Life with cancer and chemo

While struggling with the GI side effects of chemotherapy, I’ve probably thrown out more food than I’ve eaten. Great amounts of food. Either I don’t have the appetite to finish it, or what looked good when I started fixing it lost its appeal before I was finished, or it tasted funny, or I decided it really didn’t satisfy whatever craving I thought I had, or I decided I couldn’t eat another banana if my life depended on it and trashed those remaining.

I quickly developed an insane admiration for other women who endure the same chemo side effects, or much worse, and still manage to run a household and/or hold down a job. And I feel grateful and a little guilty that I’m retired and my sole responsibility in life is to lie around at home following doctor’s orders.

My son offered to clean up my disaster of a kitchen one day and I discovered after he’d gone that he did a better job than I ever have.

My trash cans are filling up two or three times as fast as usual because of all the wasted food, packaging, shopping bags, and assorted sick room detritus. My fridge and pantry are overflowing with food that I might like, that might taste good, that would be good for me, or that I should try to eat. No way I’ll ever eat it all. There’s only one of me here and my appetite approaches normal only one week out of three. My living area is full of items of clothing, pill boxes, latex gloves, drink mixers, and other items proffered by family because they might be something I can use. I feel I’m no longer in control of my own home.

If I’m not careful, my little house quickly starts resembling a sick room because of all the stuff I try to keep within easy reach. Not the best look for a living room when visitors arrive.

I accumulate so many empty Gatorade and Powerade bottles so fast that I’ve started wondering if I could build a shed or house from them. (Never fear, in lieu of a construction project, they all go into the recycle bin.)

I’ve realized a buzz cut doesn’t last forever; whatever hair I have left hasn’t stopped growing. Really need to get the sides and neckline cleaned up again. And I’ve started wondering how much hair I might still have if I hadn’t shaved it. Would a Mohawk have worked? But then I’d still have that longer hair falling out …

Early on I started keeping a detailed log of everything I eat, every pill I take, and every symptom and reaction I have, because the doctor and nurses ask and I can’t possibly remember all the details, times, sequences, etc. It’s proven very helpful, if a bit neurotic and hypochondriacal. I can look back and see exactly when something happened in Cycle 1 and Cycle 2, and be pretty sure Cycle 3 and 4 will be the same (or hope fervently they won’t be). Or see what foods disagreed. Or what medicine seemed to help. And when. Or when I finally started feeling better again.

My dog, totally dependent on my daily routine for hers, has been bewildered as my routine of years has been completely disrupted. Gone. Out the window. The only routine now is no routine. For example, she usually doesn’t eat unless and until I do. Now she’s torn between her hunger, the old normal mealtime schedule, and my new whenever-I’m-hungry schedule. And you know how dog’s muzzles tend to lighten and turn gray as they age? I’ll swear hers was lighter when I got home from the hospital.

I take so many different pills that I’ve occasionally reached a point where I can’t even look at them, much less attempt to swallow them. At least not right then.

I’ve wondered why we hear so often about “cancer survivors” as though they’re a special class but rarely “stroke survivors,” “heart attack survivors,” or survivors of other diseases. I don’t feel I’m part of a special class. I’m just doing what I have to do to beat the disease I happen to have. Maybe after another 10 months of treatment, I’ll feel differently.

A standard-sized bandana can be folded in a way that offers full head covering, despite what you may have read (you don’t need a 30″ square). The trick is to not fold it exactly in half but to leave one “half” long enough to extend over the top of your head and tuck under the knot in back. A few other tucks here and there and you’re done. Not exactly high fashion. But it’s cheap, and who doesn’t have at least one bandana lying around?

The jury is still out, but the dietitian last week started me on a probiotic, VSL#3. Never been an advocate of probiotics or using them to sell yogurt (don’t like yogurt anyway, and don’t like people making medicine out of my food or food out of my medicine). And I never liked smoothies or protein shakes with lots of healthy “additives” (icky tasting powders). But when she said this stuff was just a capsule, I agreed to try it. Can’t hurt, might help (I hope) because my gut was a mess last week and needs all the help it can get. Plus there are a few studies out there that indicate VSL#3 can be helpful with my particular problem.


17 thoughts on “Life with cancer and chemo

  1. disperser Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 10:39 am MDT

    . . . I don’t own a bandana . . .

    • PiedType Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 11:07 am MDT

      I thought all Coloradans were required to own at least one.

    • disperser Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 11:16 am MDT

      I’m an immigrant; perhaps you are thinking of people who drive cars with “Native” license plates.

      • PiedType Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 11:38 am MDT

        Well, I’m not a native either. But I’ve lived in this part of the world most of my life. Maybe that’s part of it. They’re sort of like a foldable multi tool.

  2. Margie Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 11:26 am MDT

    I know it isn’t advice you an use, but it would be great if you had a ‘mommy’…
    I was the mom of a teen with cancer. Food procurement and preparation; drug ‘master’; hair cutter; appointment scheduler; listener of fears; shoulder to cry on.
    I can’t imagine how you do so much of this by yourself… my heart goes out to you.

    • PiedType Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 11:50 am MDT

      Thank you for your understanding. Yes, a mommy would sure be nice to have right now. I have my son and daughter-in-law who are doing everything in their power to help, but I never quite forget my role as the parent who also tries in some ways to protect them or not overburden them. It’s a delicate balance. But they have their own responsibilities too, and their own children to parent. A spouse or significant other might almost be a mommy, but I don’t have one. Just gotta keep wearing my big girl pants …

  3. philosophermouseofthehedge Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 2:10 pm MDT

    Glad you sound a little more upbeat…hey baby steps is good. Got a chuckle over the bandana comments and response.
    I was wondering about your pup. They do worry so. Can the grandkids/son pick up a couple of toys for stress? Poor baby. They do like their routines
    All those shakes are a bit icky to me – except the old fashion Orange Julius – there used to be one of those little stand near where I got dropped off when I begged a ride home from college. I’d grab an orange while waiting for parent to show up. It was probably mostly sugar and unhealthy. (But it has orange juice I would proclaim)
    I can tolerate one Greek yogurt – by noosa (Target carries it). The honey, blueberry, pineapple are OK. Key lime always sounds good, but not the runny thin brands..ugh
    Oddly, the visiting German eats 1/2 a container twice a day for her gut instead of antibiotics constantly. We have to give Molly a taste or she feels deprived.
    “no longer in control of my own home.” That’s what my sister in law found hardest to live with. Paw waves to the both of you!

    • PiedType Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 3:06 pm MDT

      I love Orange Julius and they were mentioned recently. Also mentioned was that they had to change their recipe to remove the raw eggs. I’m guessing that ruined them, but am willing to give them one more try, if I can find the place.

      • philosophermouseofthehedge Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 4:10 pm MDT

        I knew something was bouncing around about them from someplace. A few years ago we did find a powdered frosty drink you added milk to which tasted close to the original (in produce section of grocery store). It actually hit 100 today ( after 692 days) we always searched for something cool to drink in summer…ice cream is probably why I don’t lose weight even though it’s too hot to cook/feel like eating much. 🙂

        • PiedType Tuesday, July 28, 2015 / 4:28 pm MDT

          We hit our high for the year yesterday – 97. I couldn’t get the house cooler than about 78 or 79, which is still too warm for me. Orange Julius would have tasted really good.

  4. zenzalei Thursday, July 30, 2015 / 10:31 pm MDT

    “A standard-sized bandana can be folded in a way that offers full head covering, despite what you may have read (you don’t need a 30″ square).”

    I read that as “A standard-sized banana…”

    • PiedType Friday, July 31, 2015 / 8:00 am MDT

      LOL! Now that would be an interesting head covering!

  5. Jim Wheeler Sunday, August 02, 2015 / 8:59 am MDT

    Oh. Should have read this first before I commented on the later one. Probiotics are good, I think.

    • PiedType Sunday, August 02, 2015 / 9:22 am MDT

      This one is a pill, so I was willing to try it. I couldn’t have faced eating or drinking yet another thing I dislike.

  6. Jim Wheeler Sunday, August 02, 2015 / 9:03 am MDT

    Speaking of health topics, here is some general advice we got from the new Asian doctor in town:

    Q: Doctor, I’ve heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true?
    A: Your heart only good for so many beats, and that it… Don’t waste on exercise. Everything wear out eventually. Speeding up heart not make you live longer; it like saying you extend life of car by driving faster. Want to live longer? Take nap.

    Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
    A: No, not at all. Wine made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that mean they take water out of fruity bit so you get even more of goodness that way. Beer also made of grain. Bottom up!

    Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?
    A: Well, if you have body and you have fat, your ratio one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio two to one, etc..

    Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?
    A: Can’t think of single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No pain…good!

    Q: Aren’t fried foods bad for you?
    A: YOU NOT LISTENING! Food are fried these day in vegetable oil. In fact, they permeated by it. How could getting more vegetable be bad for you?!?

    Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?
    A: Definitely not! When you exercise muscle, it get bigger. You should only be doing sit-up if you want bigger stomach.

    Q: Is chocolate bad for me?
    A: Are you crazy?!? HEL-LO-O!! Cocoa bean! Another vegetable! It best feel-good food around!

    Q: Is swimming good for your figure?
    A: If swimming good for your figure, explain whale to me..

    Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?
    A: Hey! ‘Round’ is shape!
    Well… I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets.

    And remember:

    Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways – Chardonnay in one hand – chocolate in the other – body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO-HOO, what a ride!!”


    For those of you who watch what you eat, here’s the final word on nutrition and health. It’s a relief to know the truth after all those conflicting nutritional studies.

    1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

    2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

    3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

    4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans..

    5. The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

    Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

    • PiedType Sunday, August 02, 2015 / 9:29 am MDT

      Wonderful advice! 🙂 Love your Asian doctor. Very wise man. My theory is something along the lines of: the way I eat, drink, and exercise got me through 72 years in pretty darn good shape. I’m not planning to mess with success. Not unless this unfortunate little detour forces me to change.

"You don’t have to say everything to say something." ~Beth Moore

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