More often than not people think hearing the words “you have cancer” is the worst part of a diagnosis.
Many who have been told those words will argue that what comes next is worse.
Getting a diagnosis is the easy part. Having to change your life, your schedule, your capabilities, your everything, is the hard part.
Just like there are plenty of different cancers, there are also plenty of different cancer treatments. Some of the most commonly known are chemotherapy and radiation. Chemotherapy is a mixture of drugs used to fight off and kill cancer cells or prolong the life of someone with cancer. It is given through IV and orally through pills depending on the diagnosis, the stage of diagnosis, and the severity of the situation as a whole.
When going through chemotherapy you experience a number of different side effects, both during and after chemotherapy. Some of the most common side effects are:
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Memory loss (temporary and permanent)
- Bone pain
- Bone weakness
- Fatigue and energy loss
- Sensitivity to taste
- And many more
All side effects, like everything else in cancer, vary on the person and their diagnosis. Everyone is different.
Radiation is given under a machine operated laser. Before the laser is set off and you are exposed to the radiation, you are set in a position to ensure that the radiation is given in the same exact spot every time.
In order to ensure this, you are also tattooed on multiple locations to help line up the specific area and prep for radiation treatments.
Radiation treatments, depending on the area, can leave both permanent and temporary damage, such as hair loss, infertility, irritation of the skin, or skin discoloration.
Along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the treatment process is almost always accompanied by a number of steroids and infection-fighting oral medications which must be taken daily.
Because chemo and radiation both kill your entire immune system and lower all your blood counts, it is important for cancer patients to take their daily steroids, vitamins, and infection-fighting medications.
Another form of treatment is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a treatment where the body’s natural defenses are boosted above normal range in order to fight off cancer. It is made of natural substances already made by your body (or in a lab) used to improve your immune system function.
In other words, instead of killing your immune system (like chemotherapy) your immune system is altered above the norm and your own body is used to fight off the cancer cells. However, immunotherapy still has plenty of side effects; a lot of which are very similar to chemotherapy. Fatigue, memory loss, weight gain, and unsteady sleep routines are the most recorded side effects.
As mentioned before, getting a cancer diagnosis is never the hardest part. It may even be the easy part. As an oncology patient, there is so much more you are forced to face than just the words, “you have cancer.” There are so many cancer treatment side effects and so many more factors that go into treatment that we couldn’t make a complete list if we tried.
There are needles daily.
Salads of pills hourly.
Pain everywhere, all the time.
It’s a never-ending struggle.
Another concept that people don’t always understand is being “cancer free.” When you hear those words it’s like you finally started the last lap of a race you want so much to win. You’re almost done, but you’re not.
Just because you’re cancer free, does not mean you are side-effect free. The biggest misunderstanding outsiders to oncology situations have is, “Your cancer free, so you’re fine now!”
You would think it was that easy after all the hardships, but it’s not.
It can take up to five years after treatment before you feel, seem, and look the way you did before diagnosis.
It will take years before you can perform a whole day of activities and not be dead tired or before you feel like you can take on a day without a nap or having to slow yourself down so you don’t use up all of your energy.
THAT is cancer.
Cancer is bad, but the side effects are harsh. Cancer and the side effects that result from treatment can leave you with a lot of damage; both physically and mentally.
Campaign One At A Time has met with several cancer survivors in hopes to bring awareness to those who have not been exposed to the truths of a cancer diagnosis and what side effects treatment can leave behind.
Al Ornellas was diagnosed with Melanoma. He has undergone various immunotherapy treatments and is now considered in remission. Al explains how his main side effects are fatigue, disorganized sleeping schedules, and weight gain.
Fatigue is a reaction the body has from treatment and how hard the treatment is causing his body to work. Al also experiences weight gain, mainly around his face, calling it “moon face”. His unorganized sleep schedule encourages hours of sleep along with hours of no sleep at all.
Kim Boardman is a teacher who fought breast cancer and is now a proud cancer survivor. She is one of the lucky few who did not have many side effects. Kim explained how she went through chemotherapy without throwing up or getting nauseous. She also went through treatment without taking a leave from her regular day schedule as a teacher.
She experienced the well-known chemotherapy side effects, hair loss and fatigue during treatment, but had a smooth recovery period after treatment. Kim is a proud cancer survivor and spreading awareness one smile at a time.
Taylor Hurst was one of our very own sponsored youth at OAAT. She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and fought it like a champ! After treatment, she too experienced a variety of different side effects. Taylor’s most common side effects are dry skin and skin irritation, bone pain, mood swings, and fatigue.
Dry and irritated skin are side effects of her steroids which are a small portion of Taylor’s overall treatment process. Along with bone pain and mood swings, steroids can cause a large variety of other side effects, the most common of which is fatigue. Fatigue is something everyone going through treatment will face because of all that the body is undergoing. Taylor has finished most of her treatment and is towards the end of her race.
Personally, I have experienced a variety of different side effects; both short term and long term.
Short-term side effects included extreme fatigue and muscle weakness along with the obvious hair loss, weight gain, mood swings, and weakened immune system. Now, my long-term side effects are bone weakness, joint dysfunction, “chemo brain,” and due to one specific chemo, I am now lactose intolerant.
Besides the most common and expected side effects, “chemo brain” and lactose intolerance are the hardest to work around due to the drastic changes I’ve had to make in order to get back to a daily routine.
Chemo brain can be diagnosed, but cannot be treated. It is a side effect of chemotherapy; causing memory loss. It makes it hard to remember things you would have remembered regularly prior to chemo and makes it extremely hard to memorize material.
Everyone is different, everyone gets treated for a cancer diagnosis differently, and everyone gets different reactions and side effects. Many people underestimate the struggles oncology patients face when going through a cancer treatment or the struggles they are faced with long after treatment.
Take the time to get educated, and don’t be too embarrassed to ask questions. Expose yourself to the truth behind cancer and see what parts of a cancer diagnosis cause the most damage.