The Week Chemo Almost Beat Me
At best, my chemotherapy experience could be described as less than pleasant. I'd already had a testicle removed following a testicular cancer diagnosis, but it wasn't enough to defeat this disease.
For five days in a row, I sat for about eight hours in a recliner—not an exaggeration—hooked up to the infusion machine dispensing BEP chemo, a combination of bleomycin, etoposide and platinum. I recieved a reprieve on the weekend and had a short session (only two hours) on the subsequent Monday.
I repeated this cycle three times.
Suffice to say, this was not how I wanted to spend parts of the fall and winter in 2016 and 2017.
Almost in the clear…
I suffered from constant fatigue, insomnia, hair loss and the erosion of my immune system, which led to extreme bone pain when I rebuilt my white blood cell count from scratch. However, the goal was to cure my cancer, and I soldiered through. While the side effects worsened over time, I never felt they were unbearable.
I made it through my final "long day" of chemo and found I actually had an appetite, which was rare. My mom and I decided to celebrate by going to Olive Garden for the unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks lunch.
Though I had eaten barely anything during most of my chemo days, I managed to eat multiple breadsticks, a few bowls of salad and several bowls of soup. I thought I was doing well; I had only two "short days" of chemo remaining and then I was in the homestretch.
I was wrong.
I got home and took my usual nap and awoke a few hours later feeling fine. Later that evening, my mom ran out to go shopping while I stayed in bed and watched a random documentary on Netflix.
Suddenly, I felt a gurgling in my stomach and knew something was wrong. I shuffled to the toilet and barely had the lid open when I violently unloaded the contents of my stomach. I'll spare you the exact details, but minestrone soup is much better going down than coming up.
As the depths of my belly were forcibly evacuated, I realized I couldn't do this alone. Though in my mid-20s, I reverted to childhood: I needed my mommy.
I battled with Siri to call my mom so I could tell her to come home. I'll always remember that conversation.
"Mom, I'm throwing up. I need you to come home."
"How bad is it?"
*Profuse vomiting noises*
"I'll be right home."
As I awaited her arrival, I found myself growing irritated—not at her, but at the situation.
I accepted I had cancer, but I could usually cling to the fact that I hadn't experienced the typical constant nausea and vomiting through 19 of 21 total treatments. Now vomiting was making its first appearance…with a vengeance. I spent that evening and the eventual late night in a vicious cycle: lie down, get up and vomit, rinse, repeat.
I hoped Friday night would be a one-off, but nope. I was wrong. Over the weekend, I decided to stick to a very bland diet in hopes nothing would irritate my stomach. Alas, this did not help. Chicken and rice soup resulted in my shooting rice out of my nose—even less pleasant than the previous soup experience.
By Sunday evening, I felt slightly better but I was still vomiting semi-regularly.
On Monday, when I went in for a chemo infusion, they noticed I had lost 10 pounds over the weekend. In addition to the usual chemo, they gave me IV fluids and stronger anti-nausea meds to try to control this beast.
I went home and ate a bowl of chicken noodle soup…only for it to come right back up, literally after the last bite. Hindsight being 20/20, soup really wasn't my friend those days.
I decided to try a new tactic: not eating.
I reasoned that if I had nothing in my stomach, I would have nothing to throw up. While this is technically true, dry heaving is worse than vomiting. I also developed hiccups, which would turn into a severe cough, which would turn into vomiting and/or heaving. I could not win.
Eventually, the vomiting stopped thanks to a combination of meds intended to treat nausea, hiccups and cough. Oh, and by just allowing time to pass. By the end, I would (and still do) refer to it as the toughest week of chemo, which was ironic because I actually spent less time receiving chemo than I had during the previous weeks.
Side effects are part of getting better
Looking back, I'm not sure what I could have done differently.
I was generally good at keeping up with my anti-nausea meds, but perhaps I could have been more vigilant with them. In talking with my doctors, they said chemo has a cumulative effect and sometimes sequences like this are unavoidable.
My best advice is to keep up with your anti-nausea meds, brace for impact and focus on the endgame. Much like everything else with chemo, this experience sucked but the end result—surviving beyond cancer—kept me going.
It took me nearly five years to return to Olive Garden, and to be honest, I'll never look at their minestrone soup the same way again.