Have you ever listened closely to the end of a prescription drug advertisement? The list of side effects often takes longer to read than the actual commercial. I’ve often heard myself say, “Who’s crazy enough to take that drug?”
Now, I’m one of those crazy people. On any given day, I take at least three different drugs. On chemo days, I probably take more than twelve. Have you ever just Googled the side effects of chemo alone? The list is long. I’ve probably experience 90% of the side effects on the list at some point in this journey.
Most people think of three major side effects of chemo: nausea, fatigue, and hair loss. Those are probably the three most universal effects of the majority of chemo drugs on the majority of people. This post isn’t about the widely known and acknowledged side effects. This is about the side effects I’d rather you not know about. These are the things that make me feel weak, that haunt me at night, and the most dark effects of chemotherapy.
Fear/Dread – Every Friday afternoon I receive a phone call from Texas Oncology asking me to confirm my Tuesday appointment. I can’t tell you how hard it is to press number one on my phone. One week is worse than the other because one day I’m apprehensive about blood counts, and the other my stomach ties in knots knowing chemo is coming. I don’t want to go. I’ve never wanted to go. I’ve never attended a single round of chemotherapy for myself. If I was all alone in this journey and had no loved ones, I wouldn’t go through this. I would have rolled the dice and took my chances with the cancerous cells that might have escaped. The selfish side of me always says, “I’m not doing this again. I don’t want to.” It’s the side that loves my family that goes through chemo because that side remembers how hard it was to tell them I had cancer, and how hard it was for them to comprehend and cope with my diagnosis.
Unknown Tears – Sometimes tears fall for no reason. I’m not sad. I’m not upset. I’m not mad. I’m not feeling anything I’ve ever felt before that resulted in tears, but they fall anyway. It’s impossible for me to understand, so how do I possibly explain it to someone else?
Emotionless – There is no worse feeling in the world than feeling absolutely nothing at all. I bet most people have wished for this emotionless feeling during some dark times in life; but let me tell you that no matter how bad those feelings were, they are better than feeling nothing.
Pulling Away – I’m not sure who I’m trying to protect when I try to escape within myself. I don’t know if it’s to protect me or those around me. I just know there are times when I escape to this place that’s away from everyone else even if I’m standing right beside you. It’s probably very confusing to everyone around me. Maybe they feel like they’ve done something wrong. In reality, I just need a moment. It’s in this quiet place within myself that I find strength and power to get through whatever has happened, or what I think is coming. I’m not mad at anyone. I’m not depressed. I’m just recharging. I think that’s hard on those around me.
Yearning – Some days I yearn for the life before chemo, before cancer. The hours running around all day just going and doing with my husband and family, the four thirty alarm clock telling me to go for a run, the sixteen hour days working on school stuff, the energy to clean my entire house from top to bottom on a Saturday afternoon are all things that make me feel like I’m less than or no longer good enough because I’m no longer that person. I’m sure that’s the results of American society and culture, but the sad thing is that I bought into it so much that I struggle with not being able to live that way anymore and maybe never again.
Doubt – Am I still a good wife? Read a book, seek out a counselor, or even talk to a pastor about the qualities of “a good wife”. Give me that list. Let me mark off all the things that I’m not right now, and I feel like a bad wife. The list for motherhood, for teacher, for daughter, for sister, for friend…I’m failing at all of them based off those lists. I hate those lists! Those expectations are unrealistic. I know that, yet doubt makes me wonder, makes me question, and makes me worry.
Pity – Oh, how I hate this! I hadn’t felt this until this last round of chemo. Ugh! My life is full of blessings, full of love, full of great things, and I allowed myself to feel sorry for myself. Cancer has taught me to loathe pity and here I am guilty of it myself.
Insomnia – Maybe this isn’t really a side effect. I think this is just who I’ve always been. I’ve always struggled to find sleep. The hours when the rest of the world sleeps is when I pray, think, and write. It’s hard to turn of my thoughts once the sun goes down.
I’m sure there are more. My husband is probably an expert on my side effects by now, but he probably won’t ever post about them other than to say he hates when the color drains from my face or when my eyes lose their sparkle and shine.
The physical battle of chemo is on display. A person on the outside can watch as chemo tries to destroy my body, but the real battle isn’t being fought there. The battle that determines if I win or lose is first fought within my soul and mind. Chemo’s greatest toll to others is probably believed to be on our bodies, but I promise you our minds suffer the worse side effects of all.
I had a coach once tell me a game was won or loss before a team ever stepped on the court. I’m sure that statement applies to life and to chemo too. I prepared my mind for round three to be like the others. It wasn’t. It was better. It was worse. I won and I lost.
Round four is my final round of the worst of my chemo rounds. It’s the last doses of The Red Devil and His Evil Twin. My mindset will be much different. I’m better prepared knowing the unknown might be harder than the known. God will be in the driver’s seat. I will take the backseat in the back of a bus. I’ll need the strength and support of everyone seated in front of me. I won’t win alone, but we will win this battle together.
Another storm is brewing. Another rainbow awaits me.