Last updated: May 2021
When most people think of chemotherapy, they are under the general understanding that it makes cancer patients pretty sick. That’s how it’s portrayed in movies and that’s exactly what I expected to happen to me as I started undergoing treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma and to be fair, chemotherapy without a doubt made me very sick. The thing that caught me off guard though was how sick I got before an infusion even started. It turns out this preemptive sickness has a name: anticipatory nausea.
Why was I getting sick doing everyday things?
It’s amazing to me how strong our will to survive is, even when we don’t fully understand the defense mechanisms our bodies use. Anticipatory nausea is the body’s way of begging us to stop whatever it is we’re doing to ourselves because it knows it’s not good for us. It’s trying to make sure we stay alive. In most cases, if something makes you physically sick at the simple thought of it, chances are you’ll stop doing it. In mine and every other cancer patient’s case though, the thing that is causing us to get so sick is also saving our lives.
I wanted to share my experience with anticipatory nausea because it took me a while to figure out why I would get so sick doing everyday things. I felt like I was going crazy and I even put off bringing it up to my doctor because I couldn’t quite describe what, why, or how I was feeling the way I was. It wasn’t until I had a complete breakdown in my doctor’s office that I asked what in the world was wrong with me. It all started to make sense after that.
The days leading up to a chemo appointment were always tough. I would feel queasy for about three days prior to an appointment. It was like a double whammy. I already knew I was going to be sick for a week after chemo and this anticipatory nonsense was ruining the few good days that I had to feel like a normal human. I eventually learned to deal with that though. I found that if I kept myself busy, I didn’t have time to get sick.
Anything remotely associated with chemo made me sick
Thinking I outsmarted my own body, I continued to make sure the days before chemo were booked solid. Unfortunately, my body was finding new ways to try to keep me from poisoning myself.
I started to realize that the thought of anything remotely associated with chemo was making me sick. This included things like hand sanitizer, smoothies, and ice chips. During my first few infusions, my chemo nurse would have me eat ice chips to prevent mouth sores. It worked wonders but by the fourth treatment, I couldn’t stomach the thought of crushed ice anymore. At the time I couldn’t explain why, but all I knew was that I’d rather have mouth sores than even look at ice.
I still hate the thought of ice and I think smoothies are forever ruined for me. My mom and I would grab a green smoothie before my appointments, but to this day, the thought of a smoothie still totally grosses me out.
I’ll be forever grateful at my body’s will to survive though, even if it means giving up smoothies for the rest of my life.
Pro tip: Don’t bring anything you like to chemo!
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