People often ask me, “what does it feel like when you’re having chemo?” It’s a difficult experience to put into words, but basically think of the worst hangover you’ve ever (and I mean EVER) had, combined with the nastiest flu virus, multiply that by ten and you’re somewhere near.
Chemo feels like having every muscle, bone and organ in your body flooded with poison. Once the drugs are in, you can feel the toxicity gradually seeping into every cell in your body and you feel the worst you’ve ever felt in your life.
Before treatment, your nurses and doctor helpfully provide you with information about what gruesome side effects you’re likely to experience. In my case, I was prepared for tiredness, nausea, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, hair loss, my nails going funny, constipation and mouth ulcers.
I guess all drugs affect everyone differently and often you can’t prepare yourself for how bad some of these effects are going to be. But seriously, some weird shit goes on when you have those crazy drugs in your system…here are some things I was not prepared for.
1. INSANELY HEIGHTENED SENSE OF SMELL
Many of my friends have likened this to morning sickness, and if that’s the case, maybe I need to seriously re-think how much I want a family!
I spend the first few days after chemo saying to my husband, “what’s that smell? Have you washed up? I can smell something gross! Please move that bowl, it stinks!” These smells turn my stomach and have me chowing down on anti-sickness tablets like there’s no tomorrow!
Annoyingly with each cycle, it can be a different smell that sets off the nausea. It’s usually food, or the smell of whatever he cooked yesterday lingering. Often the smell of fresh coffee sets me off and strong smells like perfume or fabric softener make me feel queasy too.
The absolute worst has been when the smell of people (you all smell like oily, greasy skin by the way) has made me feel super nauseous. A low point during chemo was sitting in Outpatients waiting to see my oncologist, trying not to throw up because all I could smell was people.
My poor husband has been told on many occasions, “please stay away from me, the smell of you is making me feel sick!” I feel very lucky that he still loves me!
2. MEMORY LOSS
They call it “chemo brain” and basically it feels like your mind has become misty, clunky and awkward. Words you could easily remember seem to drop right out of your head! It happens a lot mid-conversation and can be quite embarrassing.
Important information like names, dates and PINs also disappear from your mind. I have been known to make sure I spend less than £30 on a food shop to ensure I can pay for things via contactless card for fear of my PIN getting lost in the dark corners of my mind!
At times, it can also be rather amusing. For example, when myself and my best friend Helen who has also had chemo for breast cancer try to stumble our way through a conversation filled with blanks (trying to help each other fill them in!) I’m told the effects can last years (oh what fab news!)
3. METAL MOUTH
Along with the heightened sense of smell, the horrid metal taste in my mouth for a week after chemo only adds to the feeling of constant nausea. It also leads me on a constant quest to try and get rid of the taste.
I can only describe it as feeling like I’m sucking on a bag of nails and it suddenly makes me have massive empathy for this unfortunate James Bond villain.
Cue me finding a legitimate reason to munch on Haribo and other chewy sweets all day. Or if I’m feeling healthy, fresh pineapple does the trick!
4. DEPRESSION or LOW MOOD
This is one of the hardest aspects of treatment for me. I am usually an upbeat, optimistic person yet some days during chemo I find myself in a very dark place, unable to lift myself back to the light.
This is often triggered after four days of high dose steroids and on Day 5 once the drugs stop, I feel I’m on a huge comedown for two or three days and it’s very hard to come back from. I am not one to wallow in self pity, but it’s times like these when I feel that this is all very unfair and I question why this is happening to me.
I try to get around this as best I can by arranging to see people who I know will cheer me up. Luckily, I am blessed to have plenty of friends and family always happy to meet for tea and cake, or to visit me.
5. CHEMO FARTS
So…chemotherapy really messes with your bowels! I spend the whole time I’m having treatment living somewhere between diarrhoea and constipation, never sure what’s going to hit. My tummy often feels like it is constantly cramping or “bubbling”. When the bubbling stops, the chemo farts arrive!
While this is a really uncomfortable feeling that lasts for about a week, I have to say it’s my husband I feel more sorry for when I experience this side effect because the smell is truly vile. My bouts of bad wind can only be described as eggs that have been rotting for a hundred years in a sulphur mine that have then been dropped in sewage!
I’m sure for anyone who’s had chemo, they could add to this list. These weird side effects become a unique part of your cancer story and while horrible to experience, you can (unbelievably) look back on them and laugh.
I’d love to hear your weirdest chemo side effect! Please comment below and let’s share some crazy stories!
Love and chemo hugs,