What Does Chemo Feel Like?

Over five years, I had cancer three different times. The first and second times, it showed up as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and the third time as large B-cell lymphoma. I had multiple treatments, which included radiation and chemotherapy. It wasn’t fun, but it saved my life. I had wondered at the time what both would feel like. Some things I had expected, but some surprised me.

The radiation

My levels of radiation were significantly small. My doctors wanted to use the smallest dose possible since it was on my face. So I did get some redness and sensitivity, but it honestly wasn’t too bad. Although now, I find that I have more texture around my T–Zone, redness, and if I get burnt or wash my face the wrong way, it can feel like I got a sunburn and it stings.

The chemo

Chemotherapy was the treatment that was the worst for me. I had R-CHOP specifically which consisted of a strange cocktail of medicines in an IV and a pill that was a steroid (Prednisone).

The side effects

Nausea

My first side effect I noticed was nausea. I had it horribly. I threw up after every appointment almost immediately. It made it hard to want to eat, but if I didn’t, I felt worse. The steroid made me gain a lot of weight, which made it harder to move around.

Hair loss

The second thing I noticed was hair loss. I first started losing hair in my pubic area. I was using the bathroom and when I went to clean it just fell out onto the toilet paper. It was a very strange day. Then the hair on my head started falling out. I became extremely tender headed. I had asked my friend to help me wash my hair since my port could not get wet. He went to shampoo my head and I yelped in pain. It felt like every root of every hair follicle had been pulled by someone trying to rip it out. I assume it was the hair dying but I’m not sure.

GERD

It became very hard to sleep for more than three hours at a time. I developed GERD which is when you eat and the food goes up your esophagus instead of down. It was like an extreme version of acid reflux. I think I remember feeling it in my chest. Like when you are running in the cold air and it starts burning in your chest when you’re out of breath. My upper arms also hurt. It felt like someone took a balloon air pump, hooked it up to the muscles in my upper arms and pumped them up to the point of bursting but they wouldn’t burst. I was prescribed medication for my nausea and GERD but unfortunately they didn’t help much. I think the one for GERD might have actually made it worse. I stopped taking it.

Fatigue

Of course I have to mention the fatigue. That came with having cancer to begin with but having the chemotherapy on top of it made me not want to do much of anything. I basically stayed in bed for 6 months which wreaked havoc on my lower back muscles, I had to go to PT after I was in remission because they deteriorated. (Walk or move around if you have chemo, you’ll thank yourself later!) My immune system was basically non existent so having colds was 100 times more dramatic. They lasted weeks and made me feel like a word I probably can’t write here. But it begins with “S”. I had no energy. I wanted to do things with friends, but then again I didn’t. I hermited myself away for a year. Looking back now I wish I hadn’t but at the time it was the most comforting thing for me. At least I thought so, but it made my depression worse.

If you’re about to get treatment, please don’t let this scare you. While it was a crappy ride, I also could have done a lot more to make it more bearable for myself. I just didn’t know how to at the time. But you have this site and community. We’re here for you :)

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Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.
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