Cancer is a trial… no matter how to try to see it. I have had too many friends and family members die from cancer related problems. I have had cancer three times. Before I had cancer, I vowed I would never let anyone cut me, burn me or poison me to treat cancer. Those ideas go out the window when you get your own diagnosis.
The first time I had cancer it was stage one Uterine cancer. I had a hysterectomy that removed my uterus and cervix but left my ovaries and fallopian tubes. So much for not being cut.
The second and third cancers were for Lymphoma, for two tumors that settled on the back of my leg, a year apart. For the first one, I had radiation therapy and for the second one R-CHOP chemotherapy… My vows were trampled and destroyed.
Yes, I lost my hair and eyebrows but not my eyelashes and fingernails. Losing my hair was traumatic for me, as I imagine it is for most people. My hair was long, down past my butt and something I took pride in and kind of took for granted. Now I wear my hair very short.
It’s been nearly 10 years since I was treated for cancer. Like most, I expected to be a chapter of my life that would close and I would move on. Turns out that isn’t the case.
Like many cancer survivors I learned the reality the hard way. Cancer haunts you for years afterwards.
There are dozens of potential side effects that can plague you after you end treatment.
“One of the most startling potential side effects is cardiac problems due to both chemo and radiation therapy, which can affect the heart muscle.” I was startled by this, too…
I was diagnosed with Afib and congenital heart failure last August. CHF doesn’t mean your heart is failing, it just means it’s not working as well as it should. I remember they constantly sent me to have my heart scanned when I was getting chemo and the tech kept telling me he wished all of his patience had as strong and healthy heart. I never had had problems before either. So it was a shock to be told I suddenly have heart problems and will have to be on medication “for the rest of your life”. I have to take their word for it… I don’t feel pain or palpitations, or even a shortness of breath (I did when I went into the hospital in August, but not since.)
“Also, fatigue is mentioned by almost every organization without fail. Chemo brain or fog is being recognized.”
Now these I knew about. Fatigue is still a problem for me… I don’t think that will ever get better. Chemo brain or fog brain was almost a joke, but I can now say, it’s no longer a problem for me. I pride myself on my memory, especially since my mother died from Alzheimer’s.
“Peripheral neuropathy is also common and sometimes can be permanent.” This is a problem that I had almost immediately after starting chemotherapy and still plagues to this day. Some days it’s just annoying, other days it’s extremely painful. I also have had to deal with charlie horse type leg cramps that I’ve had since my car accident in 1987. I’ve never found any kind of treatment or drug that helps either one.
“Another side effect little mentioned is irritation to the kidneys and bladder, which can cause lead to increased urinary frequency. For those of who have made those frequent trips to the bathroom…” I am embarrassed to admit this is a problem for me. I am on a drug called Hydroxyzine, which is also known as Atarax, that was originally prescribed to deal with itching. But it’s also used for anxiety and it’s helped with my insomnia and with my incontinence. So one drug is taking care of four problems.
“Tired and achy muscles that cramp and limit walking is also a miserable possibility.” I’ve always attributed these things to the car accident but now I can see that the cancer treatments might just be making them worse.
“The Mayo clinic admits that cancer survivors might experience late effects even years later. The American Cancer Society states that while many side effects go away quickly, some may take months or years to dissipate.”
Another side effect that I was not aware of, caused by radiation, is radiation ulcers. I now have one, and it’s been an open wound for a year and a half. Trying to find a solution is hit and miss and one of trial and error. Some things work for a while and then stop. I’ve had two wound specialists who finally gave up on me “I don’t know what else to do with you”. I’m now seeing a dermatologist and my primary care doctor also keeps tabs with it. What seems to be working for the moment is air compression boots, diuretics, vinegar soaks, steroid cream and lidocaine cream. Time will tell if this thing ever heals and closes up. In the meantime, I’m prime for every infection that goes around.
So cancer is not just a one time thing anymore. While it’s no longer a definitive death sentence, treatment allows us to live longer, which also allows us to have these side effects (and more) as well as getting a recurrence of cancer or a brand new one. My dad is 91 and has had cancer four times.
It’s hard to be prepared for any of it. When you don’t have cancer, you don’t pay attention to any of it. When you get cancer, you can only pay attention to what is happening at the moment. After you are finished with cancer treatment, you hope it’s behind you. For some it is. For others, there is still so much more than can happen. How do you prepare for that?