One of the most common questions I got after completing chemotherapy was, “Do you feel better after chemo?” Honestly, no. At least not physically.
Am I supposed to? Is it supposed to?
Physically, I felt the best after the colon surgery, before starting chemotherapy. I felt so much more energetic. I didn’t realize how much energy the tumor was taking from me.
I knew prior to chemotherapy that it’d be a treatment that will change a lot of things or nothing at all — something I’d never find out since it’s an adjuvant treatment. But I decided to take that precaution anyway.
I’ve busted lots of chemo stigmas and learned some hard truths myself.
I think three of the most challenging things for me from this chemotherapy were: (1) emotional roller coaster, (2) unexpected hair fall, and (3) unexpected long term side effect.
Emotional Roller Coaster
12 rounds of feeling normal for a day, irritable for 2 days, zombie-fied for 4 days, chirpy for a week, repeat. And as I progressed into the treatment, almost every round became longer so before the next normalcy came, I was anxious and tired.
It was challenging because every time I felt I have my world in my hands again, the feeling of empowerment got crushed. Call me naive or what but I always started every chemotherapy cycle feeling I’d be able to conquer it better this round. No surprise, I ended up feeling defeated every time.
Unexpected Hair Fall
When you’re sick, you don’t want to be in the rare category because it’s scarier there. So when only less than 10% of FOLFOX chemotherapy patients experience hair thinning, I was definitely terrified.
Terrified because I’m in the minority.
Terrified because I see a part of me physically leave me every single day for about 7 cycles (16 weeks). I know it also meant that the drug was doing its job but it just bothered me because it’s visually implanted through my eyes and in my brain.
Unexpected Long Term Side Effect
I don’t remember if I was made aware of any long term side effects prior to the treatment. I didn’t think I would still need to cope with after effects of chemotherapy for years after treatment…until a week before my final cycle.
A month after my last treatment now, I don’t feel the numbness on my hands and legs getting better. It started from tingling fingers and toes. Then to tingling feet. And to numb hands and legs now.
I find it difficult because I feel it every single second of my life, and especially more when I move.
I had mild fever yesterday and I think it made my numbness so much worse, comparable to the tiredness I get from a fresh dose of chemotherapy.
And I’m supposed to get used to this for a couple of years… I just hope I’ve reached the tipping point because I don’t want this to get any worse.
I want to feel alive and not injure myself because I can’t feel myself…
Back to my first topic, “do I feel better (emotionally) after chemotherapy?” I try to.
I try to think that’s it’s all worth it. I hope it really is.
But deep inside, I know that only clear follow up scans can build my confidence over time.
Because as ironic as it may sound, I learned that I’ve become more afraid during my battle to be strong against something called the Big-C.
I’ve become afraid of being normal because I’m afraid my body is too weak for normal.
Hoping that my first scan in 10 months will give me the reassurance I need.
For the record, I want to say that the 12 cycles of chemotherapy felt really long and dreadful during the treatment. However, almost immediately after I completed it, I felt like the 6 months flew past in the blink of an eye. It felt like nothing. Strange. But true.
I also wrote about thoughts on chemotherapy pre-treatment 7 months ago.