Monday, 16 May 2016

What they don't tell you about cancer.

There are several things they don't tell you about when you get/fight/beat/recover from cancer. For instance, chemotherapy wreaks havoc on your....wait for it....bowels. Yes, you will have diarrhea and constipation, sometimes on alternating days. Just when you think you need an extra stool softener you'll find yourself reaching for the Immodium. There may even be times when you will need Depends, just in case you pee yourself standing up. If your stomach muscles tense up even just a little, that good old sphincter that keeps in the pee will let loose. It's embarassing and can lead to extra loads of laundry. Believe me, you do not want to let your delicates sit for any length of time while There's always the nausea, which the doctors have piles of medication to curb it with but that's really one of the more obvious side effects. These are the logical aspects of cancer given that chemotherapy does a number on your entire body. But there are a few other side effects that took me by surprise.

For starters, my skin became so sensitive. No matter where you touched me or how gently, the feeling was like a deep tissue massage. You know, the kind where you just want the masseuse to stop before you start crying from the pain. I would get a pedicure (something I felt helped me feel better about myself as well as a way to keep my feet clean and healthy) and when it came time for moisturizer to be rubbed into my calf muscles, I would just about hit the roof. And yet, the dry skin required moisturizer regularly just so it didn't look like my skin was falling off like a snake's. It was more than just the delicate touch that bothered me. My cats would regularly walk up my body and settle into my lap or on my stomach. But after treatment, those little kitty toes felt like I was being jabbed by a pool cue. Or worse, it reminded me of when I was about 6 years old and my grandfather, who was known as a man who didn't much like children, was visiting. Apparently I was talking too much, I tended to do that, and he said children should be seen and not heard while he jabbed his walking cane into my ribs.

My particular cancer affords me a few other side-effects such as a broken back, blood clots and the notion that I will never be cured and will have to live with this nasty disease for the rest of my shortened life. But there is one that really puzzled me.

That one side effect, the one that surprised me most, was when I realized I had cradle cap. That's right folks, cradle cap, like a baby. The thing about losing your hair is that for a while your head is soft and the hair wears off on your pillow slip (a lot of people suggest you get a silk pillow slip to avoid this shedding) but before the hair follicles are healed enough to grow actual hairs, your scalp goes through some changes. Mine developed a few sores, which ended up creating small patches of acute dryness. Now this became larger patches of dryness, which made my head start to snow. Not a full on blizzard, just some flurries now and then. Other cancer patients, having experienced the same issue, came up with home made remedies, rubbing almond oil on your scalp for two hours, soaking your head in peroxide, regular scalp massages to aid in blood flow, etc. The one that made sense to me was rubbing vitamin E cream on my scalp daily so that's what I did. Or what I have started to do. I'll let you know how it goes.

I don't expect that doctors will tell you everything about having cancer, that would take too long. But if you've read this blog you'll know that there is certainly more to it than nausea and piles of medication. You really do start your life over. Like a baby. With new hair, delicate skin, diapers and an inability to predict the consistency of your stool. Oh and the puking, which leads to eating things that are easy on your stomach like yogurt and Arrowroot cookies.

I guess the moral of the story is, when you get/fight/beat/recover from the nastiest disease you will probably ever have the misfortune of having, you will also have many side effects that make you laugh and cry. Having no hair makes me laugh. Cradle cap makes me cry.


  1. Barbarella are educating your readers. Thank you. Your words brought me into your world. Mellody Hobson, wife of George Lucas, says "just add bravery". You have...

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  3. Thank you. Very well written.