People prepared me for many things about cancer, but the long-term side effects were not among them. I was living with the false preconceived notion that side effects would happen along the way, but once I was done with chemo, I’d be healthy and back to normal.
First off, what’s normal anymore? Second, boy was I wrong.
After 12 rounds of ABVD chemotherapy, I was gifted with many long-term side effects. I call them “chemo kisses.” They are my everyday reminders of what I’ve been through and where I am going. In this column, I list the side effects that I have personally experienced. As you read this, please keep in mind that we all experience chemo differently, and some side effects that I have endured may never appear in your life!
1. PTSD: S many things in everyday life trigger thoughts of how I felt during chemo. Whether a water bottle or an article of clothing I wore at the time, the sight of these things automatically lead to a nauseous sensation.
2. Reynaud’s: If you are unfamiliar with Reynaud’s phenomenon, the basics of this condition are that it stops the blood flow to small arteries such as are found in fingers and toes. This occurs when the affected areas get colder than normal. I experience this in the cold section of the grocery store or anytime it hits below 60 degrees (15.5 Celsuis) outside. My fingers and toes turn white and become numb. This and neuropathy are very common long-term side effects of chemo.
3. Change in taste buds: This side effect begins to occur during treatment, and never really went away. Nineteen months have now passed since chemo, and I am still extremely sensitive to salt and can taste even the smallest amounts in all that I eat. I loved many things before chemo that I don’t ever want to eat again (chocolate chip cookies are not my friend).
4. Geographic tongue: This probably explains my funky taste buds, but my tongue is super patchy and white most of the time! I thought I had tongue cancer for a good week or so.
5. Fatigue: Self-explanatory, and so real. It’s not the normal tired that someone feels after a long day of work. It’s chronic, and I experience it as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.
6. Chest pains: This one is tough. It was what led to a lot of my diagnosis with not just cancer but also blood clots and bleomycin toxicity. I still experience chest pain because of a hiatal hernia, acid reflux, and bleomycin toxicity. Trying to differentiate these pains and cancer has been a tough one in terms of PTSD and thinking that the cancer is back.
7. Bleomycin stripes: Bleomycin is the gift that keeps on giving. I now have a bunch of dark lines all over my body that get darker and darker in the sun.
8. Poor eyesight: I have seen a significant decrease in my vision since being treated. I now have prescription glasses and am still hoping that this is reversible.
9. Chemo brain: It’s legit, I promise … even my oncologist says so! I’m hoping this is reversible, too.
There you have it! All of the long-term side effects that I’ve experienced since finishing chemo — at least the ones that I remember. Comment on this and let me know what side effects you have experienced — or if we’ve experienced the same ones!
Although many of these may seem negative, they are more or less a small price that I had to pay to still get to be here and open my eyes each morning. They are my battle wounds that remind me that everything is gonna be OK.
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