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A Page from “The Cancer Effect”

As each day went by after my first chemotherapy, I felt increasingly worse.  I received my treatment on Wednesday and true to prediction,  had reached a low point on Saturday and Sunday.  Nausea was managed by taking the prescribed medicine every four hours before it reached the point of being out of control.  I tried to drink plenty of liquids but found it difficult. The oncology nurses, along with instructions in the chemo notebook, stressed the importance of drinking 64 ounces of liquid per day.  Plain water brought on nausea so I tried flavored waters and Gatorade.  I couldn’t tolerate cold liquids, so I drank them at room temperature. Trying my best, I was only able to get down about half of each day’s requirement.  The worse I felt, the less I was able to drink.

Eating presented additional concerns for my husband as he visibly noted my declining energy.  When I needed to be gaining strength from food, my appetite waned.  It was similar to how I felt the first trimester of my pregnancies.  If something sounded appealing, it shifted to disgusting by the time it was prepared.  Randy tried to tease my appetite by offering my favorite foods.

“How about shrimp or salmon tacos?  I’ll run get some for you.”

“No thanks.  That doesn’t sound good right now.”  Under normal conditions, I never turn down Mexican food.

He was confident I wouldn’t pass up his next offer.  “I can bring you a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream!”   I’m sure he was thinking that at least it was a dairy product.  Those who know me are aware of my love for ice cream, especially mint chocolate chip.  Unfortunately, my stomach wouldn’t tolerate ice cream, or anything sweet, during all the months I received chemo.

“I can make you a scrambled egg sandwich.”

“Now I’m really going to throw up.”  He knows I don’t like eggs, even under the best circumstances.

“Tuna sandwich?”

“Are you kidding?”  Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t have a very long list of food he is comfortable making.

“What about grilled cheese?”

“Ok. I’ll try that.”

Looking at the nicely grilled sandwich Randy brought, I sighed, “Maybe a bowl of cereal would taste better.”  After eating two bites of cereal, Randy, who never likes to waste food, reluctantly threw the rest out.  I might sound a little spoiled, but in reality, I had no interest in eating and what I did eat during my worst days after chemo was only due to the insistence of my patient husband.

On Monday evening, I changed locations from my bed to the couch and tried to watch a little TV.  I began feeling strange, so started back towards my bedroom.  By the time I got there, I had broken out in a cold sweat.  Having a sudden urge to vomit, I rushed into the bathroom.  When the feeling passed, I shuffled towards the bed only to be hit by a burst of dizziness, causing me to collapse.

Landing on my bed, I didn’t move, willing the spinning in my head to cease.  Brittany looked up from her homework and ran to get her dad.  When Randy arrived and saw how pale and listless I was, he helped me under the covers and tried to get me to drink.  I agreed to the water if he also brought my nausea medicine.  Placing both on the nightstand I attempted to go to sleep if only to escape how badly I was feeling.

As tired as I was, sleep didn’t come easily.  Thoughts of the last few days rolled around in my head, adding to my restlessness.  I was warned that chemotherapy could be difficult and I tried to patiently endure, but I was beginning to question my ability to do this five more times.  I wasn’t even close to feeling good enough to teach school the day after tomorrow.  Would it be possible to teach at all?  Being sick was hard enough without the guilt I felt for not fulfilling my obligations.

Morning brought no relief from the sickness that wracked my body.  It had been a long night with little sleep.  I felt like I had a bad case of the flu.  Randy brought more fluids and encouraged me to drink.  He also brought some toast for breakfast, then reluctantly went to work.  I looked deathly sick to him and if it weren’t for patients depending on him, he wouldn’t have left.  Years later he shared with me his frightening thought, “Cancer isn’t going to kill her, chemo is.”

With Brittany in school, I was left alone to wait out the day, hoping to feel better soon.  It took great effort to get out of bed and use the bathroom but diarrhea necessitated frequent trips.  It felt like someone had zapped all the energy out of my body and I didn’t care about anything.  I didn’t even have enough energy to worry about school and my inability to teach the next day.

About mid-morning, my cell phone rang.  The caller ID showed “Private Call” and I almost didn’t answer.  It was a good thing I did because it was Dr. Dinsdale, my primary care doctor.  In a concerned voice, he explained that the results of the previous day’s blood work had been mistakenly sent to his office and it didn’t look good.  He needed to know my oncologist’s name so he could fax it over to his attention.  Despite the Neulasta shot I had received, my white blood cell count was zero.

“How are the fluids?  Are you drinking plenty of water?”

“I’m trying to,” I answered feebly, “but drinking makes me nauseated.”

“About how much have you kept down this morning?”

“Maybe four ounces.”

“Claudia, that is not enough. You will end up in the hospital if you don’t increase your fluid intake.”  Right then I didn’t care.  I just wanted to be left alone.

Within the hour, a nurse from the oncology office called.  She explained I needed to come in right away for a Neupogen shot to increase my white blood cell count.  I was to plan on receiving this shot for two additional days.  I told her I didn’t feel like coming in.  She firmly made it clear I had no choice, the Neupogen shot was essential, and they would see me at three o’clock.

As I hung up from this conversation, I wondered how I was going to get out of bed and make the trip to the oncology office.  I obviously shouldn’t drive, but with one call I found Monica willing to drop everything and take me.  Making a meager attempt to get dressed, I waited in bed for her to arrive, trying to obediently drink as much as possible.  Dr. Dinsdale’s warning had finally concerned me and I didn’t want to be hospitalized.  That would require too much energy.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. All too often cancer patients are cared for, guided to the next step, loved by family members more than ever thought possible, and tenderly watched. Unfortunately, unless one is to experience chemo with it’s painful, mind gripping depression, nothing helps. Watching family members trying everything they know to do for their loved one, and it just doesn’t work, is agonizing in itself to watch. I thank you for sharing this message of “a day with chemo” to remind all that is hard but life easy. I eagerly await your entire story!

    1. Thank you for your insightful response. I can tell you are not a stranger to cancer. I shared one of my darkest days, but rest assured my journey will also make you laugh as I navigate the cancer road. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire and support others and their families and friends who are required to face this journey.

  2. I can’t believe you were able to teach all the way through your treatments. I’m sure your book will be an inspiration to others going through cancer that there is a light at the end of that very long, dark tunnel!

    1. As difficult as teaching was during my treatments, there were moments that will bring a smile to your face as I shared my journey with these sweet children. I hope my story brings hope and peace to others who are faced with cancer and the challenges it brings.

  3. i can certainly relate to all of this. I could only eat Rice Krispies for months and sometimes they didn’t stay down.
    The true Heroes in this were our sweet husbands, family and friends who didn’t give up on us.
    Thank you for sharing such a personal time.
    Proud of you and can’t wait to read your whole book.

    1. Thanks for being a part of my story, and always there cheering me on, as only someone who has been through it can. Your story inspired and helped me as I traveled through cancer, and motivated me to write mine. Thanks to those Heroes who held our hands and suffered more than we’ll ever know, trying to help us survive.

  4. This reminds me of Kevin’s chemo experiences and not finding anything he could eat. I still can’t believe you taught through this. I can’t wait to read more.

    1. You are one of the heroes who had to watch a loved one face the challenges of cancer and its effects. My story salutes the family and friends of cancer patients, always present, supporting and silently suffering.

  5. Claudia, I am so impressed. You were very brave. Very tough even in your darkest hours. Kudos to Randy. I want so much to share your journey, can’t wait to read your book.

    1. After you read the book you can decide how brave I was! I had many moments of fear and depression which I shared, to keep my story real. I also showed how I dealt with fear, which I hope will inspire and help others who face this journey.

  6. I love your writings. This takes me back to my sister and her bout with cancer that she didn’t win. I do believe that Chemo kills. Not cancer. Terrible stuff. Especially watching someone have to go through it.

    1. I’m so sorry about your sister. Having to stand by and watch a loved one suffer is more difficult than many understand. You need to know how much your sister appreciated all you did for her.

  7. I can’t wait to read the rest . . . your book I know will help others; those who have cancer and those who may be a caregiver. Understanding each side of this horrible disease.

    1. Thanks so much Lori. My goal is to reach out to both audiences, as well as physicians who can benefit from seeing cancer through the eyes of the patient.

  8. Thanks so much for so beautifully sharing, Claudia! As I recall, you and Denny went through this at about the same time. I don’t know how you taught school!. Denny was doctor-confined at home for 7 months – and I was quarantined for 6 weeks due to 3 of our neighbors suffering from Swine Flu! How in the WORLD could you go to school? Amazing! You are incredibly brave to get through the cancer, and to write this book. Thanks for representing cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers everywhere! Can’t wait to read the whole book. Love you!

    1. Thanks Sue! Yes, I do remember Denny and you dealing with cancer at the same time and our conversations on the phone. I also felt your prayers. I talk about Denny in chapter 1 and how his attitude strengthened me. My daughter Brittany also got the Swine Flu three days after one of my chemo treatments and that story is also told in the book! My book contains a lot of humor as well, as the road we travel is multi-paved with laughter, tears, and lessons learned. Thanks for your encouragement and support in my quest to help others get through the effects of cancer.

  9. I don’t know how you went through all of that pain and suffering and then come up enough energy to teach school. I wish I could have been there and helped you and supported you. If I had realized how bad you were, I would have stayed with you and helped take care of you. It doesn’t matter that I was recovering from a serious sickness myself. That is one of the duties and pleasures of being a mother.

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