Chemotherapy Side Effects
and How to Survive the Worst

Chemotherapy side effects can make concentration camp survival look like a walk in the park. It's true, chemo treatment gains its reputation honestly. Never have I seen my mom so sick. And at times, it was so hard to remember that her debilitated state was due not so much to the cancer, but to the treatment.

There is nothing right about pumping the body full of toxic poisons. Such a delicate balance. The poisons must be toxic enough to kill the cancer cells, but not overly toxic or the patient is lost. In a hundred years from now, the medical community will look on the chemotherapy treatment of today as barbaric. And I agree!

However, it is our only chance at beating this deadly cancer. So chemo it is. Mom's oncologists have used Gemzar, Tarceva, and 5-fu in the arsenal against her pancreatic cancer. She has suffered through most of the common chemotherapy side effects, and here we can give some valuable tips on surviving the worst: 

MOUTH SORES - Canker Sores times ten! This chemotherapy side effect was most noticeable when mom was on the 5-FU chemo. The mouth sores began slowly, with just one or two, then progressively multiplied until she was miserable. These ulcers mostly covered the inside lip. She did persevere, however, with some great coping strategies. Check here to find out ways you can cope too. 

NAUSEA - from mild to severe. Only with the 5-FU did it progress to out-right vomiting, and we believe that was in part due to the ongoing radiation at the time. But, nausea is part and parcel of the treatment. It is one of the most dreaded chemotherapy side effects. 

Click here to find out the ways mom learned to cope with her nausea. 

As the weeks on chemotherapy have progressed, she seems to have adjusted somewhat to the nausea, or perhaps it truly has become less severe. For that we are thankful. We call this adaption our new "normal."

CHEMO BRAIN - Mental confusion, memory lapses, fuzziness, and all around zoned out status courtesy of chemotherapy. Mom has experienced this side effect mainly on Gemzar.

LOW BLOOD COUNTS - Mom's oncologist draws blood work each week that she is on chemotherapy. He is monitoring many things, but there are 3 low blood counts to take note of:

Low Platelets - Platelets help your blood to clot. When you have low platelets, you are more prone to bleeding and even small scrapes or bruises can become an issue.

Low Red Blood Cells - Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. When the red blood cell count is low, you will become anemic and fatigue easily.

Low White Blood Count - White Blood cells help your body fight infection. When you have a low white blood cell count you are susceptible to all types of infection.

Chemotherapy can damage the bone marrow where your body makes the blood cells. If you develop low platelets, or low Red and White Blood Cells, your oncologist may have to suspend the chemotherapy treatment until the body repairs itself and the counts come up. This delay in treatment, of course, is not desirable, but often necessary to balance the ravages of the chemo toxins on your healthy tissue.

Tip: Several friends have suggested trying a product called Barley Life. One friend swears it kept her blood counts up during her chemotherapy treatments for ovarian cancer. After mom's first experience on Gemzar, when her blood counts plummeted, she decided to give it a try.

We've journaled her experience with BarleyLife here.

So far, so good. Her counts have not bottomed out once since that first Gemzar/Tarceva treatment. We're not completely sure it is the result of using BarleyLife, but her oncologist was fine with her adding this supplement to her diet, so we will continue as long as it's working.

These are the Chemotherapy Side Effects that mom has dealt with during her treatment. We are thankful to not have experienced hair loss or itchy rashes. One can only handle so much!

Mom would like to pass along one other word of advice, from one cancer patient to another, "Learn your limitations concerning your strength. The 'I'll do it myself' attitude has to go while you fight this disease. If others are offering, learn to let them help. They offer the sweetest gift."

And as a caregiver, the sweetest words she can speak to me are "thank you, I love you." 

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