Category Archives: Treatment side effects

Broccoli…

Growing up, I would’ve rather lit my fingernails on fire and given myself a back scratch than eat broccoli.  We were a french fries and canned green beans sort of family, but for balance, we sometimes put cream cheese on celery and went to town.  My point is that I didn’t grow up loving vegetables.  I loved fruit, but vegetables had no place on my preference card.

At some point shortly after I moved to Chicago and started truly making food choices for myself, I took a long hard look at how I’d eaten for the first 23 years of my life and decided that I had no idea how I was even alive. Right then and there, I went to the grocery store and bought actual raw produce. Crazy, I know.  I even made it a goal to try as many new foods as possible.  I swore off fast food, and a new me was born.

A few favorites surfaced on my search for fresh nutritional goodness- I fell hard for pineapple, red peppers, and Bermuda onions.  I will say, though, that I have never really enjoyed broccoli. The first time I had it, I dipped it in BBQ sauce to mask the flavor- true story.  Eventually I grew to appreciate it and found some healthier ways to make it palatable.  It was a simple vegetable that I could add to a lot of different dishes, and it quickly became a staple on my grocery list. I wouldn’t go near it if it was raw, but if it was steamed or grilled or sauteed, I was in.

                 

Throughout my treatment, I’ve had several food aversions.  This time around, the aversion is vegetables, particularly broccoli.  I look at other vegetables and think, Someday I’ll enjoy you again. But when I see broccoli, I literally want to gag.  The smell, the shape, the little balls… it all grosses me out. I would be interested in talking with a specialist about food attachments, cravings, and aversions to find out why particular foods set me off during treatment.  I don’t know if such specialists exist, and if not, they should. I think it’s fascinating.

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Going Bald in Baby Steps

The thought of being hairless was both appealing and frightening. Ultimately, if it meant that I got to be alive to be pissed about being bald, then let the hair fall out! But the truth was that I wasn’t choosing any of this, and so far I had very few superficial indicators that I had cancer. If I could just lose every hair from the mustache down, I would be one happy girl! I’d worked hard to grow my hair out… 3 years! I wanted it to be healthy and long enough to cover my boobs (not sure why this particular landmark was chosen, but chosen it was). By the time the docs told me that I would lose my hair with the new treatment, my hair was about 3 inches from my goal. Of course, right?

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I grappled with this for weeks. I don’t view myself as being overly feminine. I don’t generally wear a lot of make-up or jewelry, and my t-shirts and jeans are only occasionally relieved by a dress, so my hair was what I’d come to rely on as my one girly anchor. After talking with several female survivors who had braved the bald, I decided that I was taking back the control.

The first time my hair started to fall out more than usual, I was in the shower. Up to that day, it was normal for a few hairs to be on my hands when I was shampooing. But that day, the more I pulled on it, the more it came out. I giggled like a kid on Christmas. The chemo was working! If my hair was falling out, that meant that the chemo was in there killing something, so it must also be killing the cancer!

I had an appointment with a stylist a week after that to get a pixie cut, but I wanted to donate my hair and was afraid that too much would fall out before the appointment. I wanted to donate as much as possible, so that night I had my friend Corry cut my hair into a swing bob. This was a variation on a look I’d donned for years and also the shortest I’d ever dared to go.

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This style lasted exactly 2.5 days. Then I waltzed into a salon I’d never seen but that came highly recommended, and sat down in front of a woman I’d never met but who knew my story. I showed her the picture of the style I wanted and explained, “This is the style I want, but don’t stress over it too much, I’ll just be shaving it in a week!” She washed it, snipped it, styled it and was done. She was so fast, and it was so good! I absolutely loved it! I thought for sure I was going to look like a dude, but I was wrong. I looked chic and trendy and HOT! It will definitely be worked into the rotation once all my hair grows back.

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At some point, for some reason, it became clear to me that I needed to have a Mohawk. I’m definitely a Mohawk kind of girl but honestly lack the gumption to ever commit to anything like that… until, of course, it was just going to fall out anyway! Once my hair started to seriously go (which was only a few days after the pixie cut), I called another stylist friend of mine and had her create my next favorite style.

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This awesomeness lasted one whole day, and then it was time to shave it. The sides were already done with a one guard, and the top was falling out en mass anyway, so it shouldn’t have been such a big deal. But it was. Joe started to shave my head, and I took over at some point, then he finished it off. I stood there in shock as I watched my hair fall to the ground around me. No longer was this a fun hair cutting extravaganza. I was being robbed of choice. I couldn’t put a happy spin on it anymore. This was really happening. When it was all said and done, I looked in the mirror. I looked back at Joe and burst into tears. I was bald. And it was horrible.

ImageOk, it wasn’t so horrible. But I was cold all the time! Never again will I criticize the follicularly challenged for their lack of heat retention capabilities. Also, I was BALD! Two weeks prior, I had long hair! Ugh… anyway, we shaved it with a no guard, so whatever hair was still there could be seen, and I looked a little mangy. So about a week later, we shaved it again. This time with a man’s face shaver.

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I like this a lot better. It looks more even. Now my eyelashes have started to go. BUT! My eyebrows are still holding on strong. Was there ever any doubt? I’ve spent every day since my 12th birthday agonizing over the grooming of these Mediterranean beasts… trimming and waxing and plucking and threading. My how the tables have turned! Please stay in. You look so nice up there on my forehead. Good eyebrows. Yes, I talk to my eyebrows.

There was one other gigantic breakdown about my hair, or hairlessness as it were. It happened after a day at the mall. It was the first time I’d noticed people noticing me. Let me be clear- this was not the frat boy rubber necking I’d grown used to. No, no. This was awkward staring quickly followed by looking away unnaturally. Children didn’t even bother with the latter part. My self esteem was faltering, and that was foreign to me.

Thankfully, I recovered quickly, getting cozy with the fact that I don’t have hair today and probably won’t any time soon. I don’t like it, and I still forget that it’s gone. I reach back to take out my ponytail regularly, and, from time to time, I’m startled by my naked scalp when I look in the mirror. It’s temporary, though. And some day, this will all be a distant memory.

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It’s Getting Hot in Here

Well, it’s official… I’m going through premature menopause.  Yep… that’s right.  My body thinks it’s an old lady.  I have news for you, body. You’re still only 31, and it’s time you start acting like it!

I met with my reproductive endocrinologist today to read the labs I had drawn last week.  I’m a bit anemic, my thyroid looks good, and everything else was screaming “YOUR OVARIES DON’T WORK ANYMORE!!!” Yea, thanks. I had no idea… I thought the whole me randomly catching on fire from the inside thing was a sign of virility. No? Oh, those are hot flashes? Awesome.

So, for those of you who have never experienced a hot flash, let me break it down for you.  Imagine yourself sitting in a movie theater.  You have on a jacket because, as is typical with movie theaters, it’s chilly in there.  Shortly after the previews start to roll, it feels like you’ve lit yourself on fire from the inside.  You take off the jacket. A sweat ‘stache sprouts on your upper lip. Every square inch of your skin is suddenly clammy.  It’s literally all you can do to not rip every stitch of clothing from your body and throw your naked burning self onto the cool concrete floor.  But don’t let anyone see that you feel like you’re inside an incinerator. No, that would be embarrassing.  And by the end of the first preview, you have your jacket back on because everything has returned to normal.  That is what a hot flash is like.  I’ve learned to dress in layers.

When I was in Germany recently, it was hard to sleep some nights because of the hot flashes.  I’ve always put off a lot of heat when I sleep anyway, and my inferno husband just adds to the madness.  So when I had a hot flash at night, it was absolutely brutal.  I must have been a nightmare to sleep with.

But I’ve decided to make nice with the fire raging inside my body. That is to say that I’ve decided to squelch it.  I’m going on hormones. It’s like birth control, but less hormones, and having absolutely nothing to do with preventing pregnancy.  No, no. We’re not trying to prevent pregnancy at this point. Quite the opposite.

Long story somewhat shorter… I get to be on hormones for as long as I don’t want to go through menopause- probably the next 20 years or so.  There are a lot of benefits and some health risks, but those seem minimal.  And there are more health risks if I don’t go on hormones.  In short, the hormones make the menopause go away, and that’s the desired outcome.

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The (In)tolerable

I’m almost 8 weeks out of active treatment.  This means that I’m further away from treatment than I spent in treatment.  While my emotions are still reeling, other aspects of me have settled back into what I consider normal.  I was an absolute freak about some things, and the awesome part is that I couldn’t have cared less what people thought in regards to said freakiness.  My utter distaste for and disapproval of certain things was made vocal without hesitation and with complete lack of anything resembling tact.  It was a matter of life or death that these things be removed from my immediate presence… pronto.

Here are a few of those things:

Meat, especially large chunks of it. I was a tad more tolerant of tiny pieces of meat if it was hidden in a casserole or something, but that was mostly because my nutritionist insisted that I eat as much protein as possible.  Otherwise, I would’ve preferred meat be as far away from me as humanly possible (except that for several weeks all I wanted was a spicy chicken sandwich from Wendy’s, but I was too afraid that the spice would hurt my mouth… more on that in a few…).

My water bottle– I had just gotten it shortly before treatment started. I even put a LIVESTRONG band around it as inspiration to stay strong. But something about the signature Camelback mouth piece grossed me out. That thing lived hidden in a cabinet for two months. I wouldn’t use it. I drank out of plastic water bottles and wouldn’t reuse those either… Bleh.

Soup. Ugh, gag me. I tried it at the beginning because ordinarily I’m a soup fan. And my thinking was that it would be easy to eat and would help with hydration. Nope. All that food swimming around together- even now as I remember my feelings about soup back then my face is twisted with disapproval.

Eggs, prepared any way you can think of.  Initially I was fine with them, and I was excited that I had a source of protein that didn’t totally repulse me. Then one day, I set the egg sandwich down and walked away. Away. I think I told my dad that “I just can’t do it anymore.” That was the end of eggs. I would actually say that next to the ‘large chunks of meat’ thing, eggs were the most disgusting thing imaginable. And to add to it:

The smell of eggs cooking. My dad is an avid egg eater.  I had to be in my room with the door closed if he was going to cook them. That smell made me want to pick up my skinny butt and haul it across town.

The smell of almost any other food cooking, especially meats.

The smell of all things fragranced… including lotions, body washes, air fresheners, and candles burning.  I actually took the air freshener out of my car in repulsion and laid it on the driveway as I was heading out one day. I got it on the way back in several hours later and hid it in the basement (months later, the basement still smells delightful).

– Sort of related, but not really, I couldn’t eat anything salty because the chemo caused small sores to develop on my tongue.  Everything’s saltiness was amplified by about 450%. I learned this one day when I had a craving for tortilla chips… it was a sad, sad day.

OK, I didn’t actually think I was going to die from any of those things, but I did get panicky if they were around me, and I would literally leave the table if a slab of meat was anywhere on it (this made going out to eat an adventure for us all).

On the other hand, there were things that I ate during treatment that I hadn’t eaten in years- either because my tastes had changed or because I knew better… you’ll understand what I mean in a minute…

– Jello

– Kraft Mac & Cheese… yes, the stuff in the blue box with the cheese powder packet

– Canned peaches

– Baked potatoes with cheese

– Any kids cereal… this is one of two things I can say with certainty that I would eat an abundance of.  I would easily take down 3 bowls in a sitting (in sharp contrast to the measly two and a half ravioli I had to force down my throat).

Other things I either craved or tolerated well:

– Apple Sauce, this is the other food I could’ve eaten all day every day.

– Bananas

– Soy yogurt

– Soy milk, in my sugary cereal

– Grapes, although towards the end of chemo I had a hard time with these… the acid was too much for my tongue

As far as I can tell, things are back to normal (I’ve even gained 6 pounds!), though I haven’t had soup since then. And I dug out my water bottle- it is my constant companion.

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