Today is exactly three years since I found out I have cancer. I had it longer than that, at least since the spring of 2006, but that's when I knew. Three years of hell, total hell. So, another cancer post—but that won't be all I write here, just as it hasn't been since January 2007.
Chemotherapy is weird. Not the concept of it, really, which is pretty simple: poison your body with chemicals that try to poison cancer cells more than healthy cells. But being on chemotherapy is weird.
Every combination of chemo drugs is targeted a particular variety of cancer, and every person gets different side effects depending on the drugs and on our own physiology. I've been through numerous rounds of different types of chemo in the past three years. The stereotypes of nausea, weight loss, and hair falling out are true—all too true in some cases, such as when I barfed up my entire breakfast yesterday morning—but they are not universal. I've only had to shave my head once (so far), for instance.
But most chemo regimens have a variety of other, much stranger side effects too. There was that brutal acne I had a couple of summers ago, for instance. The warnings to avoid anything containing grapefruit or starfruit in other instances (though oranges, lemons, limes, and other citrus were fine). Strange black lines developing in my fingernails. Sensitivity to sunlight. Lots of bizarre and nasty intestinal side effects that sometimes had me in the bathroom for three or four hours at a time. And so on.
This time around, I have several different oddball side effects at the same time:
- My skin is remarkably sensitive to cold. On Christmas Eve, some of my family went for a walk for about 20 minutes. The weather was just around the freezing mark, and I was wearing a hat, gloves, and a scarf wrapped around my face. But when we got back to my aunt and uncle's house, the tip of my nose and my fingers felt almost frostbitten, burning until they warmed up. I have to be careful simply taking cold drinks out of the fridge.
- Speaking of which, I can't drink cold liquids either. For instance, I had some orange juice out of the fridge last week. No one but me in our house likes juice with pulp, so I was surprised when this one was full of pulp. Except it wasn't—my mouth and throat were reacting to the cold and making it feel like the drink was full of globs of pulp, even though it was clear. Then it hurt.
- The knuckles on both my hands are dry and the skin has darkened. When I put my hands palm down, they have stripes of brown pigment across the fingers.
- Cuts and bruises take longer to heal. I drew blood during some Ikea furniture disassembly more than a week ago, and it still hurts as the scab seals up.
- I have nausea, but other than when I'm actually on the chemo, it's wildly unpredictable. That breakfast I lost yesterday? A minute before I vomited, I felt fine. Same a minute later. And one of the only things I can eat no matter how I feel is Cheese Pleesers—those extruded cheese puff snacks.
- Then there are my feet. They're not exactly sore, but my soles are extra-sensitive, almost as if they have blisters on them. Sometimes. Most often I don't notice it, but I can't stand having a bathmat in the tub when I shower because it irritates my feet, and I wear socks pretty much all the time otherwise, even to sleep.
There may be more symptoms coming, I don't really know. But it's weird. And exhausting.
Labels: anniversary, cancer, chemotherapy, pain