Chemo Isn't That Bad Of A Guy, He Just Plays One On TV
Chemo. We’ve all seen it on TV and in the movies so many times that many of you, like me, used it as our treatment measuring stick when we first were told we had lymphoma or myeloma or leukemia or whatever form your particular disease took. I just assumed I was in store for everything I’d seen on the screen, and it was terrifying. Being bedridden, puking constantly, losing all my hair, having Anne Hathaway take care of me – I dreaded it all. You can imagine how shocked I was when I found out how different the reality of the illness was.
That day is seared into my brain
I still remember, as many of you probably do, the minutes before and after the first time they told me I had lymphoma. It’s seared into my brain, I can picture it in my head even now and I probably will be able to until the day I die. I had been moved into a private room on the swanky celebrity floor of the Manhattan hospital I was being treated in. It wasn’t because I was famous or anything, but originally, they thought I was going to require a surgery called the Whipple procedure.
Now, I know that it sounds light and airy like an old man who squeezes the Charmin, but it’s actually a serious procedure. It connects your duodenum to your lower intestine which is in turn connected to your liver and then your kidneys via a piece of your upper intestine and gall bladder which finally ends up connected to a flux capacitor. OK, you got me… there’s no gall bladder. The point is it’s not something to be taken lightly. So, they give you a private room (my guess is so that you don’t have a roommate to smell your guts literally coming out your... well, you get it.) The day before the surgery was to happen, though, another oncologist came in and as he walked towards my bed said, “Good news! It’s lymphomaaaaa!” and than I spent two weeks having the surgeon yell at me to have the oncologist take me off his service.
Yup, like I had gone to see Oprah and she started shouting, “You get cancer and you get cancer, everybody gets cancer!!” The doctor came strutting in like I was pregnant and lymphoma was what we had all been pulling for. “Is it a boy or a girl?? Better! It’s lymphoma!” The only thing I could think to say at the time was, “Doc, I don’t think you and I have the same definition for good news.” Ironically, after all was said and done, it was actually good news, just don’t tell my oncologist I said that.
Things weren't quite how I thought they'd be
Immediately after I received my diagnosis I began to head into the old memory palace, which, admittedly, was a little run down at the time. I wanted to dig out all the files I had up in the ol’ noggin that pertained to chemo and cancer treatment. It didn’t look good. Constant vomiting, fatigue, spending days in bed, losing vast amounts of weight, it was a bleak slideshow of horror. If the show ER had thought me anything though, it’s that the power of positive thinking and a ridiculously handsome doctor was all I needed to make it through. Unfortunately, at the time all I could find was a less than optimistic outlook and a moderately attractive PA. I was screwed. After three weeks of equivocating and hospital politicking, I finally got my first dose of chemo.
I expected the worst – full-on puke your guts out nausea, less energy than an old 9-volt battery you found at the back of the junk drawer, and an appetite that a supermodel during Fashion Week would envy. After all, that’s what daddy TV and mommy Movies had raised me to believe and I didn’t know any better. Turns out, though, things aren’t quite how they show them on screen, chemo isn’t that bad of a guy, it only plays one on TV.
Most of the possible side effects of chemo didn’t scare me. I wasn’t thrilled about hair loss, and I wasn’t over the moon about not having an appetite, but nausea, oh boy. Me and nausea get along about as well as the Real Housewives of anywhere after six glasses of pino grige. That’s when my oncologist told me I didn’t have to have nausea. They had these wonderful medicines now that work to control the nausea. I said, “but, but, but, the handsome man in the white coat on the tiny screen told me I would be vomiting constantly!”
It wasn't as bad as I was expecting
Of course, it wasn’t like it was on TV and in the movies, it was much less awful. Sure, I had some issues with mouth sores at first, but that was due to an overgrowth of candida due to the prednisone. It was easily solved with a week of antifungals. Yes, I had hair loss, and that sucked because I really didn’t have much to lose in the first place but guess what? After chemo ended, I used a special shampoo and foam and more hair came back than I had before cancer! Imagine that. As for appetite loss, well, I actually used my cancer as an excuse to buy a deep fryer and deep fry anything I could fit into that glorious vat of hot oil. Chicken, potatoes, fish sticks, other chicken – it was a fry fest and I loved it. What I’m saying is that things weren’t end-of-the-world awful, and that made it bearable.
I know those of you who are about to start or who have just started chemo are scared and you don’t know what to expect. It’s normal, but please know that in my experience and the experience of those I met along the way, chemo was never as bad as TV and movies told us it was going to be. By the way, still waiting on that call from Anne Hathaway... Talk soon.
Did you ask yourself "why me?" when you were first diagnosed with blood cancer?