6 Fun Facts About My Chemotherapy Experience!

Some days I just don’t know why I have a good cry. I mean, I suspect the chemo in my system has a lot to do with it — I’m always more emotionally “available” after an infusion, which translates into a rapid response to whatever I am reading, listening to, or seeing. My switches flip readily, often without the usual filters I keep in place having any effect. Usually, I will have a tip off that a trigger is going to fire, but on days like this one I am often caught off-guard completely by something I would normally call a throw-away, an off-hand comment I’ve read before, perhaps, or a quote hidden deep in a piece of reporting. And then I find myself weeping, my head in my hands, just feeling the release of whatever emotions have been mixing it up biochemically with any lagging fears, doubts, or anxieties I haven’t otherwise already worked out.

It is on days like this that I really just want to focus on:

Fun Facts about my Unique Chemotherapy Experience!

So here is some of the good stuff I often find novel or amusing about this trip down Chemotherapy Lane.

  1. Chemo actually improved the look of my nails. While I grew my hair out. That may seem like two separate points, especially when patients are apparently expected to lose their hair (it is the socially responsible thing to do, after all, as a cancer patient). But the mechanism that causes hair loss is related to the process by which chemo drugs target rapidly dividing cells. Oddly, my finger nails appear to grow faster than they did before, and my hair is growing at least as fast. I won’t have the fun byproduct of having my hair grow back all curly and in a new color like other patients I have known, and that may be a bit of a bummer because I’ve just been getting more and more gray since this began, but I was too vain to be down with baldness over my lumpy skull in the first place. The finger nail thing, however, proved pretty cool because for decades I have had white spots (presumably calcium deposits) over most of the nails. All it took was chemotherapy to clear those right up. I still get some spotting periodically, but for a while they were completely clear and they have never been as splotchy as they had been prior to my cancer treatment. Pretty cool.
  2. I gained weight. A lot of it, in spite of many warnings about losing too much. But now I am almost back at my “standard” healthy weight from before chemo. And I’m getting pretty solid abs, thanks to a viral cough that had settled into my lungs… Yes, it ended up as a very light case of walking pneumonia, but the resulting spasmodic cough really helped tighten my gut. I’ll have to work to keep the muscle, but the jumpstart that cough gave me sure helps with the incentive to work out.
  3. Brushing my teeth makes me gag. This would be super great if I was bulimic, and if being bulimic was a good thing, but since no rational or healthy person really wants to vomit right after eating, this little quirk is truly annoying. I had a bad gag reflex already, probably compounded by the fact that I am tongue-tied and my tongue also happens to be a bit large for my mouth to begin with, but I always enjoyed a good tooth-brushing before this treatment began. In fact, my dentists have for many years been astounded at how great my teeth look in spite of the very lackadaisical approach I had taken with professional cleanings. I still brush frequently, but I have to be careful, quick, and it helps if the door is closed so other people in the house don’t have to listen to me. Because I can be loud.
  4. I’ve got acne just like a teenager. While it does kind of make me feel young all over again, it can get pretty gross and uncomfortable. The good news for me has been that it has not really shown up on my face. For the most part, I still look like I am respectably pushing closer to 50 rather than having a trite body-switching moment with some young version of my former self, from whom I had completely lost touch. The acne isn’t as bad as it used to be, whether because I’m eating better, sweating less, or simply being more active (and probably showering more); whatever the reason, I’ll be glad when it is gone. Just like when I was an actual teen, happy to put the Clearasil aside once and for all.
  5. My urine dries blue. I don’t know when I really pushed across the line of oversharing, but I’m probably way past that by now. Still, this is an interesting anomaly and also one that isn’t readily discussed in any official literature that I have seen. After chemotherapy, I pee yellow or clear just like any healthy person. But when it dries, specifically if it dries on white porcelain, my urine turns a very pleasant shade of light blue — ironically, one of my favorite colors as a young child. I cannot find any record of this as a recognized side effect and my oncologist had never heard of it before I brought it up. (There is medical literature on why people would pee blue, but that isn’t what is happening here.) We have surmised that it has something to do with my kidneys, though they show every sign of functioning normally, or possibly the way that my urine oxidizes after exposure to the air. It remains a mystery, but a colorful one. At least on the rim of the toilet, which I should probably clean before guests come over.
  6. I now have a whistling nose. Really, what I have is a perforated septum. I went to an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist) to see what options I might have to make the incessant whistling stop when I breathe through my nose, especially at night. He asked me at least three times if I was sure I didn’t have a history of cocaine use. But no, actually, this is a common side effect of cancer treatment. The combination of chemotherapy drugs and Avastin, which prevents the growth of new blood vessels, caused my nose to dry up and gave me frequent nosebleeds during the first three months of my treatment. During that time, unbeknownst to myself, I was also peeling away the cartilage between my nostrils. I was, of course, guilty of picking scabby, dry nasal mucus out of my nose. It was flipping uncomfortable, made it difficult to breathe, and also offered some weird, childish satisfaction to remove. But the result was a very tiny hole that I discovered one day with a flashlight, while I was examining my nose and trying to figure out why I couldn’t get that whistling to stop every time I lay my head on the pillow. Unfortunately, while there are silicone plugs for extreme cases, they tend to enlarge holes as small as mine, actually making the problem worse. For now, I’ve learned to avoid picking anything out and just deal with the sound much like I long ago learned to ignore my tinnitus. Plus, on really loud nights, it turns out that there are other uses for those big foam ear plugs, and closing off one nostril often does the trick just fine.

I’d love to hear from other current or former patients who had unexpected or interesting byproducts of their treatment. This stuff can run the gamut, after all.

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