After the second chemo session and halfway through my radiation treatments, my ongoing fatigue was becoming worse; however, uglier side effects from my treatments gradually began to arise.
For starters, the radiation treatments were taking a toll on my skin at the base of my neck. It turned very red and started to peel and crack. The radiation therapists starting covering my affected skin with plastic food wrap before each radiation treatment session. I didn’t ask why (I asked “why” for everything else but not this for some reason), but I will on my next visit! Seaghan was instructed to concoct a sterile salt water compress to put on my skin at home.
He made it by boiling 2 cups of water with 1 teaspoon of salt in a pot for 15 minutes. He let it cool, then he applied a sterile gauze pad soaked with this saline solution to the burned areas on my neck, making sure to wash his hands first so as to not contaminate the sterile solution. I found it very soothing but it was also supposed to moisten the skin and prevent infection. He kept a lid on the pot to keep the solution clean, and for the rest of the day he’d apply numerous compresses, but it was important to make a fresh solution every morning.
My overall skin colour was now turning a greyish colour. Not as obvious as the greyness of a heart patient, but it was tinged nonetheless. It must have alarmed my dad because he asked my husband if I was going to make it.
I also began to lose weight. It was physically impossible for me to consume all of the feeding tube solution that I needed to reach my daily protein requirements (my digestive system just couldn’t handle it). The result of this was that in addition to losing fat, I was also losing muscle and becoming physically weak.
At my first chemo session we were told to always keep an eye on my temperature and head straight to the emergency department at the hospital if it went above 101°F. Well, sure enough it did go that high once. Off we go to the emergency ward as instructed even though I didn’t feel as though I was fighting anything. We informed them that I was chemo patient and in the blink of an eye I was whisked away to an isolation room. They performed all kinds of tests to find the cause of the infection (including checking my double PICC line for contamination) but they never found a thing. I was given a round of strong antibiotics as a precaution (which unfortunately were large pills so they had to find a crushable pill or liquid version for me). I never did experience any signs of infection.
My Chemo Oncologist had warned me that my hair would start falling out. He said I wouldn’t lose it all but it would get thin. Seaghan and I made light of it by joking how I’d look in a red or blonde wing, long hair or short, so I thought I was prepared. You know it’s going to happen but nothing can prepare you for the shock you feel when you hold your first clump of hair in your hand. I noticed that I had an unusual amount of hair on my sweater one day, so I ran my fingers through my hair and was aghast at what I held in my fingers. I didn’t lose all of it but what did fall out came out in clumps. All hair was affected: my eyebrows thinned, armpit hair thinned, my eyelashes thinned although I found it peculiar that it was only the outside edges of my lashes.
An odd side effect that I call my “bullfrog look” began to happen most mornings. I’d wake up with a large liquid-filled bulge under my throat, and over the course of the day it would disappear. My Radiation Oncologist told me it was called radiation dewlap. Over the course of the night, while I was horizontal, fluids would build up in my neck and bottom of my jaw, and then over the course of the next day when I was vertical the fluids would drain away. Some people get it, some don’t. I guess I was one of the “lucky” ones. It never caused me any discomfort, although I did feel as though I was holding a water balloon under my chin. I still get it from time to time but it’s a look that I didn’t like sporting.
On another note, I’m not the only one who experienced a side effect. I had to encourage Seaghan to eat — he felt guilty because I couldn’t eat and he didn’t want to eat yummy food in front of me, and so he wasn’t eating right. I needed him to keep his strength and morale up, so he learned to cook ribs, cheese danish, chicken caesar salad & wraps, all the things he likes. Now he’s getting more confident in the kitchen and is baking his own baguettes, using the slow cooker, and cooking Chicken Marsala like a chef!
Next: the Regular Clinic Visits