Senses and Functions of a Lung Cancer Patient's Body
Cancer treatment really messed around with my both my bodily functions and my bodily perceptions. In an ever-changing rollercoaster ride of expectations, my body became oily and smelly, then dry and odor-free; my vision got worse, then better, then much worse; my hair grew in thickly, then changed color, then in patches around my body seemed to simply disappear; I had sores and open wounds and infections that would come and go; I scarred, I healed. I found that food tasted bitter or bland or just awful; some days I could not bear the smell of my own body or the taste of my breath; numbness taunted my toes, then randomly other parts of my body; tinnitus flared up, subsided, and flared up again; simple smells made it difficult to breathe, ghastly smells made me wretch.
Juggling the endless side effects
Yes, in addition to the fatigue and nausea that everyone seems to expect, it turns out that there is almost an endless stream of possible side-effects that keep patients (and their caregivers) absolutely hopping. It is not all bad, of course; for one thing, when treatments work there is an immediate payoff. Even when the cancer does not go into remission, perhaps the treatment reduces pain or is greatly diminished or simply kept in veritable stasis for an extended period of time. Modern cancer treatments may be palliative or curative and sometimes they are a little bit of both. Every case is different and some patients are fortunate enough to get through treatment without any difficult side-effects whatsoever.
For a while, I thought I might be one of those.
My first round of chemo
My first round of chemotherapy came and went without much fanfare back in the waning days of 2014. I was in the middle of a video shoot, working long nights in Hollywood and long days down at the beach. All I could say about the chemo was that it made me a bit sleepy -- but I kept working through that gig without slowing down. The experience made me feel a bit cavalier, perhaps; apparently, I was fit enough to handle whatever was thrown at me. Well, my hair never fell out and I kept my weight on, but I was certainly singing a different tune by the time my third infusion cycle came around. Effects are cumulative, after all.
It astounded me how bad some of my favorite foods tasted, especially the week following my infusions. But that gave me a reason to experiment with my cooking, a diversion that helped me through some difficult days. It seemed that I was always purging toxins through my skin and though people close to me swore I did not smell bad, I was constantly barraged by my own odor -- and in a conundrum with the vile choices of deodorant that assaulted me as I tried to cover it up. My body was creating its own comedy of errors for an audience of one. And that audience member did not always appreciate the humor.
Moving onto targeted therapy
Fortunately, as with so many things in life, it all had its time and then passed. Chemo first seemed to level out for me, my body acclimating to the chemicals and more or less normalizing its responses. Then the chemo eventually stopped working and I moved on to one targeted therapy with a new set of side-effects, then on to another. Each time, the drug was more finely targeted and the side-effects were more manageable. Maybe it was me getting used to the routine more quickly, maybe I just reacted well, but over the years, treatment has seemed to get easier.
Always something new awaits
And the good news, even though there has been some tumor progression along the way, is that most of my senses have returned to normal. Now when my breath tastes bad, I'm pretty sure it was just something I ate or maybe I should have taken the time to floss, but a mint or two can usually handle the challenge. And if my food tastes bad, I have no one to blame but the chef. So these are good things, and I enjoy them while I can, because I know that soon enough I will be switching treatments again, and a new grab bag of possibilities awaits.
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?