Chemotherapy – The End Is Really the Beginning

About three weeks ago I finished my final chemo session and I hope I never have to go through anything like that again. I don’t think the reality of being finished has hit me yet as I am still experiencing side effects like achiness, fatigue and the annoying numbness in my fingers and toes. My sense of taste has not recovered, but it’s getting better. Plus, I still look like I’m in treatment since I don’t have any hair. My appearance still says cancer. I hear some side effects linger for a length of time, even permanently, but I’m not considering that possibility right now.

What I am doing is reflecting on the fact that I have come full circle from beginning to end of chemotherapy. I survived and came out in one piece, more or less anyway. During chemo I learned a lot about myself, some of which I don’t think I have even fully realized yet. Chemo taught me important lessons about things that really matter, things I thought I already knew.

I vividly recall the day I was advised in no uncertain terms, I needed chemo. I remember looking at the colored bar graphs depicting recurrence and survival statistics with or without chemo and right then and there, I knew I had no other option. That day was one of the worst days of my life, even worse than the day of my cancer diagnosis. David and I came home from our appointment with my oncologist that day and I pretty much lost it. I carried on all afternoon just changing rooms while continuing my lamenting.

Finally, and rightfully so, David told me to stop feeling sorry for myself. That was probably the one time he lost patience with me a bit. He wasn’t being insensitive. He’s just always been better than me at seeing the big picture, better able to look beyond or further out. I tend to worry about the here and now. He reminded me over and over again chemo was something we just needed to do and we would do it together.

What is it about chemo that makes it so dreaded anyway? Is it losing the hair or fear of nausea? Is it the fatigue factor or feeling of losing control? Do we conjure up bad memories of people we have known who have had chemo? Do we imagine unimaginable images far worse than reality?

Mostly I think it’s the fear of the unknown. We don’t have any idea about how our body will react. We don’t know how our loved ones will react either. We hope we do, but the reality is we don’t. The hair is certainly a b-i-i-g-g-g-g -y, especially for women. Chemo must be a bit easier for men. Is that an unfair statement? I don’t know. However no one thinks it’s odd to see a bald man walking around, but a bald woman, now that’s startling.

I would probably have to say my chemo experience was not as bad as I thought it would be. That’s not to say it wasn’t bad. It was. I hated it. I didn’t want it. I felt backed into a corner. But I adapted; we all did.

Someone asked me the other day if I was going to continue blogging after finishing chemo. Somewhat taken by surprise I answered, “Yes, of course. I’m just getting started. I still have so much to say and now I can hopefully say it with a clearer head.”

Later I reflected a bit more on that question and what it meant. Just because I am finished with chemo does not mean I am “done with cancer.” I will never be done. It can be hard for people who have not been touched by cancer to understand this and I don’t say that to make anyone feel bad, it’s just the way it is.

I started blogging kind of in reverse anyway. I didn’t begin my blog right after my diagnosis. I wasn’t ready. As I’ve said before, I tend to take my time and “mull” things over. I’m not one who rushes into things much. I prefer to write retrospectively rather than in the moment, so that’s what I’ll continue doing.

I am so relieved to be finished with chemo, but David and I know this is really the beginning. Now we must find our so called “new normal” whatever that is. I still have more surgeries ahead. I still have hormone therapy. I still have to worry about recurrence.

I haven’t felt much like celebrating yet, but chemo is indeed over and I survived! Maybe now I can write about it from the “other side” with a clear (OK clearer) head.

What has been one of your life’s greatest challenges?

30 comments


  • Teresa

    November 11, 2010

    Congrats on finishing up chemo. It is a big milestone, even though I do understand what you mean about there being more to go. Still, it helps to find the little celebrations along the way. So YAY!! to you.

    • Nancy

      November 11, 2010

      Teresa, Good to see you back! Yes, finishing chemo is certainly a milestone, though it’s one I never anticipated trying to reach. How long did it take for your hair to grow back?

  • Cyn

    November 11, 2010

    Congratulations, Nancy! And yes, your taste buds will get back to normal. Your strength will come back. As will your hair!

    [Did you get twitchy eyes? My eyes twitched all the way through chemo and for months afterwards. It was the weirdest thing.]

    Clearly this was one of my biggest life challenges, too. And though it is so nice to have people tell you how brave and strong you are, I didn’t feel brave or strong at the time. Mostly I was endlessly amazed at the brain`s ability to adapt. My husband was a peacekeeper and we used to marvel at how people adapted to living in a war zone. But I get it now. We want life to be normal – so, even in the midst of fear and stress, our souls pull towards normal. And I could forget, even during chemo, for hours at a time. Until I looked in a mirror (!) or ate (!).

    I wish I had had a blog like yours to read before I started the process. Context is a great calmer. Hopefully, we are reaching women in the midst of their journeys – but also those just beginning or, even better, not yet setting out.

    • Nancy

      November 11, 2010

      Cyn, Thanks for your comments. No, I never had twitchy eyes, haven’t heard that one before! I did have watery eyes though and still do every morning – never had that before. I never felt brave or strong either when someone said that to me and sometimes it really bothered me to hear that. We are pretty darn adaptable aren’t we?! I hope we are helping others as well.

  • Beth L Gainer

    November 11, 2010

    Hi Nancy,

    Congratulations on finishing chemo!! That’s HUGE. Enjoy the beginning of your second life. You will feel better over time, but be patient. It took me awhile to feel back to “normal,” and this varies from patient to patient.

    Now here’s a new spin on the hair thing: I didn’t lose my hair at all, which made me look healthy, even though I was sick as a dog. I was so ill, and everyone told me how good I looked. Some people didn’t have much compassion for me, but others were beyond kind.

    Yes, fear of recurrence. Unfortunately, the battle with cancer stays in the mind. The mind games can get intense, especially when you go to followups. But you are not alone; we all go through this in the club that nobody wanted to join.

    I think your blog is so helpful to so many people. I wish I had something like that to read when I was going through chemo-hell.

    Congrats again on such an important milestone!

    • Nancy

      November 12, 2010

      Beth, Thanks for your congrats and comments. Yes, it does feel like I’m starting a second life in some ways. It must have been frustrating at times to hear how good you looked when you felt so sick! I’m feeling pretty good, but look like crap! Oh well, we continue on don’t we and I know I’m not alone.

  • Lindsay

    November 12, 2010

    Congratulations! And I think you have a lot to celebrate! I admire how strong you are, and I am very, very happy that chemo is behind us.

    • Nancy

      November 12, 2010

      Lindsay, Thanks for the congrats. I don’t feel like I’ve been that strong, but thanks! I am very happy chemo is over too!!

  • Tonya

    November 12, 2010

    I do like your blog, Nancy. Congratulations on the end of chemo..I’ll be there in about 3 weeks. The hardest part of it for me is that it just never seems to end. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel now. I added your blog to my blogroll. :-)

    • Nancy

      November 12, 2010

      Tonya, Thanks for reading, commenting and for the congrats. You will soon be finished as well and I totally relate about it just never seeming to end. There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. Good luck as you finish up your chemo. Hope you’ll be back.

  • Anna Rachnel

    November 13, 2010

    Nancy I’m happy for you. Do go and treat yourself in some horribly extravagant way when you are ready. You’ve certainly earned it. Life’s hardest challenge ? Believing at times.

    P.S. Little dog just got diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Holding his paw and making soothing sounds. Poor little man. He’s going to start blogging soon. “Tails of a Lymey Canine” ;)

    • Nancy

      November 13, 2010

      Anna, Thanks. Yes, we’ll have to plan something extravagant sometime soon! How do you treat lyme disease then for your little guy?? Hope he’ll be OK.

  • Stacey

    November 13, 2010

    Nancy, congratulations! Sometimes, the big picture seems insurmountable until you take it one day at a time and suddenly you find yourself with it all behind you. I get what you’re saying about not feeling strong, though. I never really liked it when someone told me I was strong. I didn’t feel strong, I felt I did what I had to do with the circumstances given me. Wasn’t happy about it, just did it.

    Congrats again!

    • Nancy

      November 13, 2010

      Stacey, Thank you! I agree we have to take it one day at a time. Even now after chemo is over, I don’t feel like I’m done, but I guess that’s because I’ll never really be “done.” How did the celebration go yesterday?

  • LaVonne

    November 15, 2010

    Nancy congratulations on being done with chemo. You have been a tower of strength through this adversity. LaVonne & Steve

    • Nancy

      November 15, 2010

      LaVonne & Steve, Thank you! I don’t feel like I have been strong, but thanks anyway. We are happy to be done with chemo that’s for sure. Now if only I looked like I was! Oh well, you learn what matters most.

  • Sharon Simpson

    November 15, 2010

    Way to go! You are done with one of the hardest parts of cancer treatment! I know there are still challenges you face, and I don’t mean to diminish them…
    You and David are still in my prayers.

    • Nancy

      November 15, 2010

      Thanks, Sharon! Yes, it’s good do to be finished with that part indeed!

  • Shelley

    November 16, 2010

    Congratulations on the completion of your Chemo! I sure have been thinking of you…

    • Nancy

      November 16, 2010

      Shelley, Thanks for commenting and thinking of us. We are so happy to be done with that part! Happy Thanksgiving! How’s Cora??

  • Shelley

    November 21, 2010

    Nancy–
    Hello, Cora is doing great! She sure is running all over the place and keeping us quite busy these days. She is really talking, we are trying to make since of what she is babbling about! My Mom and dad came out here this weekend, Lance is in Watertown deer hunting for the opener this weekend, and then we will be spending Thanksgiving with his family. Hope you have a nice Thanksgiving.

    • Nancy

      November 22, 2010

      Shelley, Good to hear from you! Cora sounds like one busy little girl! Did Lance get a deer? Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  • Sheen

    March 14, 2012

    Nancy i am really happy for you, May GOD give you a beautiful life ahead. My mother in law was diagnosed with cancer and now she has to undergo chemotherapy…i feel so much for her. After hearing your story and reading i have come to know that there are many in this fight and i wish my mil also comes out with flying colors just like you….do pray for her……love you

    • Nancy

      March 15, 2012

      Sheen, I’m sorry about your mother-in-law’s diagnosis and also that she must go through chemo. I’m sure you’ll be a source of tremendous support for her. Good luck to you all and thanks so much for commenting.

  • Mitra

    March 4, 2013

    I just read your Blog. I am starting my chemo in two weeks. I am so afraid. afraid on unknowns, of what it will do to the good part of my body. Do I ever look like today again or it will ruin me for the rest of my life. I am 46 and lived a healthy life always, do a lot of yoga and careful of what I eat. But odds were not in my favor, for the first time in my life I feel sorry for myself.

    • Nancy

      March 4, 2013

      Mitra, Welcome! I will be writing some new posts on this type of thing soon. I do have quite a few, so please browse around a bit. Just know it’s entirely understandable that you are afraid. There’s so much uncertainty following a diagnosis, please know you are not alone. Good luck with chemo. Have you checked into my ebook on preparing for chemo? It might help a bit. Thanks again for stopping by. Hope to hear from you again. My best.

  • Amber

    July 22, 2013

    Ten days away from chemo #4 for breast cancer.
    Not looking forward to it.
    Drug change for number 5 to taxol.
    Found a small lump in armpit two years after bilateral mastectomy and refused the chemo and radiation then.
    Never thought I would do this to myself.
    Always eaten healthy since a teen… And even more so now. Only organic and no sugar.
    I am seriously wanting to stop doing this horrible thing to myself…
    The nausea and headaches and pain increases each time.
    I look and feel really sick up to about a three day window before the next infusion.
    I am very concerned it is only going to get worse.

    • Nancy

      July 22, 2013

      Amber, I’m sorry to hear about all you’re dealing with. I understand where you’re coming from – I remember feeling much the same way when I switched drugs midway. Try not to beat yourself about things you did or didn’t do. You didn’t “do this” to yourself. Good luck with things. Keep me posted and thanks for reading and commenting.

  • sally knox

    April 1, 2014

    HI:Just found this site. I just found out this morning after seeing my ongologist, I am done with chemo. The odd thing is I started crying and feeling like a failure cause I couldn’t get all eight treatments. I managed to complete 5 so my doctor was very happy with that. So why do I feel so bad. Its seems that to me the cancer will come back because I did not complete all of the treatments. Once the reality sinks in that chemo is done I hope I can celebrate. I still have 6 weeks of radiation and will be starting a hormone pill so I hope and pray that this will take care of everything. I understand exactly what all women have expressed in this blog that its; never really over, but trying to start a new beginning. its weird.

    • Nancy

      April 1, 2014

      Sally, You aren’t a failure. It sounds like your body just couldn’t tolerate more treatments and if your doctor was happy with five, well… I didn’t feel like celebrating when I was done with chemo either. I got this certificate and I just wanted to tear it up. The idea of celebrating anything about chemo just seemed weird. Good luck with radiation and the hormone pill. Is it tamoxifen or one of the AIs? And no, it’s never really over, but… Thanks for sharing and welcome!

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