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.

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