Early on in my treatment odyssey, the medical staff I spoke with were always very open about side effects. Initially, I convinced myself that I was the guy that would rise above these issues, thus confounding the experts and moving on in continued good health.
But then reality kind of nailed me between the eyes when my taste buds ceased to function after about 15 radiation treatments. It was around this time that Gay coined the phrase, "maybe all of the promises are coming true".
Well, yeh, they all did come true over the course of treatment and also through post-treatment. Some issues were not particularly serious in my opinion, but others certainly gave me some grief.
PAIN: absolutely this was an issue as radiation continued to singe the inside of my throat. What the heck...one sunburn per day for 35 consecutive weekdays? Yeh, that'll do it!
WEIGHT LOSS: pretty logical on this one, eh? When swallowing food becomes a painful proposition, shedding pounds is obviously going to be a result. The tale of the tape reveals that I lost 18 pounds during treatment. Had I been grossly "unfit" when treatment began, I probably would have lost more weight.
CONSTIPATION: I dodged the bullet on this one, likely for a couple of reasons. Firstly, over the past many years, I have been a religious "drinker of water". It is not uncommon for me to down 8 to 10 glasses a day. So, when the suggestion from the medical team was to maintain high fluid intake, it was not a new concept for me to buy into. Secondly, I used laxatives "in advance", meaning I did not wait for symptoms to get my attention. One-a-day made sense to me, rather than using a huge dosage to "undo" a festering problem. Hey, it worked for me.
CHEMO BRAIN: Sure, it's kind of a slang term, and it may not have any real medical relevance, but I "only" underwent three sessions. And, there was three weeks between sessions. I cannot imagine what patients endure when they experience a higher frequency. I have noticed some challenges with short-term retention of numbers, and I do not seem to be as quick and accurate when making calculations. Maybe this can all be attributed to being a 50-year-old? It's easier to blame the drugs!
FATIGUE: Oh yeh. While the treatment plan was effectively kicking the shit out of my system, I frequently ran out of gas. I feel very fortunate though that I did sleep well through it all, but while I was awake and mobile, I got to know the meaning of the word "lethargic".
SKIN: Again, our proactive approach on this one probably saved me some major grief. We used galaxall-based cremes a couple of times daily throughout treatment. There was also a saline-type solution recommended by the cancer agency that Gay made. It was a solution we used to soak a small towel, then it was placed on my neck in the evenings. It was "cooling" at first, but I wonder if the solution also served to condition the skin that was being butchered by radiation? Hey, it all worked out well, as I avoided any serious blistering or peeling. Today, as the inflammation in my throat continues to subside, I can see what appear to be stretch marks beginning to develop. It seems to makes sense.
TEETH & ORAL HEALTH: I was fortunate to begin treatment without any serious problems with my teeth. I learned that some people undergoing the same treatment have had to have all of their teeth removed "before" treatment. Can you imagine how traumatic that would be...and how expensive? Today, I can tell things have changed. There is more space between some of my teeth, although I cannot completely ascertain how much of this would relate to treatment. I am also chewing gum (sugarless) more than I ever have, so I imagine my teeth are not always enjoying this. And naturally, my jaws get tired. It's a weird feeling.
SALIVARY GLANDS: If I understand this correctly, I had four salivary glands that functioned in an optimal fashion prior to treatment. Radiation effectively eliminated the ability of two of these to do their jobs. So, that would make for a 50% reduction in my ability to produce saliva. The negative impact on oral health remains to be seen, but saliva effectively helps to keep our mouths moist and it also helps to remove food particles from our teeth. It can also help to reduce plaque buildup. Naturally, I anticipate some challenges moving forward, which will be a drag because I've been pretty blessed with decent teeth and very few dental health issues. I used trays (mouth guards) during treatment everyday, but admittedly, I've kind of fallen off the regular use in recent weeks. Chewing gum helps to keep my mouth moist, but I've bitten my tongue at least half-a-dozen times of late. Geezuz that hurts!! And it bleeds so much!! Oddly, I find myself laughing while I'm spitting up the blood, obviously amused at my own stupidity. I continue to pound the water as well, which really helps, but it also compromises my desire to gain some weight. Oh well...
THYROID: My latest adventure! A few weeks ago my blood work confirmed I am on the road to hypothyroidism. Again, radiation is the culprit. I have begun to feel less energetic over the past week or so, which is bothersome, but seemingly, it's par for the course. We'll monitor all of this and see where it goes.
The HEALTH SIDE...
On May 7, we sit down with Dr. Bachand again at the cancer agency in Kelowna. I imagine he'll be snaking a camera down my throat again to check things out, along with evaluating my progress. I'll toss him a bunch of questions, certainly on the "thyroid" front. I think he has some more scans to set up for me as well.
More to come...