Side Effects: Short Term Pain for Long Term Gain?

Side Effects: Short Term Pain for Long Term Gain?

Many have asked me, "How are you feeling?" My answer has for the most part been, "I feel great!" because most of the time,  I do feel great. I can fully participate in most aspects of daily life without any real issues or concerns.

Others have remarked, "You look great!" when they see me in person. My guess is that I am getting the 'you look great' response, mainly due to the fact that I don't really have any of the visible side effects that you would normally associated with cancer. For example, I have no hair loss. The only real visible difference you can see in me is that I have lost a significant amount of weight over the past few month (although I have been gaining some back lately!)  Ironically this weight loss actually makes me look healthier, at least from the outside appearance anyway.  (it probably is actually a health benefit to have lost more than twenty pounds over the past few months, although I did not enjoy my liquid only diet- see my Food! Glorious! Food blog entry for more a reminder).

I don't want to get to 'medical' in my blog but think it is important to explain the difference between chemotherapy, radiation and the side effects that can happen due to each of these treatments. Most cancer patients are provided with one or both of these dual treatment options. 

According to the Canadian Cancer Society:

Chemotherapy (sometimes called chemo) destroys cancer cells or slows their growth (My hope is that they kill them!) Some chemotherapy drugs are given on their own. But in most cases, several chemotherapy drugs are used together to destroy cancer cells (I am currently on a combination of three different chemotherapy drugs). *

Radiation therapy works by destroying cancer cells and damaging a cancer cell's DNA so that it stops dividing and growing. Radiation therapy can shrink a tumour or completely destroy it (Again, I prefer the second result!).  It is most effective on cells that grow and divide quickly. Cancer cells tend to divide more quickly than most normal cells. This makes them more likely to be affected by the radiation (be radiosensitive) then normal cells. *

* Taken from the Canadian Cancer Society Website

The issue with chemotherapy and radiation therapy is that while their main purpose is to kill cancer cells, they also damage healthy cells at the same time. This of course is not a good thing and is what can cause side effects to occur. 

As I have stated many times in my blog, each cancer patient's journey is unique to that individual, and this is true for side effects as well. Some experience more side effects or more visible side effects than others. It is important to state that many cancer patients experience side effects that are not necessarily visible to others but can have devastating impact on quality of life.

I have been fortunate so far in the fact that I am not experiencing many of the major side effects that are possible during chemotherapy & radiation.

To further explain the "How are you feeling" answer, below are the moderate side effects that I am currently experiencing from time to time:

Short Term Fatigue-  In the past I have often been referred to by others as 'the energizer bunny'. This nickname, I can only imagine is based on the fact that I can be a little hyper at times (no comments please!). One noticeable side effect has been that I have slowed my pace down a bit since my treatments have begun. (This may not be a bad thing after all!). The three days after my chemo are the hardest as this is when the fatigue sets in. I have resorted to short naps some afternoons to address this symptom. 

Low White Blood Cell Counts- For the past two out of three chemo treatments (so far) I have had my treatments postponed by a week due to low white blood cell counts. (Better safe them sorry I say), as low white blood cells can increase the risk of infections.

Dry Mouth- My mouth can get very dry at times. I have been using a moisturizing mouthwash and a variety of items from the 'care package' given to me by some of my work colleague friends which include real ginger bits and sugar free candies. These have helped a great deal. 

Changes in Taste & Smell- (what I refer to as "Metal Mouth) Sometimes I get a metal taste in my mouth that takes away from the normal taste of foods. Sometimes I smell strange smells as well. Luckily it doesn't seem to last too long. 

Dry/Irritated Skin- My skin can become dry and itchy. At the moment, it is hard to determine if this is an actual side effect or simply the fall/winter seasonal effects of the weather coming into play here.

Some Memory Issues- some call it "Chemo Brain". It is where you forget simple things like people's names or tasks that you were doing. (This can be embarrassing at times, but I have found it an effective excuse when I forgotten where I have placed my wallet, keys or cellphone LOL).

I have been fortunate so far that my side effects have been manageable as this is not the case for all cancer patients.   Thanks to my medications, (and I take them just as the Dr. ordered to prevent the side effects). As I understand this, the nausea and vomiting are not something that you can wait out or work through as it is related to the level of chemotherapy in your system.  I am glad to have these medications to help prevent and manage the possibility of this happening and I am pleased to report that I have not had any nausea or vomiting associated with my treatments so far. This is a big relief as you may recall that it was nausea and vomiting that started this whole journey in the first place (brings back bad memories!).

I will be having follow up CT and MRI scans over the coming weeks and my hope is that these treatments and side effects will all be well worth it when the results come in!

This is my experience and understanding of possible side effects but please remember to speak to your doctors and/or healthcare team regarding your specific questions or concerns (Michelle made me put this disclaimer in)!

Richard

 

Olga sent you a hug.
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Hi Richard. Thank you for your blogging. It's so interesting to read. And I like your positive attitude. Have your doctor offered Neulasta shots for your low WBC? They were working wonderfully for me. My WBC were down to 0.74 after my second chemo and up to 13-14 again after these shots. So no chemo was postponed. Good luck with your treatment!
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Hi Richard - Been reading your blog. Hope things go well.
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Vital Info

Posts

November 5, 2019

Newmarket, Canada L3X2A

June 10, 1964

Cancer Info

Esophagus Cancer

August 2

Stage 4

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