No One Told Me About These 3 Side Effects From Chemo

In this age of google and the internet, you can learn more than you might want to know about potential side-effects of chemotherapy. Still, life has ways of surprising you, and some side-effects are completely unexpected, even the opposite of what you thought. But there are ways to find the strength to deal with whatever happens.

"You Look So Good!"

I heard that phrase many times during my chemo sessions for colorectal cancer. That's because my hair didn't totally fall out, and I didn't lose a bunch of weight. But that didn't mean that I was free of side effects – rather, they were just largely invisible to most people. And some of them surprised even me, who had (against the prevailing advice) read about all the nasty things that could happen from my particular drug cocktail, FOLFOX.

1. The drugs affected my blood adversely.

      I was prepared for the common things, like nausea and "chemo brain", but the first surprise I had was the way the drugs attacked my blood. As part of the standard procedure, I had blood drawn and analyzed before each infusion. After three or four sessions, the nurses noticed that my platelet count had fallen significantly below the recommended range. Upon consultation with my oncologist, this was addressed by manipulating the amount of one of the drugs, oxaliplatin, that I was receiving. By the last of my 8 infusions, my platelet count was so low that the doctor ordered no oxaliplatin at all.

2. I didn’t lose my appetite.

      Not losing my appetite was the second surprise effect. I found I wanted to eat all day and I gained 20 pounds (which I have yet to lose). Having food in my stomach helped mitigate not only the nausea, but also the general feeling of unease induced by the medicine. I found that my favorite foods didn't taste very good, so I just avoided them, but I discovered other things that tasted wonderful, like watermelon and smoothies. My tastes shifted as I progressed through the four months of treatment, but I could always find something tasty to eat. Several associates of my wife, who teaches at a private school, cooked homemade meals for us, so we never lacked for good, wholesome food.
      Now I'm finding that my enforced lack of activity over 10 months has turned me very soft and I am struggling to lose the unwanted pounds. I feel that I am almost ready to resume some of my more strenuous activities like planting trees and practicing yoga, except for the third surprising side effect of my chemotherapy – peripheral neuropathy.

3. Peripheral Neuropathy is more common than I thought.

      It turns out that this condition frequently occurs among patients receiving platinum-based chemotherapy drugs like oxaliplatin, but I was not expecting it. It manifested first as tingling sensations in my hands and feet, like you get when your foot falls asleep. Later it progressed to more of a numbness, particularly on the soles of my feet and in my fingertips. I am taking medication for it that was developed for diabetics, who also suffer from neuropathy. This has reduced my symptoms by about 50%, but I still have trouble walking or standing for long periods, and my ability to do fine motor skills with my fingers is very compromised. There is some hope that it will gradually ease, but one-third of patients with peripheral neuropathy have it for life.

So my journey through chemotherapy has required dealing with many new situations and sensations. Due to the loving care and support from my wife, our friends and families, and my medical team, I have been able to accept the twists and turns and to deal with them with patience, courage, and compassion.

Have you experienced any effects from treatment that you weren't informed about or expecting? Share in the comments below.