Chemotherapy - week 9. What really happens to the body

Most people, like me, associate cancer and chemotherapy with either death! or hair loss.  When my Mother was diagnosed with cancer, we were given lots and lots of information, fact sheets, booklets, numbers to call and resources.  We read it all but the information was so generic and written in third person, in truth, it never really sank in.  So here is what chemotherapy has done to my mum's body so far, but T must note in advance, the resources are so generic because no two people are the same.  In both life and how someone will respond to treatment.  Cancer surprises us everyday with how much my mum's body changes.  So this is to raise awareness of the effects of chemotherapy and some tips we found to make life more bearable.
  1. Hair loss.  The symptom that everyone knows about.  For my Mother, she was least afraid of this symptom and it had a lot less psychological effect than it does for others.  Primarily, because she has short hair anyway and secondly, and this is a good mantra, hair does not hurt when it falls out.  Unlike the needles that are poked and prodded into her.  My mother's hair started falling out 2 weeks after chemotherapy cycle #1.  One day, I just noticed extra hairs, long hairs, from the root and I knew, it was starting to fall out.  Then, clumps of hair came out as she washed her hair.  It was unavoidably the truth.  Then finally, we can now see her scalp. There are some great caps available on Amazon.  Maggie's also give the first hat away for free and give yourself an excuse to shop for a new hat!  You will eventually find something that works for you.
  2. Vomiting.  The symptom we feared the most and that which the medics arm you with enough medication to combat.  There is always a delayed reaction of about 3 days post chemo session, My tip is to make a note of when it is happening i.e. if before a meal, then take some medication before a meal.  Most importantly of all, eat slowly and try to breathe through the feelings of nausea.  The body goes into panic mode just as we are about to vomit.  It's important to control your breathing and relax your muscles.  This relaxation technique will help you regularly throughout chemotherapy so get practicing now.  Vomit, bad news, stress, breathing techniques will help.
  3. Loss of appetite.  Sometimes, my mum just gets so sick of vomiting that the look of food makes her repel.  Experiment with foods, try different things, serve smaller portions, more often, that are high in protein and fats such as walnuts, avocados and smoothies.
  4. Fatigue.  Both this and the loss of appetite are heightened the first week of chemotherapy but have subsided by the second week of the cycle.  The tiredness and fatigue is so intense at times that my mum does not want to talk because of the sheer exhaustion from the act of talking.  She likes to just sit on the sofa and watch me cooking dinner.  
  5. Toilet habits.  Poo is a regular subject in our household.  We talk about it, we look at each others', we compare and we applaud each other.  We all do it and it's a fantastic way to track how your body is functioning.  Hurrah for poo.  I can't believe I'm writing poo on the internet. Poo, poo, poo.  Get used to talking about it.  To family, to doctors', to nurses', to absolute strangers.  The shape, the quantity, the frequency, I always find nurses like to describe poo in relation to food types!

You will see from the above that we work with the symptoms and not around them.  We are surprised when something happens, but we adapt to the change.  A symptom occurs, we talk about it and we come up with a plan.  Either put cream on it, change your diet or tell the doctor about it.  But whatever you do, don't let it beat you.



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