Cancer Symptoms

  • Once you start chemotherapy, your body will respond in many different ways. Some people breeze through chemo with very few symptoms. Then there are others, like myself, who suffer almost every symptom related to chemo and all of the poisonous drugs being pumped into the body. There is a whole list of different symptoms. I will go through each one, list the symptoms, and try to offer some advice on how to ease those symptoms.

NAUSEA

  1. I would have to say the first symptom that shows up and we are warned first about is nausea. Three days before the first chemo treatment, one takes a drug called______? and takes it each day until the actual day of chemo. This drug is supposed to help suppress nausea when you receive your first chemo treatment. I followed all of the instructions to the tee, and it initially worked for me. But as time went on, the drug began to fail. I got more and more nauseated, and I was put on more and more drugs. By the middle of my treatments, I was taking 6 different drugs for nausea, and I was still vomiting almost constantly. SOLUTION: I started taking marijuana for the nausea and to help keep down small amounts of food.
  2. Metal  taste in mouth – This is another symptom that we are warned about. I really feared this happening to me because I was already having such difficulty eating. I knew if everything started tasting like metal, I would probably stop eating all together. As it turned out, I could not eat hardly anything. Everything made me throw up, so I started avoiding food altogether. I lost 85 lbs. in 4 months. I was losing weight so fast and getting weaker by the day. My oncologist told me if I did not start eating, I would not survive the treatments. I did not have this problem. SOLUTION: If one does experience this symptom, one is advised to not use metal silverware. Everyone agrees that if you use plastic silverware it will help eliminate this problem.
  3. Joint aches and pain – I already had major joint aches and pain. I have suffered from this ailment for 20 years because of a bad car accident in 1990. I have struggled with total body pain day in and day out. I was very fearful of this getting worse. After 20 years of dealing with this, I kind of made peace with it, and found things that somewhat worked to some affect. I already had days, though, where it was so bad it was debilitating. I could not imagine it being worse than I had already experienced, but I knew it was possible. Little did I know how bad it would get. MY SOLUTIONS: I took Tylenol whenever I needed it to help sooth some of the pain. I also keep a prescription for Lidoderm Patches. I have used these patches for over 20 years, and in my opinion, they are worth their weight in gold! I use them any time I have excruciating pain anywhere on my body. The patches measure approximately 3″ X 4″ and are sticky on the back. They can be cut in half or smaller if need be. Sometimes I use a whole patch on my back. And then sometimes I cut them in half and use them on my ankles or shoulder or anywhere else I have pain. I also am a big fan of HOT SHOWERS or BATHS. For some reason, either of these seem to help, albeit temporarily, just enough to take the edge off.
  4. Sensitivity to the gums – The gums become super sensitive to brushing and flossing during chemo treatments. It is recommended to get a very soft toothbrush and not to floss at all during treatment. The reason for this is that any abrasion on the gums can cause excessive bleeding and a lot of pain. I was very careful when brushing my teeth. The hardest part for me was not being able to floss. I religiously floss and I was worried about getting out of the habit of flossing. But it is necessary. I did try to floss in the beginning. But the amount of blood that accumulated in my mouth scared me to death. So I weened myself off of flossing. SOLUTION: Purchase a very soft toothbrush and use it religiously every single day. The teeth and gums can be adversely affected by Cancer, so it is highly suggested to pay close attention to your gums and teeth. Also, it helps to purchase a special toothpaste designed for Cancer patients. The name of it is:______________
  5. Excessive dry skin – This was and still is very difficult for me to deal with. I had never really had dry skin issues. Shortly after I started chemo, though, my skin on my arms, legs and face became very, very dry and extremely wrinkled. I think this is what I fretted most about. And nothing seemed to help me. I tried every lotion my doctors told me to buy, and nothing worked for me.
  6. Headaches – I had suffered from really bad migraines through my teens, my 20’s, and my 30’s. I finally got them under control in my 40’s, and very seldom had them. Of course when I did, they were usually whoppers! So once again, I was very fearful of headaches. And my concerns were warranted. I suffered horrendous headaches every few days, especially right after chemo treatments.
  7. Severe hot and cold flashes – This was another symptom that hit me especially hard. When I went through menopause, I had a terrible time with hot and cold flashes. They had lasted over 5 years and really created havoc in my life. When they finally stopped, I thought that I would never revisit them again. Little did I know that these even occurred during cancer. When I found out that I was going to be thrown back into menopause, I was very upset. As it turned out, these were even worse, if that is even possible, than they were the first time around. I would get so hot that I would almost pass out. I would start ripping off my clothes and my face would turn beet red. The hot would last about 10 minutes, and then I would start freezing! All of a sudden, I would start putting my clothes back on and piling on the blankets. These episodes would last about 30 minutes each and they would occur about 20 times a day. It seemed like all I did was strip and then pile on the blankets.
  8. Bowel problems – I guess I would have to say that this was the biggest fear of all. I had been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome 3 years prior and had been very sick for the last 3 years. I had just barely finally started making some progress in getting this disease under control. Now here I was, putting more poisons in my body, and I knew that my bowel system was not going to tolerate it. And boy, did I hit the nail on the head on this one. I got sicker and sicker as time went on. I was barely eating, but I probably would not have eaten even if I could have. What little I did eat wreaked havoc on my system on a daily basis. My body refused to expel my food, and it started backing up. I would go 4 to 5 days without a bowel movement. Of course, this made me deathly sick. The doctors kept trying to help me, but nothing seemed to work.
  9. Lack of appetite – I really, really struggled with this! I just was not hungry AT ALL! I was so sick that I had no attraction to food. Most of the time, the sight of it or the smell could cause me to start gagging.
  10. Food tastes like cardboard – This is an interesting symptom. In my case, I really dreaded this! I was afraid that if I was barely eating, if the food tasted like cardboard I might not eat at all. However, of all of the symptoms, this one really surprised me and my doctors.  Instead of food tasting like cardboard, my tastebuds erupted and food tasted absolutely DELICIOUS. Honestly, I had never tasted food and relished the taste as I did during cancer. My doctors said they had never heard of this. Thank God! Finally, something positive from all of this! And guess what? This symptom did not go away! Food still tastes absolutely heavenly!
  11. Light sensitivity – This is one symptom that I really struggled with. And, I continue to struggle with it. As soon as I started Chemo, my eyes became EXTREMELY sensitive to light. I had to sleep with something over my eyes at all times. Any light at all would make my eyes hurt. To this day, I am still struggling with this side effect. I sleep with something over my eyes at all times. When I first wake up and take off the cover, my eyes have a hard time adjusting to the daylight. Even during the day sometimes, my eyes are extremely sensitive to light.
  12. Exhaustion – This is another symptom that has been very hard for me to deal with. I am a Type A personality, and I constantly want to do things and accomplish things. During Cancer, the exhaustion was so overwhelming that I had a very hard time, in the beginning, getting used to the fact that I was going to spend at least a year doing absolutely nothing! Well, other than fighting for my life! Truth be told, I was so sick and so weak most days that I could not even fathom doing anything. It has taken me over 2 years of struggling. I am just now beginning to get my life back as I knew it before Cancer.
  13. Sleeplessness – I have covered this in several posts, but I will elaborate here also. From the very first moment that I was told I had Cancer, I could not sleep! My mind just would not stop with the “what ifs”. Sleeplessness is very unfortunate when you have Cancer. Your body needs every ounce of rest that it can get to try and heal itself while one is going through this awful ordeal. All of the stress and worry make this problem even more disasterous.  I cannot say this problem was worse than any of the others. When you combine 7 or 8 problems/symptoms, this disease can make your existence totally HELL!! I literally felt like I was living a nightmare, and was not sure I would ever get out of it. Sometimes I look back and I honestly do not know how I survived all of these problems!
  14.  Neuropathy – Thank Goodness! THIS IS ONE PROBLEM I DID NOT HAVE much problem with! I did get some temporary tingling in both of my hands and both of my feet. However, it was bothersome, but not devastating. I tolerated it for about 6 months, and then it slowly went away! Again, this is very unusual. Most people develop neuropathy and have it for the remainder of their lives. Neuropathy can also cause extreme burning, especially in the feet. Some people describe it as walking on hot coals. I am so thankful that I did not have a long term problem with this.
  15. Chemo Brain – This is the term given to what happens to your brain while undergoing Chemotherapy. I had no idea what a toll this would take on my brain. My Chemo Brain started almost immediately after I had my first chemo treatment. It is my understanding that the toxic drugs can have a temporary OR a more PERMANENT effect on the brain. Again, one has no idea what the outcome will be for each individual that goes through this. We all respond differently to the drugs, and that also applies to how they affect our brain.
  16. Lymphadema – this is a condition that arises for some cancer patients after surgery. When you have breast cancer, even at Stage 2, some lymph nodes will probably be removed from one’s armpit. When these lymph nodes are removed, it causes a problem for blood circulation in the armpit. Without the proper circulation, swelling can occur in the armpit and/or in the affected arm.
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