I’m sharing the unexpected side effects of chemotherapy that I experienced since my treatment.
My Breast Cancer diagnosis in November 2015 hit me like a bus. Out of the blue, totally unexpected. I had no symptoms. Well except for an uninvited lump in my left breast. I was only 37 years old.
I was awash with emotion and questions. Questions that no-one, at that point, had the answer to.
Am I going to die? Will I lose my breast?
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As the days went on and I met with the people who would become my medical team, I got further clarity. I came to terms with my diagnosis and learned of the treatment plan that awaited me.
I would have a lumpectomy, followed by six months of Chemotherapy and three weeks of Radiation.
The thought of chemotherapy alone scared me senseless. Images of grey-faced, bald-headed, very sick individuals came to mind.
What on Earth was about to put myself through? What does chemo do to your body?
I mean, I wasn’t ill. Yes, I had Cancer. But I wasn’t ill. I had no symptoms, wasn’t tired or losing weight. I had no pain anywhere. Ok, I was tired but I had a 6-month-old baby!
Taking the advice of my medical team, I embarked on my chemo regime. First up was an “Education Session” where my partner and I learned of the common side effects of chemotherapy.
The obvious ones were discussed: chemotherapy and hair loss (crap), nausea (also crap) and diarrhea (um, crap).
The list seemed endless, ranging from the possible to the probable and methods to cope with them all.
There are many different types of chemo for breast cancer. I had AC and Taxol chemo so was particularly interested in the Adriamycin side effects – I’d heard that one would hit hardest.
This isn’t a “Chemotherapy what to expect guide” for all – just my own personal experience and how I’m managing chemotherapy side effects for me.
Related: Download my Chemo Appointment Reminder Stickers here.
My Chemo Side Effects
As the months passed, I ticked the usual chemotherapy aches and pains off the list, being hit hard by some and narrowly escaping others. The hair went but the nausea was far more bearable than I anticipated.
There were some unexpected side effects after chemotherapy for breast cancer that I felt I was not prepared for. Unusual chemo side effects that I could have probably discovered were shared by my peers if I delved deep enough into the Cancer fighting online forums. I’d chosen to stop that though, it was too confronting for me.
One thing to seriously bear in mind is that chemo for breast cancer affects everyone in different ways. Two individuals can be on the same regime for the same diagnosis and have a completely different journey. What effects one massively might not affect another in the slightest.
I didn’t know that before I started chemo. I thought one size fitted all.
There were two main unexpected side effects of chemotherapy for me.
The first was that very quickly, only a month or so into my regime, I started to experience the symptoms of early menopause.
My periods stopped and with that, I felt like overnight, I aged 30 years. I started to experience some of the symptoms that I’d heard older women discussing about menopause.
Hot flashes, cold sweats, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, vaginal dryness, zero sex drive and hormone fluctuations to name but some. I was only 37 years old.
I didn’t know if these were symptoms of chemotherapy or early menopause.
My medical team had constantly referred to me as a ‘young mum with cancer’. When I told people of my diagnosis they gasped about I was too young to be facing this battle. I had felt too young.
Until I looked in the mirror and the woman looking back no longer felt or looked young.
My skin grey, my eyes tired, my body drying up from the inside out.
The second unexpected after effects of chemotherapy I went through.
I’ll just call it “Chemo Brain”. It’s the term my beautiful circle of cancer-fighting warriors tends to use.
Chemo Brain, includes, but is not limited to, feeling anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, confused, blurry, foggy and forgetting every God damn thing anyone ever tells you.
It means forgetting what day it is, your friend’s birthdays, anything important that you had to remember and what exactly you went in for when you walked into the kitchen.
Twelve months on from finishing my chemotherapy course and Chemo Brain has not let up. For me, or my circle of friends. We’ve all had that reaction to chemo.
It isn’t an excuse and it isn’t laziness. It’s a genuine and incredibly distressing long term side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer that has changed my life hugely.
Pre-Chemo, my memory was as sharp as a knife. I was the most organised person I know and my friends and family will vouch for that.
These days I forget what I was saying halfway through most of my sentences. It takes me three weeks to reply to a text message that simply asks “How are you?”.
This is not me.
Finding my own cancer chemotherapy side effects remedies
I write everything down from the minor to the major tasks. So far, that’s helping me get things done and feel confident and self-assured that I’m doing so.
Almost all of my physical symptoms have been resolved. I was really pleased that the bone pain after chemotherapy went altogether. But I have battle wounds, physically and mentally, that will never go away.
My appearance is slowly returning to what it was. I’ve lost a little of the weight I gained, my hair is growing back. Slowly.
My periods returned four months after my last chemotherapy session and I’ve never been so pleased to greet Aunt Flo. She even had the good grace to space out her visits every couple of months but they’re since back to normal.
I’m still waiting to see what the long term effects of chemo are for me.
Never in my life did I think I would be sharing such personal issues with the world. When I first wrote about my Breast Cancer diagnosis, I promised to be honest.
I wanted my posts to be a source of comfort for others going through a diagnosis. Also for their friends and family to gain a greater understanding of what they might be going through.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone else going through this would be twofold.
Firstly, whilst at the time the chemotherapy treatment side effects seem never-ending, many will fade away after chemo stops. Not all are long term side effects of chemo.
Secondly, don’t suffer in silence. So many of the adverse effects of chemotherapy you might be experiencing can be helped. Talk to your Oncologist or your GP. Tell them what you’re going through and see what they can suggest to help.
Sometimes, just talking is all it takes.
There are pros and cons of chemotherapy. Find out more here.
An introduction to Vagisil
I’ve written this post to share the two unexpected side effects of chemotherapy and radiation that I went through. With that, I want to share a product I found out about that will be of interest to other women experiencing some of the symptoms I did.
The Vagisil range is tailor-made to women who are experiencing vaginal dryness. Whether you’re undergoing chemo, going through menopause or just having this symptom because of hormonal changes.
Vagisil ProHydrate Gels are an easy to use, innovative solution for dryness – something that 19% of Aussie women experience each year.
If you want to get proactive about treating this issue and helping to improve your sex life, you can find out more on their website here.
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I hope this post on the unexpected side effects of chemotherapy has helped you gain more of an understanding.