inked by Julia
As we began my journey of cancer treatment, we were basically clueless. No one in our immediate family had dealt with something like this, and we asked a million questions our first week. I hope this post helps you understand what battling cancer might be like for friends and family. Here are 10 things you most likely didn’t know about cancer:
- Nausea is not the only side effect. When I learned I had cancer, two things came to mind: being bald and throwing up. I dreaded both terribly. For a lot of patients, nausea is an awful side effect, and fortunately for me, I haven’t been hit with the vomit bug. But, I have struggled with many other side effects that include numbness and tingling in my hands and feet, sensitivity to textures, constipation, exhaustion (severe!), weakness in my knees, crazy dreams, insomnia, headaches, the munchies, loss of appetite, sensitivity to smells, body aches, weight gain, weight loss, and probably many others that my chemo brain fails to remember at the moment. I cycle through some of them in the same day—definitely didn’t anticipate that.
- Chemo comes in many different drugs and forms. For my type of cancer and because I’m high risk, I’ve had seven different chemotherapies in the last 9 weeks. Most are intravenous (given through my port), some are intrathecal (7 spinal taps), and one was a pill. The pharmacy student in me can’t wait to see how many others I get!
- Chemo administration is much less exciting than you think. The first time I received IV chemo, all my siblings left, and a lot of my family were worried for their own safety. All the nurses reassured us its totally fine unless it gets spilled everywhere, which rarely happens. Everyone was silent as they hung the little bag up. Then the nurse said, “Ok, that’s it.” We all laughed a little– that’s it?! Chemo is usually just a bag of fluid that goes through an IV, PICC, or Port. I don’t go to a special room or do anything wild. It’s quite simple! There are some scary medicines that I get that can cause an allergic reaction, but so far I’ve had an easy time with administration.
- Hair loss is different for everyone. I’ve talked a lot about my hair loss on this blog, but it’s kind of crazy how different it is for everyone. I haven’t lost my eyebrows or eyelashes, but everything else is pretty much gone. Some people lose all their hair, others don’t lose anything. It’s pretty wild stuff.
- Hair grows back during some chemo phases. I lost my hair in induction, and right when consolidation began, I grew peach fuzz! The nurses told me this would happen. Once it grows in, it falls right back out and the cycle continues until maintenance. I always thought patients were completely bald the whole time of treatment.
- The schedule is super whack. Whenever I’m asked what my week holds or when I get chemo, it’s almost too confusing to fit into a text. Most people believe chemo is only once a week, but that’s not the case. In this phase, I receive IV chemo four days in a row and take a chemo pill every day. But that’s just for two weeks, because then I really do only get chemo once a week for a few weeks. It’s a complicated, confusing, and messed up schedule that is impossible to make any plans around.
- Energy comes and goes. I could be out and about, partying it up (you know, eating dinner at 3:30) one day, then completely down for the next three. Energy levels are very unpredictable. Take this week for example: I received IV chemo on Thursday, was completely fine Friday, and I then spent the following four straight days in bed with headaches. Last week with this same medicine, I was totally fine. I’m just glad I have at least three people in my life that take each day at a time with me and never get annoyed for my laziness.
- Every cancer is treated differently. I’m sure you know that liver cancer and breast cancer are treated a bit differently; but did you know that even blood cancers are treated differently? Even different forms leukemia are treated differently. There are four subtypes of leukemia: ALL (what I have), AML, CLL, and CML. All four have different treatment plans. They have different phases, different number goals, and different medication protocols.
- Chemo patients are limited on activities. Some patients that are not quite neutropenic (low in neutrophils) may have fewer restrictions, but mine are fairly strict. I can’t be around sick people, but I also can’t be around little kids or anyone who hasn’t had a flu shot. I’m not allowed to go to the dentist for fear of a laceration, and I’m not allowed to floss my teeth for the same reason. I can’t go “play in the dirt,” which means I can’t pick a pumpkin. I CAN go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, though, if I have the energy. I can also take drives just to see what new buildings are going up or the leaves changing. But real talk, most days I just sit at home and watch TV. This week has been rough and I haven’t been outside in five days!
- No matter how much support you have, you’ll get lonely. In the beginning, I heard a lot of “we got this,” “we can get through this,” “we,” “we,” “we.” As awesome as it was to have such supportive family, and they’re intentions were good, in the back of my mind I thought, “No, I have this,” or, “I’m the one with the IV bruises.” I feel the incredible amount of emotional and spiritual support in this, but I still get lonely and pessimistic. I love having all my family around me, but for some reason I still find myself sneaking away to cry alone. There are just so many hard days where no one can take away the pain or feelings that I have. I just keep reminding myself to go to Christ when these feelings come. It brightens my own outlook of my life and helps me get through that day! Just the other day I was being so cranky and having way too much self-pity, I ended up retreating to my room to cry for a bit. When I stopped crying, my devotional book, journal, and Bible were all at my feet. I took fifteen or so minutes to just read and write about how I felt. I came out of my room smiling and ready to finish out the day.