I have been asked a number of times over the last week what chemo feels like. Granted, I've only been through one round of this, so I'm no expert. I also know full well that my experience might change pretty drastically as the drugs accumulate in my system over the next few months. But I wanted to go ahead and address the question now to say this: it wasn't as bad as I expected.
My answer to other moms is that the chemo side effects felt like the first trimester of pregnancy. And I had a pretty easy pregnancy. For the rest of you, it's kind of like a low-grade hangover. Yes, I said it: being pregnant is like being hungover. (And you don't even get to drink!) Slight nausea? Check. Fatigue like you pulled an all-nighter (but you're not 22 anymore)? Check. Metallic taste in your mouth? Yup, that too. Then there's the forgetfulness, which I used to blame on "pregnancy brain" and then "mommy brain." Now it's "chemo brain." I'm starting to think maybe it's just me... Nah, couldn't be.
I have chemo on Fridays, once every three weeks. On the Saturdays following chemo, I go in for a shot of something called Neulasta that boosts my blood counts. It causes bone marrow to go into overdrive, and so spurs production of white blood cells so that my immune system isn't quite so pitiful. One of the side effects from that drug is bone pain. My worst day last week was Thursday, when the bone pain hit. It felt like labor, which I guess is fitting, considering I'd just been feeling like I was pregnant.
The nurses recommend a combination of antihistamines and Aleve to lessen the bone pain. I thought I was in the clear on that particular side effect since it didn't hit me until five days after the shot. And then it was radiating deep tooth-jarring pain in my pelvis and rib cage for a full day, despite the Claritin, despite the Aleve. Good news according to the chat rooms out there, though: apparently this pain tends not to recur with subsequent Neulasta shots. I really, really hope that is the case for me.
There were some stomach "issues" beyond the nausea, but nothing prescription-strength Imodium and Pepto couldn't alleviate, and my appeitite remains as strong as ever, which I'm taking as a good sign. I will say that the stress of the first couple of weeks post-diagnosis was enough to knock off the last several pounds, so I can fit in my pre-pregnancy jeans once again. It's about the last thing I care about, though, and not quite the way I envisioned losing the last bit of baby weight. But if all I have to endure five more times is a hangover that lasts a week (oh, and the hair falling out), I've totally got this chemo thing in the bag.