What Does Cancer And Treatment Really Feel Like?

I was asked one day by one of my family members what does cancer feel like?  Do I feel like I am dying?  Does it hurt?  What does chemotherapy feel like?  Will you know if you have cancer?  Here are 10 things I feel during treatment, just to enlighten everyone on what this journey actually feels like:

  1. The only pain I have experienced so far as a direct result of cancer is from my pleural effusion, which is fluid in my lung cavity (it’s not directly on my lung).  It’s not really “pain” per say.  It’s kind of discomfort.  I can feel something on the inside pushing against my rib cage.  Other than that, there were NO other symptoms, and this “pain” only just showed up after my second effusion, after surgery before chemo.
  2. Chemotherapy infusions themselves, doesn’t really hurt either.  It’s not without some discomfort though.  I find I get a little nauseated during the treatment, and I can taste the drugs that are infused, so I try to eat during my pre-drugs, because there isn’t nearly the bad taste or bad smell.  And normally after chemotherapy, I feel an internal burning sensation.  I liken it to heartburn only it’s in my abdomen.
  3. Chemotherapy is not like it is on television or the movies.  I do not spend days puking.  Basically, I take anti-nausea medications the day of, and three days after chemo.  I am able to eat somewhat normally– I just eat smaller meals.  I sleep a LOT, and I feel like I have the flu on day 2 and 3 after infusions.  This just means I have lots of body aches, am lethargic, and don’t really feel like being around people.
  4. Even though, I could have lost my hair, I am not completely bald.  I shaved it as a precaution.  My hair is thinner, but it is growing.  Same with my body hair.  I cannot get waxed, I cannot shave with a razor, but I can use Nair.  I avoid using it, because it burns me.
  5. Before I was diagnosed, deep down I knew that there was something amiss, but I could not put a finger on it.  The only symptoms I had before diagnosis were easily explained by something else.  I was tired, absolutely exhausted for no reason.  I figured it was stress.  I was hormonal.  I figured I was turning 40, because I had some hormone issues, I was pre-menopausal, or I was depressed from the recent death of my father.
  6. The sickest I felt so far was after I had the hysterectomy.  I was in a LOT of pain, I was suddenly rendered into menopause, and I was scared that the cancer was only going to get worse.  I did recover from the surgery.  If you take the side effects from treatment away, I feel more, or less, like I did prior to cancer with one minor exception.  The cancer grew into the uterer (the tube between the kidney and bladder), and I am in Stage One Renal failure.  I have stent placed, and that makes urination painful if I don’t drink enough water, or move around too much.  That will be removed in early April, and I can resume my normal activity.
  7. I did experience the grief cycle, sometimes I experience every step in the grief cycle in one day (LOL).  Right now, I am in the acceptance stage, but I find myself a lot of time in the angry stage.  I am angry at myself, angry that it had to be me, and a little resentful when I see people making bad choices and not suffering for them.  Then I feel guilty about the anger.
  8. Even though cancer is a bad thing, I see it as a good thing, too.  I have learned A LOT about myself, and how much I can endure.  It has really heightened my faith.  For a time I was agnostic Catholic, but I find myself believing more and more.  I have seen and experienced things that would make some of the most ardent questioners say, “OK, God, I get it, you are here.”  One of the things that was beyond my comprehension is while I was getting my surgery, I saw my dad.  He told me that everything was going to be OK.  Nurses and doctors have told me that people do NOT dream in surgery, and this is highly uncommon.  My doctor even said, “if your dad said it, then I believe you will be OK.”
  9. Also prayer works…  I am on all kinds of prayer lists for just about every Christian denomination, and on a prayer list in a Mosque and Jewish Temple.  You would be amazed that you feel those prayers.
  10. There have been some positive symptoms of cancer/chemotherapy/menopause.  Since the organs that I have caused PCOS were removed, I am now down to my goal weight.  My blood sugar is for the most part regulated (though after treatment I will be on a low-dose insulin the rest of my life).  Symptoms of ADD/Aspergers have been lessened as well.  I don’t have the compulsion to move like I did prior (and this could be the exhaustion/malaise from chemo).  I am also more focused, and can complete tasks that require some concentration.  I was going to go on ritalin, but right now the doctor says no.  I sleep better, and some of the depressive symptoms associated with ADD are gone.  Hopefully the good symptoms stick around a little bit longer.

This is what my cancer feels like.  The cancer experience is different for everyone, and just because I had no symptoms doesn’t mean someone else will feel the same way.  It is still can be a little bit terrifying, but for the most part it has been surreal.  I look forward to being done with treatment and moving on with my life.

Thoughts On Being 40…


Forty is a milestone birthday.  I vividly remember my mom’s 40th birthday.  I was 8-years-old.  My dad threw a huge surprise party for her.  My uncle and aunt had traveled “up north” from St. Louis.  My dad hired a singing telegram, my mom got several hundred gag gifts, including an anatomically correct puppet with a finger hole for the male part of his anatomy.  You put your hand in his butt, my mom quickly hid all the gifts before I could ask innocent questions about stuffing your hand up a puppet’s ass.  I moved away after my brother’s 40th, I sent my brother-in-law underlined copies of “Fifty Shades of Gray,” and I threw my husband a huge party (his usually lands around Superbowl and during Mardi Gras).

My 40th is a little bit lower key.  The only gift I care about receiving is the fact that my life has been spared (so far).  I went to lunch with my husband and had a glass of wine.  That’s about all I feel up for.  Other than that, there is nothing extraordinary going on here.  The kids are playing in the pool, my husband has a three hour rehearsal, and I’m worn out.  One of the squadron members is bringing dinner by, and I don’t think they are aware of the significance of the day, they just volunteered to cook for us (I am thankful, most days I don’t feel up to cooking).  There won’t be cake, or cupcakes this year.  The picture above are of the cupcakes from my dad’s birthday a few months ago.  I don’t feel much like celebrating.  My life has been on perpetual hold.

It kind of makes me sad.  Things are planned around chemo infusions and doctor’s appointments.  Dinner’s out are planned on scheduled “good days.”  Good days are defined by my ability to stave off fatigue for a few hours longer (usually I am about done around 4:00 PM), whether I will have nausea (1-3 days post-infusion), and what symptoms I am currently experiencing.  Sadly, I am sicker seeking treatment, then I ever was before seeking treatment.  It’s as if God snapped a finger, and my life changed.

If I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, we would have had a party, surrounded by friends and family.  I would have had a birthday cake, and opened a bunch of gifts from my husband and kids. Today is just another day in the 15 weeks in the fight for my life.


Bald Is Brave


When you have cancer there is not much in your control anymore.  It is especially frustrating when the treatments make you sicker than the disease. I had no symptoms before my diagnosis (in retrospect I had a few symptoms, but they were not anything that I couldn’t be explained by other conditions).  I have completely recovered from the surgery 6 weeks ago– with the annoying exception of the effects of my bladder/kidney stent.  I was by the doctor that under no uncertain terms that I would be losing my hair– the degree of hair loss is not certain.  I could maybe keep some of my hair, and have it thin, or I could be completely bald.

On the 12th, my first strands of hair came out.  There were a few strands on the pillow, and a few strands while I was washing my head.  I decided that my hair was something that I would control.  I wanted to take one thing in my life/health back.  My hair was the one thing I could control.  One Saturday night we had a little party in my bathroom.  My daughter did the honors.  I think she had a little bit too much fun shaving my head.  I think it was her little bit of revenge.  What daughter wouldn’t want to get back at their mother by shaving her head.

I thought I would cry through it, but I laughed.  I honestly had fun during the hair cut.  I felt free.  It was the first time in the last two months where I felt free and strong.  I posted the picture on my Facebook, and instead of getting comments confirming that I looked sick– like a cancer patient. I heard compliments like– “you look beautiful,” “you look fierce,” and “you look strong.”  I expected pitying looks when I went shopping, and there was none of that.  I feel so empowered, so strong, and I feel brave.  I am one step closer to getting my health back.

Two Treatments Down, Sixteen More To Go

Well, I am still alive and kicking.  The last two months have been a whirlwind.  The beginning of the New Year, I was preparing to train for Grandma’s marathon.  Starting to get ready for the half marathon I had in the middle of February, and was just going to multiple appointments getting my daughter diagnosed with ADD.  Fast forward to the first week of February, I now have cancer.  I had a 7-hour major surgery were cancer was removed from just about every organ in my abdomen, and I was starting chemotherapy.  Never in a million years, did I imagine that I would have been diagnosed with cancer, and never during the recovery of the surgery did I realize how quickly I would recover and how quickly chemotherapy would knock me out.

Now, I am two weeks into an 18-week treatment protocol.  The first week of chemo, the doctor delivered the surprisingly good news that I had survived the worst of it, and that I was probably going to be OK.  I didn’t feel OK.  I was achy, tired, and bordering between nauseous and starving.  Two weeks later, more side effects are starting to come out.  Last night I noticed that I have NO taste.  I cannot taste anything unless it is strong.  My tongue is completely numb.  Yesterday, a clump of hair fell out while I was in the shower.  I realize that this journey is going to be a fun one…  However, each day I wake up, and feel strong enough to write, go for a walk, or watch endless episodes of my favorite shows is a good day.  I hope to be back blogging soon, or working on my novel, or doing something other than thinking about cancer.  Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers!