Side-Effects I Won’t Miss: The Chemo Diaries, a Coda

My treatment is far from done, my “cancer journey” only partly traveled, but I am saying goodbye to chemotherapy — at least for now. Forty rounds of infusions came to an end last week and, though my brain is fatigued and my body is a bit of a mess, I’m taking a moment to appreciate the things I definitely will not be missing.

Topping my list, even above the malaise and nausea that sometimes follows my treatment, is:

#1, The Uncontrollable Gag Reflex.

It’s been a nasty thorn in my side, that gag reflex. Just brushing my teeth will set it off, causing me to wretch over the sink, even if it has been a long time since I ate. And scents of any kind have been known to cause gagging, too — and not just the smell of rot or the cat box or whatever was thrown in the garbage can the night before, but, yeah, all of those, too. Goodbye, gag reflex!

#2, Grimy, Oily-Feeling Skin

The days following my infusion are better with frequent showers. As I purge toxins, I always imagine that I smell horrible — and, in fact, I often cannot stand my own odor. But beyond that, my skin just feels gross. I’ve had the weirdest blemishes, well beyond any teenage acne I experienced in my wayward youth, and it wasn’t always easy finding soaps that I could tolerate in the enclosed space of a shower. Waking with a slick layer of grease on my face and a sticky sensation all over my body (worse on hot days, of course), mixing thick perspiration and whatever else is pushing through my pores, is an experience I am more than ready to be done with.

#3, Swollen Feet

A pair of swollen feet, in all their glory.
Swollen (and unfortunately dirty) feet!

While my feet might look painful or annoying, the truth is that the swelling is more of a cosmetic issue for me most days. It comes and goes, but it looks horrendous when it is in full swing. Sure, sometimes it hurts a bit, especially if I have to be standing a lot, but more often than not, exercise actually makes the swelling dissipate. Still, the sight of those elephant-like ankles can be a bitter reminder that the body is still struggling with treatment. Even if I otherwise feel really good, a pair of puffed-up feet is no fun to be trotting around on.

#4, Neuropathy

This one is a no-brainer. Neuropathy sucks, and I don’t even have it that badly. But there are always times when I lack sensation someplace, ranging from my tongue to my toes. A weird bit of numbness here or there, dulled sensations, a generally “cottony” feeling some place or other, none of it is good, and neither is the occasional phantom pain that could pop up in a finger or toe or just randomly along a limb. Neuropathy, you fickle beast, please shut the door behind you.

Of course, all of these could be back to visit in another month. That’s part of the fun of starting something new and different — you really cannot know how your body is going to react. I don’t even know yet what my next treatment will actually be — all I do know for sure is that I’m taking a break for the next few weeks, skipping what would have been my next cycle and moving into uncharted territory after that.

So, for now, I am just happy to revel in what I am happy saying farewell to. Good night, numbness; good night, barf. Good night, peeing exactly every 60 minutes. Good night, falling asleep at my desk in the middle of the day.

Good night, Chemo Brain.

Good night, needle poking the vein.

Good night, daft and sickly feelings, though I’m guessing I’ll be seeing some form or other of you again soon. Hopefully, well rested and ready to go!

An in fusion needle being set in my arm.
Infusion time!

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