Monday, January 19, 2015

Chemotherapy Secrets

Recently, a former high-school classmate asked if I had any words of wisdom in terms of what my husband did to support me in my cancer treatments. The role of the care-giver is such an important one. I owe so much of my recovery to my husband and I am forever grateful for him. I began to think of all the amazing ways he just knew how to help or what I needed.  But I also began to think about everything I learned about chemotherapy and living with cancer that the nurses/doctors don't always tell you or that you read about but don't really know first hand if they work or not. I have heard many times that everyone responds to chemotherapy and treatments differently, and that what helped one person may not necessarily help someone else. When I was first diagnosed I went searching online and read many cancer blogs of others just like me, writing their stories. I was looking for the magic insight or answers on how to make it better.

These are just some of the discoveries I made during my 12 treatments of ABVD chemotherapy treatments. The side effects vary depending on the drugs that you are given, the side effects manifest in varying degrees individually. I am not a doctor and am only sharing this as a cancer survivor, these are just a few of the things that I found worked for me. These are listed as they come to mind, in no order of importance or significance.

1. Favourite food and drink no more! : I was warned not to eat some of my favourite foods or drink during and immediately after I started my first chemotherapy treatment. At the time of my first treatment, gingerale was my go-to drink of choice. After my first treatment, I began to associate the taste of gingerale with the nauseous feeling and to this day, I have not been able to drink gingerale again. I also craved salt because of the steroids I had to take before each session, I would eat salted almonds or mixed nuts. The sight of them makes my stomach turn, it was only recently that I tried them again and I have to say they taste good once again!

2. Mouth sores be gone: After my first treatment, I had terrible mouth sores, terrible sore gums and achy jaw. I read online that you can suck or chew on ice chips to reduce the blood flow to your mouth. I decided to try it the next time. I mentioned it to one of the nurses and she immediately agreed and said "oh yes!" - why don't they tell you that? So I chewed ice, sucked on Iced Cappucino's from Tim Horton's and what a major improvement. I don't know if it was all in my head but I faithfully did it. It did not make them go away but they didn't seem as bad. Leading us to #3!

3. Magic mouthwash: As soon as I experienced the first mouth-soreness, I did call my oncology nurse and she immediately called a prescription in to the pharmacy for "magic mouthwash". It is amazing. Not covered by my medical benefits but so worth it. It coats the inside of your mouth, tastes alot like cherry Vicks. I highly recommend it if you are dealing with mouth soreness.

4. Anticipatory nausea: About half way through my treatments, I realized that I was beginning to get very nauseous a day or two before my treatment. It was explained to me that it is a real thing and cognitively I was beginning to associate the approach of my treatment with the feeling of nausea. I encourage you to recognize that it is a very real feeling, it is not in your head. I was prescribed Ativan for this and it really helped. I suggest you speak to your oncologist about this as you are not imagining it!

5. Fatigue and sleep: Once I gave myself permission that I needed to sleep and rest whenever my body told me to, I found it was much easier to accept that it is very much apart of treatment. I tried to make sure I had a shower and got up in the morning, which helped me feel better. But as the day progressed even by mid-morning I often needed to go back to bed and sometimes I needed to be told this. This is where my husband was so supportive, he at times, "made" me go back to bed and reassured me that it was ok to allow myself the time to rest and sleep.

6. Losing my hair: Losing my hair took a lot longer than I envisioned it would. I am glad that I didn't shave my head right away. One of the best things I did was to have a good friend cut it in a short layered look, which let me stretch it out a few more weeks and enjoy the most awesome haircut! Everyone feels differently about this, once we realized that my hair was coming out fast and furious and I was finished with finding hair all over the house, my husband shaved it in our garage. I was shocked that I lost all my eyelashes, nose hair and hair elsewhere. I think I found losing all my eyelashes the hardest. I managed to keep the shape of my eyebrows which I was thankful for. I highly recommend a trip to the wig boutique at Hopesprings Cancer Centre - they provide a free wig and were very helpful in guiding me through this journey.

7. Drinking water: When they tell you to drink a lot of water, you don't really realize how much water you need to drink. I kept a measured amount (3 litres) on my counter and I had to really work to drink it all by the end of the day. My husband really helped by constantly bringing water up to the bedroom so I didn't have to go looking for it, leaving water bottles piled beside the bed. I firmly believe that drinking the water helped with the side effects

8. Medication: At one point, my bathroom looked like a pharmacy. I have never been one for "over the counter" medication and at first was reluctant to take more than the least amount of medication both prescribed for me and over the counter. Once I gave myself permission to take what I needed (of course staying within the daily dosages) I was better able to manage the side effects. I religiously took the anti-nausea meds and am thankful at how well they worked. One of the nurses told me, don't let the nausea get ahead of you, take the meds every four hours the first few days, don't wait until you feel terrible. I also underestimated what I needed in terms of medication to regulate my bowels and constipation was a huge challenge for me until I followed the nurse's orders and went with the maximum allowed which was obviously what my body needed. I was honest with my oncologist and they were very willing to give me what I needed to get through the treatments. I am happy to say that I have been on very little medication since my last treatment, so it really is only temporary.

9. Benadryl: Part of my ABVD chemotherapy required me to have a 50 mg bag of Benadryl drip between two of the drugs. I soon realized that my body responded with "restless legs" from the Benadryl. Honestly it was awful. They couldn't do anything about the groggy feeling that I had after the Benadryl but they could slow down the drip and that really helped with the jumpy legs. It took a bit longer for the drip to finish but I am really glad that one of the nurses told me about this.

10.Warm blankets! The one thing I looked forward to was knowing that there were warm blankets in the chemo suite. Accept them, replenish them so you have a fresh one. Use them. They provided me with comfort. Jason soon where to just help himself and he would tuck me in for a nice little nap after the Benadryl drip. Such a nice touch.

As I said, these are just a few of the things I learned in my journey thought chemotherapy. I hope it can be of help to someone searching the internet for others experiences just as I did back in April.

Note: I just returned from the dentist to learn that I have a mouthful of cavities. I have been fortunate to not have many cavity issues and have learned that due to chemotherapy I believe it is 7 or 8 that I now have. Chemotherapy causes dry mouth and depletes your body of its natural flouride, hence your teeth erode greatly. I could have possibly reduced the issues by using a non-alcohol based flouride rinse. Lesson learned.

No comments:

Post a Comment