Many of you have asked about the side effects of chemotherapy, and how I cope with them. Quite honestly they have been nowhere near as traumatic as I was expecting. I’d be lying if I said it was nothing – I do have bad days. I also have the occasional really bad day. But mainly, once the first 10 days of each 21 day cycle are over I bounce back to “normal”, albeit a “new post diagnosis normal”.
Treatment day itself and the first few days that follow are largely fine. The steroid and chemical mix disrupt my sleep. I’m writing this post at 4am on treatment morning having been awake since 3am – that’s the effect of the steroids that I have to take for 3 days. But that’s ok because those same steroids give me a mini-high and keep my energy levels up for the first few days. Yin and Yang. My taste buds start degenerating a couple of days after the poisoning too which is a bit pants I guess but entirely manageable.
I have 2 types of bad days – physically tough ones and emotionally draining ones. Fortunately neither are too frequent and it’s only when the 2 collide that things get a bit ugly.
The physically tough side effects land during days 6-10 of my cycle. The whole point of the chemo is to stop cell division and kill off those bad cancer cells. Unfortunately this also stops the good cells dividing too – hence the hair loss and the trashed taste buds. In this part of the cycle my good white blood cells have been obliterated so I’m vulnerable to infections. I will struggle to fight them and this could cause an impromptu trip to A&E. But so far I’ve had no infections and no emergencies so it’s all good there. I also have very little energy and I’m tired due to a few days of very poor sleep. I can’t taste anything much and devastatingly some of my favourite foods are total no-no’s; coffee, cheese, chocolate, wine 😱, anything fizzy including champagne and prosecco!!! But Jacobs cream crackers and water still taste as bland as usual and I can tolerate them! My stomach is off for 24-48 hours and if I can get off the loo I can’t be far from it. TMI? I have medication to help, and it does, but it’s still a grim day or two. Eating is a problem at this point too. My body needs the food and fortunately I’m good at forcing it down. A friend who has been through this too put it succinctly – it’s a battle between what your body needs, what your stomach can handle and what your mouth can cope with – at best there’s no taste at all and at worst everything tastes of chemicals. Every cloud though – the diet goes well at this point in the cycle 🤣🤣🤣
The emotionally tough times are a bit random and it can be difficult to predict when they’re going to land. Waiting for results is way harder than anything physical I go through. The other trigger for a downer day is reading or hearing about other people’s breast cancer stories that have gone bad. That lifts the lid off the fear that’s boxed up somewhere in the pit of my stomach, usually at 3am when I’m not sleeping! 3am is often not my friend – I’ve had a few panic attacks in those early hours of the morning. But, with the help of my fabulous husband, family and friends, I always manage to firmly nail the lid back on the fear box and positivity is quickly restored.
The bad days aren’t great but they’re not truly awful either. I can totally cope with this shit.
Rough, tough, ugly days
These only happen when the physically difficult and emotionally low days collide. Being tired and drained during those 6-10 days makes it harder to fight the fear demons and I’m more vulnerable to having a downer. Very occasionally I feel broken. And I find it hard to hide it from those closest to me. But those days are rare. And they usually last hours rather than days. It really could be so much worse.
To be quite honest, I class most days outside the 6-10 day window as good days. Because they are – my body is fighting the fight, my mind is usually strong and positive and the chemo effects are less debilitating than anyone expected. These things make me happy.
The best days are those days I get good news from the consultant. Or when I’m able to spend quality time with my family; having a mini break, getting into the fresh air, walking, going out for dinner. Everything I totally took for granted BBC – before breast cancer.
Days 12-21 of the cycle are fab. All side effects have settled down or gone completely by then; I can taste food, I’m back at work feeling useful and spending time with my work family, I’m able to go shopping with my daughter and socialise with my friends. I can drink wine and fizz again – only a glass or 2 but this is a real and rare treat nowadays.
Please don’t feel sorry for me. Truthfully, the bad days aren’t anywhere near as rough or frequent as any of us were expecting and I’m way stronger than I knew. I know I can get through them. Let’s face it – 4 days or so of feeling ill, anxious or a bit down out of each 21 day cycle is nothing. And I make that 17 to me and 4 to cancer – so f*ck you breast cancer. I’m winning.