Side Effects – Chemo and My Morning Coffee

Since beginning my chemo regime in July, I have been experiencing the usual side effects like hair loss, neuropathy in my toes and fingers, poor sleep almost nightly, flushing, achiness and the other big one – fatigue. But the side effect that I never really anticipated to be such a ” biggy” is the alteration of my taste buds. I miss actually tasting all of my favorite foods, but I think what I miss most is the enjoyment of my freshly-brewed cup of coffee each morning. Luckily, I can still smell the aroma.

My husband David makes the coffee most mornings at our house. It just seems to turn out better when he makes it. For years now we have started each morning sipping our cups of the steaming liquid, savoring the aroma and spending a few moments together enjoying the quietness of morning while easing into the new day.

This time of year I enjoy watching the darkness quietly change into daylight as each new day unfolds. I look forward to seeing the towering white pines in my backyard slowly reveal themselves to me each morning like mysteries unfolding. At first, they are invisible, totally concealed in darkness. Then as dawn slowly meanders into the horizon, they become shadowy and gray. Finally, and almost unexpectedly it seems,  it’s light and there they are - standing  tall, proud and majestically in the new morning light. I  know they are just trees, but they represent strength and stability to me these days. Things to be counted on.

Since chemo, my morning coffee doesn’t taste quite right and I feel resentful about this unwelcome disruption to my routine. The coffee’s flavor is somehow off and mostly I just feel the hotness of it. Like every cell in my body I suppose, my taste buds are altered. Food and other beverages as well taste odd, so why should I be surprised that my coffee tastes odd as well? My taste buds seem confused, unable to distinguish between different flavors and tastes. There is no range of taste; now things just seem to either taste pleasant or not pleasant.

Even though I can’t taste my morning coffee these days, holding a familiar cup or mug with the steaming brown liquid is still comforting. Going through the motions of sharing a cup of coffee with David and lingering those extra minutes still feels good. Even chemo can’t rob me of that.

I am wondering how long it will take for my taste buds to recover when chemo ends. Such a minor worry when there are so many other far more pressing matters to face in the months and years ahead. But sometimes it’s those little things in life that seem to matter most - like enjoying a morning cup of coffee.

Thanksgiving is coming next month. I hope I get my sense of taste back!

HAVE YOU EVER LOST YOUR SENSE OF TASTE?

59 comments


  • Teresa

    October 18, 2010

    I was exactly the same. Coffee tasted like dirt–but I persisted in trying to have my morning cup! With me, the taste would come back about 2 weeks after the chemo infusion, and then of course go away with the next one. Pretty much though, as soon I was done with chemo altogether (never again!! positive thinking here…) the taste returned. I’ll wish the same for you!

    • Nancy

      October 18, 2010

      Teresa, I’ve never heard of coffee tasting like dirt! We still persist trying to maintain our routines. Glad to hear your sense of taste came back after finishing chemo. Hopefully mine will as well. Thanks for commenting.

  • Alli

    October 18, 2010

    My chemo ended a year ago and I still can’t drink a cup of coffee. There are a lot of things that are off as far as my taste buds are concerned.

    When I was going through Chemo just the scent of anything citrus made me sick.

    Some things you regain and others seem to be lost. I have now become a “Tea Tottler”!

    Alli xx

    • Nancy

      October 18, 2010

      Alli, So, I guess some of these taste changes last a while then?? I never had too much trouble with scents. Glad you have found tea to be a good substitute for coffee.

  • Lindsay

    October 18, 2010

    I didn’t even realize your taste buds were that screwed up! I have no idea what this is like other than when I have a bad head cold and can’t seem to taste/smell anything. When this happens, nothing is appetizing and I just eat for the sake of needing energy, not because anything tastes good.

    • Nancy

      October 21, 2010

      Lindsay, Yeh, my sense of taste has been pretty messed up. I’m looking forward to tasting my favorites more fully again that’s for sure! A bad head cold is a good comparison.

  • Cyn

    October 19, 2010

    The change to my taste buds nearly drove me crazy. I never realized how much I counted on eating and drinking to provide comfort until I lost that joy. But, some foods tasted almost normal (cucumbers and most fruit for example) and that was wonderful. Hot dogs, on the other hand, oh lord. YUCK. But it didn’t take long for me to get everything back. I finished chemo on Dec. 10 and went out for a lovely dinner in late December, and almost everything registered as normal.

    I wish you a speedy return to normal, Nancy. Keep trying different foods during chemo – you’ll never know which ones will help.

    • Nancy

      October 19, 2010

      Cynthia, Glad to hear your sense of taste came back rather quickly after stopping chemo. Hopefully mine will as well. Thanks for visiting and taking time to comment. Do you plan to do anything this year on Dec. 10?

  • WhiteStone

    October 20, 2010

    I suppose different chemo drugs affect taste differently. I finished 6 months of carbo/taxol in July and during treatment my mouth got so sore and food lost its taste. My taste was back to normal within a few weeks of the last chemo.
    Bless you!

    • Nancy

      October 20, 2010

      WhiteStone, Thanks for commenting again. I love feedback! Good to know your taste came back so quickly. Guess I’m lucky I didn’t get a very sore mouth. That’s probably much worse than no taste!

  • Lauren

    October 20, 2010

    Here’s a link that goes over some of the changes that can occur in your mouth and throat. Not going to lie, most of it does not apply but it does say “If changes in taste and smell are affecting your ability to eat, ask your doctor for a referral to a nutritionist who can help.” Hope you get your coffee taste back soon!

    http://www.thewellnesscommunity.org/mm/Learn-About/Managing-Side-Effects/Mouth-Side-Effects.aspx

    • Nancy

      October 21, 2010

      Lauren, Thanks for commenting and for providing the link. I’ll check it out.

  • Katie

    October 20, 2010

    Nancy,

    One day at some point during chemo, I just noticed that my sense of taste was gone. I don’t remember it going, just all of the sudden being gone. The good news is that it came back quickly after chemo and everything tastes normal again.

    Katie

    • Nancy

      October 21, 2010

      Katie, That is good news!

  • kim

    October 21, 2010

    Hi Nancy,
    Chemo definately affected my sense of taste…the only thing I could drink was A & W Root Beer. My taste buds returned to normal shortly after chemo. PS. My hubby and I have the same morning routine as you and your hubby. I just love the quietness of starting out our day together.

    • Nancy

      October 21, 2010

      Kim, Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope you are healing well. Bet you drank a lot of A & W root beer then! Yes, sharing a cup of coffee during that quiet time of morning is indeed special.

  • Tina

    October 21, 2010

    Hi Nancy. I currently just finished my second set of 6 rounds of chemotherapy. During the first set, I got a skunky taste in my mouth that altered the flavour of everything.

    During the second set, I took a clinical trial drug. This combination left me with little laste (except for extreme flavours) for about two weeks after each treatment. Then my tastebuds would be back for about a week; during which I’d eat everything in site.

    My loss of taste means most foods have texture but little taste. And some things don’t appeal to me at all!

    Like you, I love coffee, but I couldn’t drink it for at least the first week after chemo.

    Next week, I start on the clinical trial drug full time and I’m afraid it’s going to kill my tastebuds. I enjoy eating so I’m praying that won’t be the case.

    And yes, the tastebuds returned for me fairly quickly, so you can look forward to enjoying the flavour of that coffee when you’re done.

    • Nancy

      October 21, 2010

      Tina, Thanks for stopping by today and taking time to comment. Two rounds of chemo already, wow, you’ve been through a lot. Good luck as you start the clinical trial drug. I’ll be rooting for you and I hope your taste buds are not killed! Eat some of your favorites before you start next week.

  • JOANN

    January 2, 2011

    I will be taking my 4th of 6 chemo treatments next Tuesday. I will be taking radiation for 5 consecutive weeks after that for breast ca. Will my taste buds be affected with radition too? Thank you, Joann

    • Nancy

      January 2, 2011

      Joann, Thanks for reading my blog and for your question. I think eveyone is different concerning side effects. It also depends which chemo drugs you are receiving. My taste buds were indeed altered, but that does not mean yours will be. I did not have radiation because of my bilateral, so I cannot speak to that. Good luck with the rest of your chemo and then with your radiation treatments. You’ll get through it all!

  • Linda

    September 19, 2011

    I just finished four rounds of chemo and have the same screwed up tastes as you. It has been a year since your blog entry… When did your taste finally return?

    • Nancy

      September 19, 2011

      Linda, Thank you so much for finding my blog, reading this post and commenting. I think it took a couple of months for my taste to get back to normal. Some people have said it came back almost right away, but for me it took a while. It is frustrating isn’t it? Your body goes through an awful lot, so give yourself time. I’m still trying to get back to normal, whatever that is… Hope to hear from you again! Hope you’re doing well, other than the not tasting thing. Are you finished with chemo then or not?

  • Aneesa

    October 17, 2011

    I have just completed chemo on the 10th October 2011, and I MISS MY TASTE BUDS!!! I cannot wait for my sense of taste to return. I really do hope that I am one of those lucky people who got theirs back quickly.

    All the best for your continued recovery!

    • Nancy

      October 17, 2011

      Aneesa, Congrats on finishing chemo! Yeh! You are about a year behind me then. I finished late last October. I know what you mean about missing those taste buds. I missed the taste of my morning coffee (and a lot of other things) so much. I do hope you get your taste back quickly! Let me know what happens. Thanks for commenting and for the good wishes too. Hope all goes well for you.

  • Arzell Thomas

    December 4, 2011

    Hi Nancy, just stumbled on your site and let me tell you it was a blessing. My wife finished her chemo/radiation Oct 22th. Taste buds are dead and on top of that she has a tracheostomy for throat cancer and a feeding tube plus picks in her arm.I try to entice her to test certain foods and fruits to see if it’s any responds. She say she can taste some things but barely. I think the emotional rollercoaster of having the trach and effects of the radiation treatments(Very Sore)surpresses her taste. Be steadfast and your taste will come back home :->

    • Nancy

      December 5, 2011

      Arzell, I’m so glad you did stumble upon my site. Thanks for taking time to comment. So glad to hear your wife’s chemo/radiation has come to an end. With time her sense of taste will probably return. I sure hope so. Like you said, all of it is a huge emotional rollercoaster and there is a lot of recovery to deal with. Good luck with everything going forward. Keep me posted.

  • Dan

    December 30, 2011

    I’m in my 6th relapse, each time having been treated with chemo, or a mixture of chemo and radiation. The first was my leg, which I had to get amputated, and the doctors didn’t realize it had metastasized and spread to multiple parts of my body. So, I’ve lost both legs, and had both lungs removed, only one transplanted. I hate losing the sense of taste! It sucks. Everything tastes like metal to me, and after chemo, it takes about 3 or 4 months for the taste to go back to normal haha.

    • Nancy

      December 30, 2011

      Dan, I’m sorry for all you’ve had to endure. I hope you are doing alright. My complaining about temporarily losing my sense of taste seems pretty lame when I realize what you have been dealing with. You’re right about that nasty metal taste which so often follows chemo. I hated that too. Good luck to you in the New Year. I hope it’s a good one for you. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Noella

    January 10, 2012

    I started chemo in late September but have only recently lost my sense of taste – when I started new chemo 2 weeks ago. At first everything tasted like paper, and not particularly tasty paper! But I am finding some things are not as foreign tasting as others. Bad enough my stomach and digestive system was hindering what I knew I should eat to fight this breast cancer, now the taste twist has entered in …. Oh well, I shall overcome!

    • Nancy

      January 10, 2012

      Noella, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had to undergo chemo and that it’s affecting your taste now. A person just has to find and eat the things that do taste good or at least tolerable I guess. Hopefully you are finding some things you still enjoy eating. And yes, you shall overcome! Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Noella. Good luck with the rest of chemo and all the other stuff too. Keep me posted.

  • Shona

    April 13, 2012

    I finished six months of chemo and 19 radiotherapy treatments for breast cancer. The worst side effect has been the horrible taste in my mouth. Either tastes of manure, mothballs or syrup of figs. Just really getting me down as I thought that taste buds would come back quicker than this , it is now 3 months since I last ate a meal. I’m now being referred to a nutritionist so hopefully I’ll get some help. Can’t go on like this as I’m losing too much weight.

    • Nancy

      April 14, 2012

      Shone, I’m very sorry to hear about how terribly your sense of taste has bee affected. It sounds awful. I think it’s a good idea for you to see a nutritionist and hopefully get some help. You shouldn’t have to suffer so much. Good luck. Keep me posted on things and thank you for sharing.

  • Shona

    April 15, 2012

    Thankyou, I’ll certainly keep you posted on my progress.

  • Shona

    May 6, 2012

    Have been to see dietician and she was great but obviously can’t give me taste buds. I have nutritional drinks to take and go back in six weeks. She isn’t too concerned because I WANT to eat and advised me to just try different food but a little at a time . At least I had someone who just didn’t say ” you have to eat”. It will just take time I suppose .
    Shona

    • Nancy

      May 6, 2012

      Shona, I’m glad you saw a dietitian who was at least somewhat helpful. Her advice sounds pretty good – keep trying different foods a little at a time. I hope you can find some things you can tolerate. Keep me posted on how things are going. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Shona

    May 6, 2012

    Nancy, do you still have neuropathy in your feet? It’s a weird sensation isn’t it?

    • Nancy

      May 6, 2012

      Shona, Yes, I do still have some neuropathy in my feet and it is indeed a very strange sensation. Mine has improved quite a bit, but it’s still there. My oncologist told me it would probably be permanent if it hadn’t disappeared after one year, but I’m still hopeful…Thanks for the comment.

  • Monica

    June 30, 2012

    After first round of A/C chemo end of June, everything tastes like dirt. I have lost ten pounds, but had it to lose. Unlike some, I have found that if a food is very hot in temperature (not spice) or icy cold, like popsicles, then the dirt taste is not so noticeable. Will do 4 A/C x two weeks and 4 taxol x 2 weeks and then six weeks of daily radiation. Hope to be able to taste food sometime around St. Patrick’s Day, ;-)

    • Nancy

      July 2, 2012

      Monica, I experienced similar reaction as far as taste goes. I found really cold things tasted better. I did like spicy, but was sort of hesitant to eat that kind of food due to other digestive issues. It’s a “figure it out as you go” kind of thing isn’t it? Good luck with the rest of your treatment. I know it sometimes seems as if the end will never come when you in the midst of treatment, but hang in there. Thanks so much for sharing. My best to you.

  • Cathy

    August 5, 2012

    I know this will sound strange, but it’s my husband who is undergoing chemo & I’m the one with strange sense of smell & taste. I go with him for his treatments & I only quit smoking for 3 months (smoked for 43 yrs). Everything smells like either strong perfumy/chemical or sour red wine & many foods taste extremely salty/sour. Also get strange tingly, pins & needle sensation on my tongue (nurse at chemo center said she used to get that when she used to mix the chemo). Could it be that all of my senses are rejuvenating since quitting smoking & are hyper sensitive to any chemicals in the air or through the skin? I notice that on the “off week” taste & smell aren’t that bad, but once we go back to the chemo center, it gets bad again. I’m not nuts, just grasping at any kind of explanation for this sickening smell/taste problem. Hubby only has 2 more treatments & I hope my “symptoms” go away after that. I’ve been to an ENT, & he didn’t know what it is (I haven’t told him my chemo theory yet).

    • Nancy

      August 6, 2012

      Cathy, Thanks for sharing about what you’re experiencing. I think it’s very possible that your taste and in fact, all of your senses, have been affected since quitting smoking and that you are indeed hyper-sensitive now. Being in a chemo setting there are undoubtedly many strange and unfamiliar “things” in the air. I think your chemo theory might be quite accurate. Good luck to you both as your husband continues through treatment. And you’re definitely not nuts!

  • susan

    August 6, 2012

    Here I am again waiting to “want” my first cup of coffee and I don’t. No one mentioned your taste buds would go south when on chemo. I’ve only been off of it for two days so I’m hoping for that morning cup again soon. This is truly a very lonely disease and I’m feeling that loneliness the further I get into it. I’m just on radiation now and won’t be on chemo again until the end of the month. What I do love are mashed potatotes with ketchup. Go figure.

    • Nancy

      August 6, 2012

      Susan, Yes, the taste buds can and often do “go south.” All the side effects are not necessarily mentioned before hand unfortunately. Give yourself some time. Hopefully your sense of taste will improve. It is a lonely disease at times isn’t it? Lots of us are out here, though, remember that. And mashed potatoes with ketchup doesn’t sound too bad to me either!

  • Cathy

    August 13, 2012

    Thanks so much Nancy, it’s so good to hear that this might be the cause of what’s been happening to me (especially since the ENT doc didn’t have any idea). My hubby has only 2 more chemo treatments & I’m so hoping that this horrible taste & smell will start to go away after that.

    • Nancy

      August 14, 2012

      Cathy, I hope things get better for you both, too! Keep me posted.

  • susan

    September 3, 2012

    My second round of chemo is over and four more radiation treatments and I’m done. My body is covered with red welts from the 5FU and it does itch, so I’m very uncomfortable, to say the least. I’m so ready for all this to end, but I know I will probably have weeks, if not months, of recovery.

    • Nancy

      September 3, 2012

      Susan, Thanks for sharing. Recovery definitely takes time, so please be patient with yourself. I’m sorry about your red welts and the itching. Remember it’s one day at a time, so trite, but true. Do keep me posted and take care.

  • Roshan

    December 27, 2012

    Hi,
    I am writing about my sister. She is having such a difficult time with the bad taste in her mouth after chemo and radiation. She is not able to eat at all. She gets nauseatious and throws up :(
    Any suggestions??

    • Nancy

      December 27, 2012

      Roshan, I’m sorry to hear about your sister’s difficulties. It’s hard when a person feels so horribly nauseous. I’ve posted this question on my Facebook page. Perhaps there will be some suggestions offered there. For me, I found cold foods/drinks to be more easily tolerated. I also preferred smaller more frequent meals. Everyone is different, so keep experimenting with different foods and liquids. Please be sure she discusses this with her doctors. They can offer suggestions which might help. Good luck. Keep us posted on things.

  • Laurie

    December 27, 2012

    The carboplatin gave me metal mouth. The only thing that tasted like it “should” was potato. Let’s just say I am sick of potatoes now…lol Other foods didn’t taste like I remembered them to, but their altered taste was ok. Those included frozen GoGurt tubes and Edy’s Fruit and Juice Bars. If you can get something down before taking a nap, it helps.

    • Nancy

      January 2, 2013

      Laurie, Thanks so much for your tips. You’re very kind to offer them.

  • Lee ann

    January 18, 2013

    I had my first chemo last week, everything tastes sour. i did notice that cucumbers taste almost normal, toast with peanutbutter and jam also taste good enough. and some fruit, as long as the fruit is very cold its ok.. all liquids taste so bad i have to force myself to drink, but i think i might be losing the battle because now i’m starting to gag when i drink. how are we supposed to stay hydrated?

    • Nancy

      January 18, 2013

      Lee ann, I’m sorry your taste is being affected by your chemo. It’s hard sometimes, but you really do need to keep yourself well hydrated. Keep trying different things – foods and liquids. Hopefully you’ll find some things you can tolerate well and also enjoy. Discuss this with your doctors and nurses. They should have resources to offer. I had trouble with the liquids too, especially water. Flavored water helped. I liked soups a lot. Everyone is different, though, so just keep trying a wide variety of things. Be sure to read through all the comments others have left. You might find more suggestions. Good luck, Lee ann.

  • janie

    April 21, 2013

    I am writing about a friend we went through chemo last year for colon cancer. She has been off chemo for a year this month and her sense of taste and smell have still not returned. Her oncologist insists this is not a side-effect of chemo. She also has lingering neuropathy in her hands and feet. From everything I have read here, it sounds like the advice is to wait and hope for improvement? thanks!

    • Nancy

      April 22, 2013

      Janie, I know my sense of taste was affected by chemo. I’m sorry to hear your friend’s sense of taste and smell have not returned yet. I’m not sure how common that is. The “wait and see” attitude is definitely out there. However, I would say if these things are a concern, they should be addressed/discussed now. Thanks for sharing.

  • susan

    April 27, 2013

    Here it is almost May and I wrote in August of last year about my taste being gone and it was until almost Christmas, then it cam back. I’m doing pretty good. I had anal cancer, which is truly a “pain in the ass” in more ways than one, but my PET scan was clear in December so my remission is such a blessing. Please hang in there. It’s a horrible diagnosis, and it does change your life forever, but some of
    changes can be positive.

    • Nancy

      April 29, 2013

      Susan, Thank you so much for the update. I’m glad to hear your sense of taste recovered. That’s wonderful!

  • wendy gomis

    July 19, 2014

    I am coming to the end of my chemo for colon and liver cancer. No sense of taste at all at present so have lost 3 stone in weight – not a bad thing normally but is making me weak and wobbly as I really have to force myself to eat something very small. Scan in a month and then hopefully will come off chemo and get my taste back. Good luck to everyone suffering with this horrible disease

    • Nancy

      July 21, 2014

      Wendy, Sorry to hear you’ve lost your sense of taste and that you’re having trouble eating. Side effects of chemo can be so miserable. Good luck with your upcoming scan. Thanks for reading and sharing and good luck to you too.

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