Cold, Flu, Covid-19 -- or Chemo?

Here we are, nearly three years after the start of the pandemic. As far as I know, I have not been infected with Covid-19. I have taken every available vaccine and booster, along with two doses of Evusheld. My oncologist says I have as much armor as a myeloma patient with a compromised immune system can.

Still cautious about Covid

While not as socially isolated as many of us were during the first year, I am still cautious. Avoiding large indoor social gatherings and wearing an N95 mask to stores and clinics still seems like a good idea, especially during the cold winter months here in Minnesota.

My overall risk of catching Covid-19 or another virus is probably pretty low. But leaving the house for doctor appointments and errands brings its fair share of risks. I also live with my son who attends high school and likely brings home more than just homework.

So on days when I feel particularly crappy, I tend to suspect something other than side effects. I find myself looking online to discern whether my symptoms might be cold, flu, or Covid-related.

My oral chemo and Covid-19 share many symptoms

Many of the symptoms listed on those charts are also side effects of my maintenance drug, Revlimid (which I refer to as oral chemo but is technically not chemotherapy). No wonder I’ve taken so many rapid Covid tests over the last few years. Both Revlimid and Covid-19 are known to cause fatigue, cough, fever, congestion, runny nose, shortness of breath, nausea, diarrhea, headache, and body aches. 1,2

My main side effect has always been fatigue, and I am used to it as much as a person can be. But when several of the other side effects come on stronger than usual, I reach for a rapid Covid test. Even though I have never tested positive, I have taken more than my fair share of tests – and it has not been just for fun or curiosity.

If I were to contract Covid-19, I would want to catch it early enough for an antiviral or monoclonal antibody treatment (let’s hope they develop new ones for the new strains). My doctor has explained that those treatments could help prevent serious complications, especially in those of us with weakened immune systems.

Missing the days of temporary illness

But as much as I don’t want the flu or Covid-19, there is also a part of me that wants my symptoms to be something other than cancer- or chemo-related for a change – something temporary and curable.

Five years ago, when I was coming down with a bug, I took a couple of days off of work and snuggled up with a cozy blanket and a good book or movie. I knew it was just a temporary glitch in the system, and I’d be back at it in no time. How I miss those days!

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that such a low dose of maintenance medication could be causing ongoing viral-like symptoms. And many of us with multiple myeloma will take these medications for the rest of our lives.

Still, I feel fortunate for so many reasons. Even with all the symptoms and side effects, I am still here to enjoy my life and the things and people I love. I miss my former, more robust immune system, but I am grateful for the new appreciation my current one has given me for all I once took for granted. Both blood cancer and the pandemic have taught us that life is short, unpredictable, and incredibly precious. I am happy to test positive for that!

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