Thought Catalog

The Chemotherapy Side Effect Checklist

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It’s been three days since chemotherapy, and my nurse called this morning to ask how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling alright, and she congratulated me, saying that today and tomorrow would probably be my worst days and that I’d be on the upswing soon.

Really? I feel like I really dodged a bullet here. I’ve been going over my giant list of potential side effects and considering myself incredibly lucky that I seem to have avoided the worst of them.

Before I started chemotherapy, I was massively frustrated that no one could offer me a really detailed description of what it was like. Basically, what I learned from the movies is that I could expect to barf a lot and go bald. So here’s my summary: It wasn’t as awful as the entertainment industry made me believe it would be, but it has been difficult and challenging and sickening in ways I didn’t expect. I decided to put together this little list of how chemo’s made me feel so far in order to document my progress back to the world of the living. I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’ve packed up my tent and I’m fighting my way through the leaves and rocks and trying to avoid the bears while I get back to normal.

Let me begin by saying that everyone is different and everyone’s body reacts differently, especially when it comes to literal poison like chemo drugs. It’s like that old saying, “You can’t wash in the same chemotherapy biohazard medical waste twice.” Wait, that doesn’t seem right. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t want to – and indeed, I can’t – speak for all chemotherapy patients; this is just one girl’s crappy little journey with some vein detergent.

[x] Fatigue

Whenever I asked the doctors how chemotherapy would make me feel, they’d always say it would make me fatigued. And I was like, “Whatever, I’m 25, I ran a half-marathon once and sometimes I stay up ‘til like 3am just watching puppies videos, so you’re just saying that because you normally give this to 80-year-olds.” Y’all, that was hubris, and I am sorry.

Last night I went to bed at 10pm, then woke up this morning at 10am (which, I might add, felt to me like the absolute ass crack of drawn) to attend class via Skype. Despite 12 hours of sleep, I felt like I’d just eaten a giant plate of week-old sushi covered in mayonnaise left out in the sun, then ran an IronMan and gotten hit by an 18-wheeler right before I crossed the finish line. Chemotherapy makes getting out of bed seem like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Since all I have to do to Skype-attend class is lay in my bed, I decided to call in anyway – but my computer had other plans, and my internet connection cut out after an hour. My professor decided to give me the rest of the afternoon off. I immediately fell back asleep until 3:30pm, when I finally dragged myself downstairs to eat some macaroni and cheese, then I fell back asleep on the chaise lounge until I just woke up to write this. I’m not going to lie, though, I could go back to sleep right now. I am giving your cat a run for his money.

[x] Gagginess

I don’t want to say nausea because I really haven’t experienced much, if any, nausea. If I knew who they were, I would personally write a thank-you letter and mail a basket of Harry & David pears to whoever invented my combination of anti-nausea drugs, because they do an incredible job of keeping my discomfort to a very manageable level of low-grade hangoverness that generally doesn’t bother me unless someone opens a container of Roquefort cheese near me.

I do, however, feel sort of oddly gaggy. Like, a picture of some food won’t really make me feel nauseated, but it’ll just…gross me out. I feel like I’ve gone back in time to 1992 when I was four years old and all I liked was cupcakes, macaroni and cheese, French fries, rice and plain chicken. I was scrolling through my TV options during the 20 minutes I was awake in between my naps and passed an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and honestly had to just turn the TV off. But then again, that could just be a side effect of Guy Fieri’s face.

[x] Taste alteration

Things just taste a little off in my mouth right now. I don’t care, though, because my mom bought me Limeaid and it tastes amazing and I love it. When I was a kid I used to eat lemons the way other kids would eat orange slices during AYSO soccer halftime, so I’m glad that acidity still tastes awesome to me. I mean, would it really be the worst thing in the world if I didn’t want any chocolate for a few months? I’m sure my thighs wouldn’t mind.

[x] Bowel issues

I’m not getting into this, but yeah. If you ever need chemotherapy, just understand that nothing going on in your digestive tract will make sense for several days. It feels like an 8th grader is conducting his science fair project in my large intestine, and he is not going to win, because he is screwing it up really badly.

[x] Aches and pains

My oncologist agrees with me that chemotherapy can S a D and that I shouldn’t have to miss any important things in my life because of this little boob-shaped road block, so she is giving me a shot of a medicine called Neulasta that’ll ensure my white blood cell counts stay high enough for me to eat at a giant buffet kids are sneezing on and dance with a ton of people until midnight without getting a deadly infection at this wedding I am going to attend literally no matter how bad I feel because WEDDING. Neulasta has a little side effect, though: pain. That’s it. Just pain. Bone pain, muscle pain, aches, pains, all different kinds of discomfort. The reason for this is a “bone marrow flare,” when the meds cause your white blood cell counts to explode and put pressure on the insides of your bones until you get a full-body migraine. Sounds fun, guys!

[x] Ugliness

Chemotherapy turns you into a Disney villain. All of your hair falls out, your nails turn black, your skin dries out, your bones ache and suddenly you’re looking around at the all the other pretty twentysomethings and thinking that giving away some poisonous apples is kind of a good idea and maybe that witch was onto something there. TC mark

image – euthman

This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared on I’m 25 and My Boobs Are Trying to Kill Me.

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