The theory behind most forms of chemotherapy is this: Since cancer
cells replicate faster than normal cells, a poison that affects quickly-replicating cells will kill off cancer cells. From this theory, we can quickly draw two more conclusions:
- Other quickly-replicating cells, such as those found in hair follicles, gastrointestinal tract linings and the immune system will also be affected.
- If the tumor is indolent (that is to say, slow-growing), it will not be so easily affected by chemo. It is an ironic fact of oncology that the least aggressive tumors are usually also the least responsive to common treatments.
I underwent CHOP chemotherapy, one of the oldest known regimens, for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and experienced the following side effects:
- Hair loss. I was expecting all of my hair to fall out, but what actually happened was something stranger: Most of my hair fell out, but about 10% of my hair remained, and this 10% was, on average, much blonder than the rest of my head. Of that 10%, maybe 1% kept growing out, giving me a kind of freakish appearance if I didn't shave the strands down every few weeks. My facial hair acted the same way. In fact, the only hair that fell out completely turned out to be the pubic hair around my testes.
- Digestion. Unlike what I've heard about chemotherapy, I was fortunate enough to have no nausea problems, and no loss of appetite. Somewhat to my chagrin, my weight managed to remain constant throughout the 6 cycles of treatment I received. However, I developed a kind of hiccup-ing spasm that would manifest itself while eating, and disturb the rest of my family. They eventually mentioned it during a trip to the doctor's office, and he prescribed Ranitidine, aka generic Zantac, which got rid of the problem handily.
I would also develop problems with bloody stool about 10 days after an infusion, which really freaked me out, because my immune system was supposed to be whacked, and I didn't want an opening to my blood stream in my anus. I took collase to try and get rid of this, but usally all I could do was wait it out for a few days.
- Immune System: I found myself prone to getting mouth sores, as well as sores on my feet and around my penis. My oncologist prescribed Acyclovir, the herpes medication, and these sores quickly went away.
Also, on the night after a couple of cycles, at about 7 PM, I experienced a snap fever, sending my temperature over 100. Two extra-strength tylonol were enough to make me feel normal again by midnight.
- Psychosomatic reactions: Although I too was afraid of needles, by the time I got past all the surgery and around to starting chemotherapy, I was a lot more inured to an IV placement than klash seems to have been. However, I did find myself experiencing some of the immediate side effects of chemotherapy drugs before they were even given to me as I was in the clinic. For instance, cytoxin will make you sneeze, but while I was still hooked up to the saline solution, I was sneezing harder than I would be when the drug was actually administered 15 minutes later. As I add my writeup to this node, I can, if I will it, still call up some of the strange sensation I had from the drugs.
I mentioned this to some of the nurses in the infusion clinic, and they told me that my reaction was not uncommon; some cancer survivors can be made sick by the mere mention of chemotherapy.