Auditioning for the Exorcist: Chemo Side Effects and Moving on to a Better Role

If I could pick any movie genre to make special appearances in my life it would 100% be Romantic Comedy. Not horror. Definitely not horror. Unfortunately that’s totally the genre that showed up in the days following my first chemo.

I’ve never been so sick in my entire life as I was those few days. I remember laying on our bathroom floor and crying to Reed that something wasn’t right, this wasn’t right. How could this be right. I was supposed to be getting better. Turns out, it was likely just the BBQ Burger I ate after my first treatment more than anything else. (Hey, I don’t claim to ALWAYS make good choices.)

I learned an important lesson that day about what could be the worst part of chemo: the side effects. They vary from person to person, situation to situation. What follows is an overview of some of the side effects I experienced and how I managed through them to have a better chemo journey.

Before you read, a reminder that these are just my opinions and examples of what worked for me. I am not a doctor and this is by no way medical advice so please make sure to discuss what’s best for you with your doctor. 

Eating plainly, and often. It only took one BBQ Burger slip up for me to realize I needed to eat a fairly plain diet during chemo, that’s what my stomach could handle. Rice, bread, crackers, pita chips, roasted but unsalted almonds were staples during my treatment.

I also discovered that key to keeping my nausea at bay was never getting hungry (something that I could lean into as a serial snacker). As a result I carried bags of crackers or nuts with me literally everywhere I went during treatment. I had them in my purse, my desk, my car, the diaper bag. You name it. If I felt like I was getting even the slightest bit hungry I ate 2-3 crackers or a handful of nuts. This kept my stomach calm and allowed me to eat a little more adventurously (think: flavored rice, fruits and veggies).

Staying hydrated. No matter how much water you think you’re drinking, it’s likely not enough. There are equations out there designed to help you calculate how much you need but I suggest asking your doctor for their recommendation. When I did I learned that I wasn’t drinking nearly enough water and many of my aches, pains, ailments during chemo (and after, too, honestly) were a direct result of not being hydrated enough. To this day I carry my lucky purple water bottle nearly everywhere, and it’s why we put a good, reusable water bottle in every #bettereveryday chemo care tote, too.

Taking your (prescribed) meds. That sounds stupid, but it’s not as intuitive as you might think. I am the kind of person that fights off taking Tylenol for aches and pains so I convinced myself that I was ok without some of the side effect meds when the reality was that if I took them I was much more comfortable, felt much better and ultimately found myself much less dehydrated.

Embracing hair loss. More on this coming on the blog soon, but my advice if your chemo causes you to lose your hair is to trim it short before you begin treatment and shave it soon after you begin losing it. I found that made me much more comfortable in the long run.

Once I had shaved my head, I would get ingrown hairs on my scalp. I was told this was because I was on a 21 day cycle and my hair was actually starting to grow back between cycles, only to be stopped with the next round. I found that rubbing coconut oil on my bald head every other day or so helped to keep that at bay. What can’t coconut oil do, really? Right?

Being open and honest with your doctors. There’s a doctor in the practice where I received treatment – he’s not my doctor but he could stand in for mine in a heartbeat if she was ever out. I had to have called the after hours line a million and three times and he was usually on call. I don’t necessarily recommend making friends with the doctors by calling them early, late and often… but I do suggest calling them if something doesn’t feel right. Per above, every situation is different and you may not respond to a medicine the way they would think. Let them know how you’re feeling, being open and talking through how you feel physically and otherwise can help them better support you on this journey including making sure you have the right medicine to manage side effects.

It’s a strange plot twist, right? The medicines designed to make you  better, making you sick. But, if you pay close attention to what works/doesn’t for your body, are open with your doctors and take any meds prescribed to manage the side effects, you might just be able to avoid creating your own Exorcist Audition tape.

And remember: It’s a process, so be patient with yourself, your body and those supporting you and while I’d never compare a cancer journey to a fairy tale you may find yourself spending more time re-enacting ANY genre other than horror.

For me, thankfully, the BBQ burger-induced horror flick auditions days were the minority, and were followed by brighter days. I share this as a reminder that just like scenes in a movie end, stories move on, and those bad days it seems like they’ll never pass… they pass, too. Don’t believe me? This picture is the day after said BBQ incident: a much better role for me in every possible way.

Recovery

Wishing you a life that gets #bettereveryday,

Jess

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