Chapter 16: Side effects of chemotherapy

The babies were growing into chubby thighed little giggling loveballs and I was doing my best to stay strong. As you may know by now, things don’t come easy for me and the side effects of chemotherapy were doing their best to take me down. After Round 4, the nausea was increasing to all day and I was really struggling to keep anything down. On top of the metallic awful taste, everything made me want to gag, but then an empty stomach made the nausea worse. It was truly hell. But. I would look at their chubby faces and nothing in the world could make me fight harder than they could.

I was in and out of the hospital for fluids quite a bit and had to stay overnight a few times for severe dehydration and one time for possible Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) infection. Anyone remember the part in the movie E.T. when they are wearing the infectious disease spacesuits? That is what it was like when the doctors/nurses came into my room. They had to be completely covered head to toe, in case I had C. diff. I remember saying to one younger nurse, “I’ll be right here” and lifted up my finger. She just stared at me confused and was like “ok GREAT!” (By the way, how can you NOT know E.T?) On top of already feeling incredibly nauseated, I now had some virus that was causing fluids to come out both ends. Yuck. This was definitely a low period for me. Thankfully, no C. diff, but I was in the hospital for 3 days and missing my people.

These are the times when I would get really really mad. I was missing my babies. I was missing time as a family. I was missing out on just being a NORMAL Mom. I would get really angry and feel an overwhelming feeling of defeat. But….I would find a glimmer. My firefly! Something would remind me that I was still here…fighting, barfing and angry, but going to be ok. How lucky was I that we caught it? How lucky was I to have an army of people helping us? How lucky was I to have access to amazing healthcare and insurance? Things could be much worse. And then I would take a deep breath.

side effects of chemo

I was really lucky as a young girl to never have much acne. I had a ton of freckles, but very few pimples. I would not say I had “good” skin, but it was never something I had to hide. After Round 4, I developed the “chemo rash,” which can show-up at any time during treatment. It doesn’t affect everyone, but….well you know. I am me. At first, it felt like a really bad sunburn. Then it started to itch. It was all over my cheeks and chin and there was quite literally nothing I could do. It was very painful and it was pretty gross! The looks I would get from people when they saw me with 2 babies, a beanie/bald head and this crazy rash all over my face. You could literally see them trying to figure out what was going on with one glance. My body was clearly in fight mode, as the mouth sores got pretty intense as well. Imagine when you bite your tongue and then get that sore on your tongue. Now multiply that to all over the inside of your mouth. Just plain old sucked.

Round 5 was coming up. This actually felt good, as we were on the side of the scale closer to being done. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew what to expect. The docs said that the side effects of chemotherapy would be stronger and I should expect to be feeling pretty terrible.

OK, fine. Cancer…bring it. You are going down. In order to win this battle, I was going to be bruised up pretty bad. I definitely had a LOT of moments where I was down, feeling bad emotionally and physically, but I knew enough that I had to push through those feelings and keep going. It is ok to have a couple bad days, as long as you can get up OR have your people get you up. One of my people was my friend, Michael, who was fighting brain cancer. He was such a source of strength for me and I could be brutally honest with him. He got it. He understood how I felt. He understood what chemo felt like. He let me cry and yell and also laugh whenever I needed to.

We went to lunch right before my 5th treatment and we laughed that it didn’t really matter what we ate. We both had lost so much weight and we both couldn’t really taste anything. So we went for burrito bowls. Obviously right? I remember that conversation clear as day. I was tired of feeling like crap and I knew I only had 2 more, but it felt like I was walking up a hill of ice. He kept telling me that he thought I was going to do bigger things with this. He felt I would help a lot of people someday with my story. He made me promise him that when I felt it was time, to do something with it. I thought he was nuts and told him so…and I promised. We talked about the shared feelings of losing time with our kids. Losing that normalcy of not having to fight cancer, the stresses on our spouses and we laughed…a lot. He also told me to NEVER stop fighting and he would literally kick my ass if I ever had those feelings. I went in for Round 5, barfed a lot, lost more weight and felt terrible, but I DID IT. Round 6…I was coming for you.

I tell people still today that it is so important to find people that you can connect with. REALLY connect. They don’t have to be other cancer fighters, but someone that “gets” you and will pick you up when needed, be brutally honest and help you find the light sometimes. Help you find your firefly. I was lucky to have a whole bunch of people, but you need at least one. Make sure you ASK them to be honest and push you. Maybe it is to urge you to eat a sandwich, maybe it is to hold your hand while you shave your head or maybe it is just someone to look you in the eye and demand you never stop fighting. Thank you Michael for always being a rock for me.

I miss you.

In loving memory of Michael Morse.

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