I think sometimes when those outside the cancer world imagine what treatment is like they think we go in, have some chemo, take some photos dancing around our IV pole and then go home and rest for a few days…. And don’t get me wrong I’m one of those people who have taken a cheeky chemo selfie and donned numerous items of leopard print to get me through those loooooooong days in the chemo ward, it’s like armour for what is essentially ritual poisoning!
Treatment for cancer and the side effects are so much more than the actual cancer-fighting drug itself, there are literally drugs on top of drugs on top of drugs to manage the actual cancer drug’s delightful effects (incidentally if you’ve ever read the info that comes with chemo one of those is ‘can cause death’)… There are steroids… ahh the steroids, the wonder drugs that suppress the side effects so well and give you the energy to get through a couple of days after chemo (I once shampooed my lounge carpet by hand after a particularly large dose) but also long term have horrible horrible side effects – I am currently nursing Cushing’s syndrome, insomnia and the biggest face you’ve ever seen after a couple of months on steroids to help with symptoms of some very annoying brain Mets. Then there are antihistamines to stop you from having a reaction to the drugs, anti-sickness meds (which basically make you feel like you will never poo again). Drugs to make you poo, drugs to stop you pooing if it goes the other way, creams for your poor bum if you get in the I can’t ever poo again state, mouthwashes because chemo drugs ravage any cells that are fast multiplying so the mouth is like a field day for them, creams for your skin, creams for your scalp of your hair loss is painful, eye drops, drugs to protect your stomach lining, painkillers, and of course if you are really lucky and your poor bone marrow can’t cope gcsf injections you have to shoot into ‘ a fatty area’ every day which keep your blood counts up but also make everything hurt- like you’ve run a marathon.
I liken chemo, drugs, and their side effects to a leaky boat… you get a hole they patch it up with something, and then when that causes another hole, they patch it up with something else…. And as a stage 4 patient this literally never ends – we are on treatment for the rest of whatever life we have left… until the cancer gets too crafty or our bodies say no more.
My current chemo drug of choice is Capecitabine – a tablet chemo I take at home, which consists of 12 tablets every day for 2 weeks and then a week off (I love that the packet says don’t let anyone else come into contact with these tablets yet I merrily swallow them down!) … on top of that, I also have for the good old side effects.. omeprazole, loperamide, anti-sickness, oral thrush medication, multiple types of mouthwash, more creams than Boots for my feet and hands ( cape basically leaks out of the capillaries in your feet and hands and can make them peel and blister so I am never very far away from a tub of moisturiser), lactase enzyme (I am allergic to lactose and the tablets are full of it). I also take an anti-seizure drug and because of the steroid-induced insomnia have also been given enough zopiclone to knock out an elephant…. Both of which make me feel horribly woozy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for any drug that will give me more time in fact a lot of us stage 4ers spend time fighting for access to drugs that we are often denied because well a lot of Drs have written us off.
Cancer treatment is no fun. but needs must, right?? As someone with stage 4 cancer, what choice do we have?
Take all the drugs and hope for the best…. And keep patching up those holes.
By MetUpUK Member, Emma Hillier