When you are told that you will be having chemotherapy they give you a sheet that lists all the possible side effects. I thought this information would be the same as that enclosed in everyday medication that falls into the category of…”They have to warn us of all the possible side effects so that we don’t sue them if we are one of the rare people it happens to, but it’s very unlikely to happen to me”… How wrong could I be! Now I have completed my course of chemotherapy I went back to that list and realised that not only had I had most of them but they had left some off!!
Now it wasn’t all bad as I managed to avoid one of the most common side effects, of nausea, but I had stocked up with ginger biscuits and Jamaican ginger cake just in case I did!
On the subject of food I picked up a wonderful leaflet entitled “Eating well during your treatment“ which told me that I needed to keep my strength up, and not to lose weight. In this it stated that I should have full fat everything, add cheese to every savoury dish and cream to every sweet one. This became my bible! Sadly I think it was meant for those whose appetite had been reduced by nausea, as with my continued healthy appetite I put on a stone!
One of the biggest and surprising realisations I came to during this time was how important nose hair is! Once mine had gone I discovered that:-
If I feel my nose is running I have to get a tissue STRAIGHT AWAY! This is because you do not have the luxury of a dewdrop, as there is nothing to hold it there! So, if your nose runs…catch it!
I have never suffered with hay fever before, but my eyes were streaming throughout the summer season as there were no hairs to filter the pollen.
And apologies for the graphic content of this one: As there is nothing to get in the way, your nose is filled with the biggest bogies I have ever seen (not that I studied them too closely of course!)
Talking of hair loss. One thing they don’t mention in any literature is that the hair on your nether regions is the first to go. I did ask one open-minded member of the hospital staff if a merkin is available on the NHS as well as a wig, but she didn’t know!
My head hair was the next to go, and unfortunately the hair cut I decided to have before my treatment started, as a halfway measure, served me badly! I had the side of my head trimmed to about a number 2 and kept it longer on the top…bad move!
What happened was that the longer hair on the top fell out first (and my fringe quite dramatically whilst I was hugging my partner, as when I pulled away I realised that my fringe was now hanging from the stubble on his face!)
This left me with a hairstyle like a monk, totally bald on top with a ring of hair left around the sides…this is when I started wearing a hat!
Ah yes, head coverings…
I got my NHS wig voucher and a “sensible” wig for work, but once I realised that I was not going to be able to work for most of the time I was having treatment I decided to have more fun! I now have a grey wig with black roots, a blue/black spiky wig, an ombre black/green wig and a beautiful manga style wig with a sharp cut fringe! Luckily the way I dress lends itself to hats as well and although I had a few already it gave me the wonderful excuse to buy more.
What I didn’t realise was that not all your hair goes. Most of my eyebrows have gone over the weeks like a case of creeping alopecia, but unbelievably I still have to pluck them as there are a few remaining stubborn ones that are still desperately trying to create a monobrow!.
This is also true of the hair on my head. I would be very happy to be bald but still have irritating bum fluff all over my head, which sadly during chemotherapy treatment you are not allowed to shave off. But at least the concern over whether my head would be ugly without hair has eased, having been told by many people that I have a good-looking head!
Luckily I have not had to have too many medical procedures in my life and so had never noticed that my veins are very deep-seated. This means that each time I go for a blood test, MRI, CT scan there is a struggle to find a good one! I decided to try to help, and for a while kept renewing a “Sharpie” mark I had made on my arm that pointed to my best vein! I made many a phlebotomist’s day by helping them this way.
Chemotherapy really messes with your digestive tract too. Some of the medication makes your rhythm speed up (if you know what I mean!) and others make it stop! So your poor insides just don’t know what to do. I became very adept at adapting my diet to match the circumstances. I found that beetroot is very good for speeding things up, and white bread and pasta for slowing them down. In addition the medication to protect your stomach from the chemo reduces the amount of stomach acid you produce. The practical effect of this is not good in social situations….as your intestines have to work harder to digest food, things get VERY noisy!. Conversations can be interrupted by gurgling noises worthy of any drain unblocker! I find strategic coughing helps or if you are lucky enough to have a pet you could blame it on them!