'You Will Be Scared' and Other Truths About Chemo for Breast Cancer

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I’ve had people reach out to me over the past year asking me various questions, so here it is. Me laying it on the line. Because I have always been open and I am hoping I will help one person. Or two.

You won’t say the wrong thing because saying nothing is the wrong thing. Anything is better than nothing.

Sure, there are days that I hate the “How are you?” question but that’s me. Not you. That’s me hating to be a burden and being the cancer girl.

It’s me hating the question because really the answer is, “I have cancer so I’m not really good, but some days are better than others.”

Please don’t feel that saying anything is wrong because caring for someone’s well-being — that can never be wrong.

“My friend is going through chemo. I don’t think she knows what she is in for.” Of course she doesn’t know! A few days before chemo I was talking to someone saying I was ready. I felt strong. I had this.

I so did not have this.

You have no idea the fatigue and crap you are going to feel, so please reach out to someone who gets this. I had two people I knew who went through chemo who gave me the nitty gritty. Sure, my oncologist prepared me, but not for the real deal.

Day one of chemo my amazing nurse said, “I’m sorry but no, your hair will not just thin (hope I was holding onto). You will lose your hair.”

I needed the honesty. I needed to know.

The thing with reaching out to someone is that even if you are afraid you are burdening them, you’re not. Honestly, we want to help. Not just the, “Oh yea, call me if you need me thing.”

Every single person I have met (cyber world or in real life) who has been through (breast) cancer has been nothing short of tremendous. Why? Because we get this.

Your spouse and your best friend, of course, invaluable. But your cancer sisterhood. Nothing compares.

So here we go. Here’s all the crappy stuff you’ll experience when you go through chemo:

You will lose your hair. All of your hair. Enough said.

You may have to have a port. Get the port. You will love the port.

There will be constipation, nausea and diarrhea. A lot.

Then there’s your hair and lack of. You constantly think about hair. All the time.

Mirrors will be your enemy, and so will bras.

You will cry a ton and curl up in a ball many a day.

You will hurl because you feel sick physically or because you feel like you cannot move another step.

You will often need to be picked up — literally and figuratively.

You will be scared.

You will feel strong and weak, all in the same day. In the same hour.

You will people-watch in hospital lobbies.

You will wonder if the person sporting the short haircut you have has cancer, or if she’s just sporting a short hair cut.

You will feel so incredibly loved and see so much good in the world.

You will see so much illness. The cancer centers you walk into will make you weep.

You will love your friends and family more than you ever think you could love.

You will be scared.

You will count how many eyelashes you have left, hoping the last few don’t fall out, just to give you some kind of normalcy. And your brows.

You will rinse your mouth with warm salt water to prevent mouth sores.

You will get an itchy scalp after shaving your head and having something called folliculitis, which means “itchy scalp.”

You will have your head shaved.

You will start not to care about what you look like going to Target. Or maybe you never cared about what you looked like going into Target and now you really have a reason not to care.

You may play the cancer card. More than once.

You will miss shampoo and cry in the shower.

You will put your brush in a drawer and miss it.

You will hate scarves then love scarves.

You will browse sections of stores you never imagined you would browse, like granny-type underwear and bras for post surgery.

You will have surgery. Sometimes plural.

You will touch your scalp a lot.

You will begin to hate graham crackers and apple juice.

You will hate the color pink.

You will hate the smell of hospitals and alcohol wipes.

You will hate talking about things like clean margins and stages.

You will love the warm blankets the hospitals give you. You may even like the slipper socks.

You will never like the johnny gowns.

You will miss your breasts no matter how much you convince yourself it’s only a breast. (It’s not the breast you are missing. It’s your body you’re missing.)

You may gain weight.

You may enter menopause.

You will have more hot flashes than a 65-year-old woman. You will fan yourself with your hand or the nearest magazine because you think you are seriously going to drown in sweat.

You will have scars and bruises. Lots of scars and bruises.

You will love your oncology nurses. You will love all nurses. You will find there are very few (if any) arrogant oncologists.

You will be sad when you see someone starting their treatment and will hug those who are just finishing.

You will give warm smiles.

You will want to give back. You will want to pay it forward.

You will buy yourself flowers. And shoes. And cookies.

Buy yourself the cookie. Don’t say no to the cookie.

Radiation will suck more than you thought it would.

You will be so tired. And you will repeat yourself about how tired you are. And you will use a lot of truck driver adjectives in front of the word tired.

You will download meditation apps and picture tranquil beaches and listen to ocean waves while simultaneously throwing yourself a huge pity party at 2 a.m. because you’ve become an insomniac. (You know, hypothetically that will happen.)

If you used to love to read you may find you don’t have patience to read.

You watch a lot of mindless TV.

You stare out lots of windows.

You will listen to Martina McBride sing “Im gonna love you through it” and you will cry. You will then torture yourself by listening to this over and over again.

You will eat take-out meals and chocolate.

You may despise the thought of chicken. And the smell.

You will start to look at ingredients in your food and in your beauty products, looking for words you don’t understand and wondering if they caused your cancer.

You will question your past and wonder if it was the lack of organic eggs that made you get cancer. Or the caffeine. Or because you skipped your 8 am.m. class in college.

You will read blogs. Lots and lots of blogs.

You will be vulnerable.

You will be emotional.

You will tell your best friends how much you love them.

You will love fiercely.

You will hug your children a lot more than you used to. (If you have teenage boys, they may not love this part.)

If you have teenage boys, you will be so proud of how helpful and resilient and independent they can be when they need to step up to the plate. (And then they’ll mutter under their breath and remind you there’s normalcy around the corner.)

You will snuggle a lot with your dog.

Your dog will love that you are having surgery because it will get to snuggle on the couch.

You will be scared.

You will find strength you didn’t think you had. You will find strength because you don’t have another choice.

You will lean on and take out all of your emotions on the ones you love most. (The beauty of that? They love you most.)

You will be scared.

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Thinkstock photo by Yougen

Abby SternFollow:

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