I experienced so many weird side effects when I underwent chemo. During that time I feverishly searched Google to find out if these side effects were a result of the chemo and if they were, were they normal? I found that pretty much anything weird that happened to body was a result of the chemo … but sometimes it wasn’t a side effect from the chemo … sometimes it was a side effect of something else that was the side effect from the chemo. Is your head spinning yet?
With all of my symptoms and pain, I also searched Google for remedies and asked my social media networks for suggestions. I decided to write a list of some of some of my side effects and what I did to try to alleviate the pain. If you’re going through any, or all of these things, I am sorry – stay strong. It gets better and it will be over soon.
- Extreme Nausea. It wasn’t too bad at first. I was sick for a couple days and then I’d feel better. Everything made me nauseous – laying down, sitting, walking, watching TV, closing my eyes, talking, looking at my phone, reading … pretty much just breathing made me sick. That continued throughout my treatments. But it was always the second day after getting my chemo that was the absolute worst. Nothing much really helped, but there were a few things that sort of made it bearable:
- Eating watermelon and/or fresh cucumber (sometimes with a little salt sprinkled on)
- Laying in the bath tub. I think the water sort of “massaged” my stomach and it helped
- Fresh ginger (and ginger gum) – It helped with the nausea but I think ginger is disgusting so I didn’t really eat/chew/drink it like I should have
- Mints and/or mint gum
- Sprite, water, and/or ginger ale and crackers – an oldie but a goodie
- Zofran and Compazine (prescriptions)
- I was going to my oncologist the day after my chemo for anti-nausea and fluids … after my third treatment, I had to move my chemo day from Thursday to Wednesday and then go Thursday and Friday for anti-nausea and fluid IVs (about 4 1/2 – 5 hours each day). It helped a little, but not much
- My oncologist modified my chemo dosage – Twice
**My oncologist had a very difficult time trying to get my nausea under control. I’ve heard that chemo doesn’t make you as sick as it used to…unfortunately, just like the way my body rejected the expanders after my breast surgery, my body was not cooperating for the chemo either. I’ve come to the conclusion my body is a complete jerk. I am one of those “If it could go wrong, it does” patients.
2) I was so HOT. Nothing could cool me down. This was weird for me because I am one of those people who HATES the cold and is always cold. Chemo made me feel like I was being incinerated. I would wake up at night covered in sweat, my sheets and pillows wet from sweat and I would feel almost like I was going to pass out from a heat stroke. I understand it was summer time when I went through chemo, but I pretty much stayed inside the entire time.
I kept my house about 62 degrees – my poor son would have to walk around with sweats, a hoodie and socks on. He was freezing and I was sitting there with only a light night gown, sweating. I never wore anything on my head when I was at home, so I walked around bald – it was entirely too hot! I also didn’t use my wigs much when I did leave the house, I just used a light head scarf or wrap … and as soon as I walked in my door I’d take it off!
I never could figure out how to regulate my body temperature … but if these hot flashes are any indication of what menopause is like … Lord, help me. That was awful.
The good news is that about a month and a half after my final chemo treatment, my body is starting to regulate itself … and now I’m cold again most of time – right in time for winter. Well played, Mother Nature, well played.
3) Mouth Sores. Now I heard about mouth sores, and I thought maybe a little canker sore or something. Try about 50 little canker sores all over the inside of your mouth, the back of your throat and your tongue. They hurt SO bad.
What to do:
- As soon as you feel one mouth sore immediately call your oncologist’s office and ask them to call a prescription in for “Magic Mouthwash.” That stuff really is magic! The sores started clearing up almost immediately after using it and within 3 days they were gone. I didn’t call my oncologists office until my mouth was covered in them … DON’T LET THAT BE YOU! That was extremely painful and it took longer for them to go away.
- Rinse your mouth out with warm salt water – it’s painful, but it works.
- Rinse your mouth with over the counter antacid (I recommend Maalox)
4) Cracked Corners of Mouth. I developed a crack in the corners of each side of my mouth. This was a horribly viscous cycle. I would develop the painful (and ugly) cracks, I would use Abreva for a little while, the cracks would heal … right in time for my next round of chemo. Two days after that, the cracks would form again. Back to Abreva. It would heal. Back for another round. Here came the cracks. This honestly happened my entire time doing chemo. Abreva works like a charm. I had tried a few other cheaper over the counter medicine, but they didn’t work near as fast or well as Abreva.
5) Dry Mouth. Speaking of my mouth, I had an extremely dry mouth throughout my treatments. I’ve heard of dry mouth before, but I never realized how uncomfortable – and painful – it is.
What I did:
- I ordered Biotene and began rinsing my mouth out about 5 or 6 times a day. That really helped, but my dry mouth didn’t go away until after I completed my chemo.
6) Cavities. I had lived on this earth for 35 years and never in my life had a cavity …. what happened two months after beginning chemo? A cavity. I found that out in my annual cleaning at the dentist … which, oh by the way, you’re not allowed to do unless you get written approval in advance from your oncologist. I had to go back a month after my final chemo treatment and get a cavity filled. Luckily no other cavities came up. But when I was at the dentist the first time, he realized how sensitive my teeth were getting, so he prescribed me a special toothpaste that had a lot of fluoride to help with the teeth pain and to try to help me avoid getting more cavities.
7) Teeth Aches. Yes, my teeth literally hurt. They just felt like they were going to crumble and fall out of my mouth. The special toothpaste helped … also, make sure you get a very soft bristled tooth brush.
8) No Menstrual Cycle. I got a period (a few weeks early) on the second day after my first chemo treatment – that pesky second day again … like I already was nauseous, but now I had cramps on top of all of it. It lasted two days, and to date I have not had a period since then. I’m approaching my sixth month of no period; I had my final treatment on Sept. 21 and it’s now Nov. 8. My oncologist assures me that my body is out of whack and that it will eventually come back – I imagine most likely it will at the most inopportune time – but if it doesn’t soon, I will be making an appointment with my OB/GYN – just to make sure.
9) Laryngitis. This one was weird. All of a sudden my voice started going away. I had to research this and I found out that although laryngitis is NOT a side effect of chemo, it IS a side effect of indigestion, which I had severe indigestion throughout my chemo.
What to do:
- Just get some over-the-counter Antacid tablets and chew them. Very shortly after your first 1-2 chewable tablets your laryngitis will start going away. I highly recommend keeping a bottle with you at all times. I kept one in my purse, one of my nightstand and one on my desk in my office.
10) Indigestion. Like I just said, I had some pretty gnarly indigestion. I wouldn’t even eat or drink anything … did that matter? No. Why? Because chemo is awful and it puts your body through hell. The chewable antacid tablets worked great. At first I wanted to be fancy and buy some super expensive tablets – because, more expensive means better, right? No. The cheaper ones worked just as well as the expensive ones. I ordered a set of 3 – 500 count GoodSense brand Antacid Tablets. I think it was about $15 for that. Not too bad for 1,500 tablets.
11) Bad Taste. Everything tasted like metal … and then salt … and then chalk. Oh, this one was the worst. I couldn’t find anything at all to get rid of the disgusting tastes that were happening in my mouth. My first 4 treatments everything tasted like metal. Even if I wasn’t eating or drinking, my mouth just TASTED like metal. It was horrible.
Then the metal taste was gone – Hallelujah! But then everything started tasting like salt. Oh, YUCK! That was a slippery slope because then I didn’t want to eat or drink anything – especially water. Have you ever drank salt water? It’s not good at all. Well, my clear, bottled water was NOT salt water, but it tasted like it and I couldn’t drink water or Gatorade or anything. But the watermelon and cucumbers have water in them, so I was eating them to keep me hydrated (minus the sprinkling salt on them, like I mentioned earlier); they also helped with my nausea.
Then after my 5th treatment everything started tasting chalky … this one is hard to describe, but I guess my best effort is this: If you’ve ever drank Milk of Magnesia and then you have that chalky after taste in your mouth … that’s what this is. Except it’s just there. All. The. Time.
About two weeks after my final treatment my mouth finally was normal again. But I dealt with these weird tastes for months.
12) Fingernails and Toenails Stopped Growing. I love my manicures and pedicures and usually I have to go to my nail salon every 2-3 weeks to have my nails cut down and to get them done … from June – Oct. I went to the nail salon a total of 3 times and the only reason was I wanted different colored polish. I get the gel manicures so my nail polish wasn’t chipped or anything … my nails just stopped growing. I always keep acrylic overlay on my nails, so I can’t speak on the subject if they got weaker or not.
I am sure my oncologist didn’t want me getting my nails done, but I needed something to make me feel pretty.
13) Dry, Cracked Feet. This was so painful (and quite embarrassing when I went to get a pedicure). No amount of foot scrub, lotion, soaking, shaving off dead skin helped – this only happened after my 3rd treatment and remedied itself by my 5th treatment (so around 6 weeks). It hurt to walk because my feet were so dry and cracked.
What I did:
- Soaked feet
- Put lotion on my feet 4-6 times per day
- Put on moisturizing socks
- Used a pumice stone to get rid of the dead skin.
- And of course, got a pedicure.
14) Achy Bones. After my final chemo treatment it became very difficult to walk. My bones ached and I almost cried when I had to get up to use the bathroom. I had to use one of my dining room chairs as a “walker” to help me get around the house. I also had to use the walls. I was not able to walk without assistance due to the extreme pain.
What I did:
- All I could do was switch out Motrin and Extra Strength Tylenol and rest. I am sure if I’d have called my oncologist’s office they would have prescribed me something … but then I would have to go get it and I was not able to do that.
I had several other small side effects, but these were the most uncomfortable and apparent. I created this list so if you or anyone you know is going through any of these side effects you can try some of these suggestions … or at the very least know that you’re not the only one and that it does end one day and it’ll all be a memory!
If you had any other side effects or you know of any remedies, please put them here in the comment section so others who are battling breast cancer and struggling through chemo have a resource.