If It Is So Hot Out, Why Am I Shivering?
Cancer treatment often affects the body in odd ways. We cannot always know or predict what we are going to feel like day to day. Some things we feel simply make no sense. Such is the nature of treating a disease at the cellular level -- while therapies may effectively kill the cancer cells that we are targeting, they will also affect other cells throughout the body.
Chemo or the flu?
When I was on chemotherapy, I got used to always feeling like I was coming down with the flu during the week following my infusion. I understood the lethargy that persisted. After all, my body was being bombarded by chemicals designed to attack quickly dividing cells, regardless of their location of function. It takes a lot out of a patient to have one's system under assault like that. But some months were certainly rougher than others, and there were times I felt that my body was no longer my own. It was almost disassociative, feeling completely out of place if not out of body entirely. Steroids and sleep deprivation only enhanced the surreal effects.
And newer treatments are sometimes even more complex. The target of these therapies might be narrower, making them overall much easier to tolerate, but the side-effects might be no less surprising or pervasive. I have had the dubious honor of switching treatments on several occasions now, each one bearing promises of being easier than the last (and sometimes living up to at least that promise, if not providing long-term success). But with the exception of one treatment for which it was obvious very early on that it was doing nothing, each treatment has provided its own little surprises. There were always trade-offs -- no more upset stomach or fatigue but swapped out for an itch that prevented sleep -- but with the continuing hope that trying something new would be more effective than before.
Wreaking havoc on my body
For my first two years of treatment, it was hard to explain to people that, indeed, I did have metastatic lung cancer, when they watched me gaining weight and growing my hair out. More recently, I endured rounds of compliments about how skinny I looked when I suddenly and quite unintentionally dropped over twenty pounds. Many were asking me my secret, but few wanted to try my fabulous cancer diet. Although I have regained some weight, the lack of body fat leaves me prone to feeling chilly even on a warm summer night.
Contending with a rash that wreaked havoc with every sensation across my skin, I have found myself shivering under layers of blankets at night while everyone else in the house has kicked off all their covers to contend with the heat. While others are enjoying sunny days in shorts and T-shirts, I have been huddled in sweats. One day, I checked my temperature just to see if my body heat had dropped too low, only to discover that I was running hot at just over 100 degrees. And then a few days after that, I felt pretty much back to normal, except that my skin was now so dry and itchy that I could not sleep. And so on, and so on.
Cherish the small surprises
Yesterday it was one weird thing. Tomorrow it will be another. As if cancer itself was not already enough of a wildcard, new treatments bring unexpected surprises. Occasionally, however, that unexpected surprise is a marked reduction in tumor size. And that kind of surprise makes all the others worthwhile. Even when that does not happen, there have been plenty of smaller surprises like simply getting that extra day when I feel good enough to play with my daughter or watch her finish up another year of school; life is about surprises, big and small, and being there to enjoy the ones that are truly meaningful.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?