What I Wish I'd Known When Chemo Started
As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” When I finished chemo in February 2011, I knew a lot more than when I walked in for my first infusion 4 months earlier. I had learned things about myself and about cancer that I had never expected to learn. Because, of course, at the beginning, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Now that I look back, here are some of the things I wish I had known as I started chemo:
Don’t cling to any one test result or prognosis.
Cancer cases tend to change. Doctors may give you a prognosis and treatment plan after the first image or biopsy, but then change the prognosis or treatment after gaining more information about your cancer from further testing. After diagnosis, I kept telling myself that my cancer was stage I, no chemo needed, so no big deal. I was angry, then, when further tests revealed that the genetics of my cancer made it more serious, and that chemo would need to be added to the treatment plan. Looking back, what I saw at the time as “bait and switch” was simply medical professionals responding to new information. That’s just the way medicine progresses sometimes. Expect it.
Don’t freak yourself out with chemo horror stories. Each chemo experience is unique.
First, I flipped out because of the portrayals of chemo that I’d seen in the movies. Then, I flipped out again when I went to a support group meeting and met women already going through chemo. As they discussed their suffering and fear and side effects, I felt sure that my chemo experience was going to be just like that.
It wasn’t. Everyone’s chemo experience is completely different. In that support group meeting, I listened to a woman who had endured multiple hospitalizations because her immune system had been compromised. She was so sick that sometimes the docs had to postpone her infusion to give her time to get a little stronger. Another woman said she didn’t want to eat because everything tasted like metal to her. Yet another said she was struggling with itchy skin rashes.
None of these things ended up happening to me. Different things did, and they weren’t fun. But they weren’t as bad as I’d feared, either. Remember that each body reacts differently to particular drugs. You may have a tough time, or you may not. The best thing to do is wait and see.
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