I first went through chemotherapy from March to June of 2006. I did just six rounds, and it was about the hardest thing I have ever had to endure. I remember saying at the time, “I have to get through this and it has to work because I am never doing this again.”
Well, I did end up having to do it again, just six months later (and just weeks after completing radiation treatments). Mingled with the shock of the new diagnosis was the fear that I did not have the strength or the stamina to face chemotherapy again.
Fortunately, I have learned that not all chemotherapy is the same. The side effects of my current regimen are much easier to tolerate (for those familiar with chemo drug regimens, my first six treatments were Taxotere, Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide. I am currently on vinorelbine and Herceptin) and I bounce back more quickly as well. Instead of feeling really lousy for a good ten days (with residual fatigue lingering until the next treatment), I am treated on Tuesdays and know that I will feel more or less like myself again by the week end.
And vinorelbine doesn’t always cause hair loss! Mine is growing, very slowly, but I do have lots of it.
One of the hardest aspects of ongoing chemotherapy is the constant grind (I am sure that anyone in treatment for a chronic illness can relate to this). There is no counting down until the end of treatment, as another round is always right around the corner. The cumulative effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue, skin changes, weight gain (due to early menopause) and dry, red eyes can be trying. However, I find the emotional wear and tear to be the biggest challenge. I am still working on accepting that resting after chemo is part of my job now and that I need to do it in order to remain alive and feeling well. And I try and savour the days when I feel healthy and strong.
When someone asks when I will be finished with treatment, I often reply, “When it stops working!” And the truth is, that even then, there will be other treatment options or us to explore.
Mostly, though, I feel that ongoing treatment is a small price to pay for continuing to live and being here to enjoy my kids as well as all the other good things in my life.
You can read more of my writing at Not Just About Cancer.