Alva Review-Courier -

Chemo side effects under-explained

 

January 9, 2019



Once cancer is suspected, there’s a rush of tests to confirm it is cancer and learn the scope of the problem. That was certainly the situation for my husband Lynn.

His primary care doctor called us in and gave us the news that his biopsy showed cancer of the esophagus. He referred us to an oncologist in Oklahoma City. That was followed by three trips to the city in one week. From Tuesday to Friday he met with his oncologist, had a CT scan, had a chemo port put in, had an endoscopic scan, had a PEG tube (stomach feeding tube) installed, had a PET scan and met with a nutritionist. The following week he was scheduled for his first chemo treatment.

Cancer treatment is often likened to a battle. All the tests identify the battlefield and the enemy. The oncologist chooses his weapons based on the tests. These may include cutting (surgery), burning (radiation) or poison (chemotherapy). In Lynn’s case, the only option was chemo.

Lynn is a fast decider. As soon as a next step was mentioned, Lynn was ready to proceed. I hate being rushed and want time to gather information and study options. As Lynn’s treatments proceed, I spend a lot of time reading books and looking up information on the internet.

Chemo Side Effects

Recently I talked with an Alva woman who has experienced cancer. She mentioned that she felt the side effects of chemotherapy were not fully explained. Everyone is aware of the chance of losing their hair, but we generally expect it to come back. She said when her hair returned, it refused to grow more than a few scant inches.

Before receiving chemo, patients are given a mixture of drugs to combat nausea, inhibit the body’s response to a foreign substance and generally promote feeling good. This woman said they didn’t warn her that the effects of this mixture could give her so much energy she wouldn’t be able to sleep. She said she didn’t sleep for three days. When she was finally able to reach someone, she was told they should have made sure she had a sleeping pill available.

I knew what she meant. Lynn’s reaction to that pre-chemo cocktail was a need to work. After a long day in Enid meeting with his doctor and having chemo, he was energetic and wanted to go to the newspaper. Unfortunately, the chemo brain effect meant he didn’t always make sense when he tried to work. He would stop employees and give them instructions that just didn’t make sense.

Chemo brain was another of those under-explained side effects. The woman I talked to said five years after her chemo, she still has problems with short-term memory. Decisions she made on Monday have disappeared from her brain by Wednesday. She copes by making lots of notes.

Lynn was simply told, “You might experience chemo brain.” After nine chemo treatments, he finds it impossible to focus and concentrate. He can no longer read books or magazines. He’s even lost interest in reading our newspaper. TV newscasts or game shows can hold his attention because everything is in short segments. He can’t concentrate on any TV show with a plot or storyline. Once chemo is over, we’re left to wonder how much of his brain power will return.

The American Cancer Society website (cancer.org) has a list of common side effects of chemo. These include fatigue; hair loss; easy bruising and bleeding; infection; anemia; nausea and vomiting; appetite changes; constipation; diarrhea; sores and pain in the mouth, tongue and throat; nerve and muscle problems such as numbness, tingling and pain; skin and nail changes; urine and bladder changes and kidney problems; weight changes; chemo brain; mood changes; changes in libido and sexual function; and fertility problems.

Another Book

As I’ve mentioned in a previous column, I’m reading a lot about cancer. It’s one way I cope with new problems in my life. The lady I talked with loaned me a book she found helpful. Like “The Emperor of All Maladies,” this book gives a history of cancer research and discoveries. However, it is much more reader-friendly. It tells of the more recent direction taken by some researchers who see cancer as a metabolic disease and recommends a keto diet to starve cancer. “Tripping Over the Truth” is authored by Travis Christofferson.

I believe this sentence from the book sums up the role of chemo: “Chemotherapy was a new form of healing that was designed to tear the body down and then allow it to heal.”

Update on Lynn

Since Lynn’s last chemo treatment the week before Christmas, he’s experienced debilitating weakness and fatigue. He sleeps most of the time. He even falls asleep while I’m feeding him through his stomach tube. He has continued to lose weight. He rarely eats any food by mouth.

With Lynn falling asleep during tube feedings, I’ve been able to increase the amount of liquid supplements without his protesting. I’m hopeful we can at least stop the weight loss.

He finds walking to be a chore and has fallen several times, even while using a walker. He tends to just sit or lie there until I can arrive to help him up.

Because Lynn hasn’t recovered as much as in past chemo treatments, I delayed his next treatment by one week. He’s now scheduled for chemo in Oklahoma City today (Jan. 9). We’re still waiting for the promised PET scan appointment to be scheduled to see what progress has been made.

 

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