20. Chemo Experience and Side Effects

My oncologist speaks some version of “Don’t live life for chemo, do chemo in order to live life”.  He speaks it in profound ways, repeating it a lot.  I love him.  I love that we match philosophies.  His name is Dr. Joshua Wilfong

So my first set of chemo drugs was a bit more than two weeks ago, and in the last three days I had the second set of infusions.  

They measure chemo in cycles and days.  The first day of the first infusion is Cycle 1, Day 1, adding days up ’til the next time there is an infusion.  My first Cycle had 15 days just because of scheduling stuff and getting a pattern for their calendar.  Most will be 14.  And if I want to move things around and take trips or schedule fun, it can be altered.  My oncologist speaks some version of “Don’t live life for chemo, do chemo in order to live life”.  He speaks it in profound ways, repeating it a lot.  I love him.  I love that we match philosophies.  His name is Dr. Joshua Wilfong, and he could be a hot young doctor on one of the shows (I tell you this because someone asked.)

In my vast experience of “twice”, I have found day 1 to be emotional.  It could be because I have a sense of violation whenever medical people mess with me.  It isn’t the people.  They all rock.  It is the being poked and prodded and feeling pain and annoyance.  People have pointed out the PTSD from my six month run with MRSA the year mom died.  I neither like labels, nor believe that I have to adopt a running story in my head from a past occurrence.  But the body does have cellular memory, and is deserving of my compassion and listening.  Don’t mess with me on day 1.  I will cry.  

I feel elated and capable on days 2 and 3.  I have had Reiki healings on day 2 both weeks, and that’s playing a part as a spiritual drug accompanying the steroids.  God jumps in intensely to help with the chemo goals.  It is not a fight, it is a dance.  The chemotherapy is helping the body with selection of which cells to let go of and which to keep.  Ultimately, God runs that show, but we pretend, a lot, that we have power.  The Divine is very patient with us, and uses our medical tactics to its advantage.

I just started cycle 2, day 4.  

Overall side effects have been weird, wild, expected, unexpected.  Hard, but mostly easy and perceived as adventure and empathetic understanding and curiosity.  It’s a ride, like Disney Land.  It is neither good nor bad, just extremely new.  I know some things will fade from my noticing altogether.  It’s good to look now while they excite me.  Some will just fade to the level of an itch that I ignore.

Starting at the bottom, I have had a sensation of burning in the bottom of my feet.  I wake up and feel it. Then it isn’t there anymore.  I have also had tingly toes.  Tingling is what the doctors call “neuropathy”.  The Eternal often speaks to me with that same sensation, so I look at it in both of those ways. 

I am reminded about how I am connected to Source by my body sending weird energy waves. It has happened this way for my entire life.  I always had a shiver shoot through me during grace at dinner, even as a child.  So I get a two for one here. 

Neuropathy has an outward feel, like pin pricks from the inside moving outside, or like energy bursting outward.  The feeling could be negatives leaving my body, or it could be seen as energetic healing for the entirety of the world coming from my neural system.  Love it.

I have had cramps in my lower legs.  I can have those anyway.  Maybe it’s more from going on walks than chemotherapy.  Who knows?

Dry skin is always an issue for me, and the chemo really brings that out.  When I am thinking about different perceptions, dry skin is a “sloughing off”, a resurfacing, a change in cells.  I have some themes here.  It is appearing at joints in my body, the back of my hands, my lower face.  If you follow worlds of symbolism, these are all very clear messages.

I can feel the chemo doing work on my lower abdomen.  It comes in what others might perceive as nausea.  My nausea, quite literally, is all in my head.  I can sometimes feel a swimming feeling in my brain, like getting off of a spinning ride.  But it hasn’t lasted, and it is fully tolerable, and I have pills and pressure point bands, ginger, and such to rely on; I haven’t.  No vomiting. 

The chemo work with the intestines feels like dancing.  It could be negative dancing, but really comes across more like ballet.  There is cellular movement.  Reconfiguring.  It gurgles and bubbles and pirouettes, dives and dips, moves fast then slow.  I could sit and watch.  I think I haven’t wanted to watch for long because I have believed I would be sick.  I might look more closely to hear the depth of the movement.

There is “neuropathy” in my fingertips, on my lips, and across my cheek bones.  Again, it is such a beautiful energetic thing, as well as something that causes focus on changes needed in daily life.  Cold is a problem, cold air, cold water, touching anything cold, drinking or eating anything under room temperature.  That changes a lot. 

It’s hard to cook without touching anything cold.  Even preparing vegetables is cold.  Theoretically, I put on gloves to remove things from the refrigerator or freezer.  I have to warm up a smoothie.  Really?  Warm green shots.  Really?  And I am not accustomed to waiting for the faucet to spew physically warm water before sticking my hands under it.  If I make that mistake, there is a lasting physical pain in my hands.  Not long lasting, but lasting. 

They tell me that neuropathy can be permanent.  They tell me they are trying to adjust my medications to minimize it.  I don’t believe anything I hear about the negatives to come, but sometimes my body does it anyway.  They tell me that they don’t know if what I do now affects the future outcome.  “Everything is individual.  No one reacts the same way.” 

Oh, my esophagus can be so affected by cold foods that I would be unable to breathe.  Good times.  And it fades, so somewhere in the second week of the cycle, maybe day 7 or maybe day 11, there is a reprieve.  It reappears with the chemo treatment on day 1.

My mouth gets sores, like cold sores.  They can be on the roof of the mouth or in the cheeks or on the back of the throat.  They seem to be triggered by sweet things and cold things.  Gargling salt and soda water four times a day is the doctor’s advice for this common situation, prevent it, rather than treat it.

So, so far, so good.  Although the list felt long and tedious to type, the chemo does run into my body for 48 hours a week.  And then there are a few more days where the body is interacting with and flushing it.  And then, recovery from it, where the body gets its chance to recreate the white cells and build happy, vibrant, healthy tissue. 

The dance, back and forth, ballet, tango.  Drama, peace… balance.

Author: Michele Plumb Stowell

Michele Stowell was a teacher, a hand holder, and encouraging voice. Born an early Gen Xer, she has lived in Western Washington for the duration. Her children, two spectacular genetic daughters and an uncountable number of marvelous scout and school sons and daughters, shine as her biggest impact and her greatest blessing. Just before her 54th birthday, Michele was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Her writing and art work are expressions of the drama and the joy of living earth bound. On October 24, 2021, Michele was released from her physical body, transported to continue her work on other realms.

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