show you the track marks from my fortnightly plasma donations. At one point they had to start using a different vein because there was too much scar tissue over the old one. I’ve asked if they could install a lure, but they keep turning me down.

    It’s good to hear that the side effects appear to be minimal (hives and chills aside). Hopefully that’s a sign that things will go well.

    Kia kaha.

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