Two Down - Four to Go

Having been through 2 of my 6 chemotherapy treatments for blood cancer, I  am slowly getting some understanding of what to expect and how to manage the side effects. Candidly, the first treatment of chemo was tough. My white blood count dropped to ZERO. The Neulasta treatment (an on-body injector secured to my arm that automatically administers a drug 24 hours after chemo to help you build up white blood cells) took much longer to work than expected – making both my doctor MD and I a bit nervous.

As my white blood count slowly increased, I found myself facing a new challenge – a severe form of constipation the likes of which I had never seen before. The impact of the chemo drugs basically shut down my system and the cure required hospitalization. You know it is serious when a GI surgical team comes into the emergency room and tells you they are standing by for surgery should my colon burst. The odd part of all of this was that I did not feel any pain, nor swelling, nor did I have any idea it was as bad as it was.

I didn't realize how bad the side effects were

While at home, it became obvious that my tried and true remedies were not working well. While I was concerned, all I can say is unless you have experienced this phenomenon, it is hard to understand how fast it happens and how fast you are in trouble. I had no idea that I was totally blocked but deep down knew that prune juice was not going to work.

The doctor in the ER told me the procedure I needed was like a colonoscopy and added he hoped the procedure would remove most if not all of the impacted materials. It did not. The day after my clean out I was given a significant quantity of magnesium citrate to finish the task. While I was good for a while, just three weeks later, I found myself back in the hospital for the same situation thanks to the chemo drugs. Fortunately, this time the blockage was minor and magnesium citrate cleared up the issue.

Having been through this twice I was not too anxious to repeat the process nor the fun of drinking the magnesium citrate. I learned that it takes time for your system to adjust to all of this. After a while, you as "the patient" develop a sense of what is working and what is not.

Preparing for future chemo treatments

Currently, I am looking at undergoing chemo treatment number three. This time I should be better prepared in advance. To that end, I am taking aggressive precautions to ensure that no blockage will occur.

I wanted to go into some detail on this topic that many avoid in the hope of helping someone who might be facing chemo in the future. The drugs used can cause diarrhea and nausea, or nausea and constipation, or nothing, or something totally different.

Unfortunately, the only way you will know how the drugs will impact you appears to be that you must go through an initial treatment so you and your physician can gain some understanding of how your body will react.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation just understand that home remedies may not be enough. Chemo drugs are significant, and chances are pretty good you will be impacted in some way. No matter how you look at this, it is a balancing act. It has taken me several weeks to learn this and it is my hope that this article may be of some use.

Best of luck and remember to speak up and to be flexible as you undergo any form of chemotherapy for blood cancer.

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