All the side effects they don’t tell you about chemotherapy…Posted on Wed, Nov 16, 2011

Possible side effects may include....





Welcome to the Side Show!

Now that my chemotherapy is pretty much over, I thought I’d run through my recollections of some side effects I experienced. First off, let’s begin by naming the culprits. My primary chemo drug was Doxyrubicin. In addition to this, I was given Dexamethazone, a steroid, as a bit of a booster for the first few days during and after my treatment. There were others, but we’ll get to them.

It’s important to realize going into chemotherapy one major thing, and make no mistake about what it is that is going on: They are trying to kill you. They are pumping poison into you that, if they continue, will kill you. The trick that they’re trying to accomplish is to kill all the cancer cells off first, and hope you survive it. For this reason, any dietary regimen that you have been told will bolster your cells and prevent cancer are null-and-void. (See my Anti-Cancer Diet page for more on that.) You already have cancer. Anti-oxidents will only make the cancer cells stronger, and you don’t want that. You want those little bastards (the medical term) to die a horrible screaming death. With that in mind, let’s get on to…

Fun-tastic Side Effects

When you are considering chemotherapy, they tell you a couple of the side effects, then give you a sheet with a long list of “possible” ones. As a result, we had no idea which ones would happen and which ones wouldn’t. And as time progressed, some came up that no one told us about. So, in no particular order….


Not kidding, hiccups. In the first week of each round, I would get hiccups like you wouldn’t believe. It would last about a week, and one nurse said it was the steroid, another said it was the chemo. They said this after I asked about it as if it was a no-brainer. “Of course you would get uncontrollable hiccups for a week. Didn’t you know that?”

Pretty swanky, no?

Pretty swanky, no?

Scalloped Fingernails

This is kind of cool. Your fingernails will show the history of your treatment. They will have white and pink stripes form, denoting periods when you were getting treatment and when you were recovering. This isn’t for everyone: some of the treatments will be every day instead of every couple weeks. If you are someone going through that, I love you. Sincerely and honestly, I love you, and you can make it through. But for those of you getting treatment every few weeks, like I did, you will get scallops in your fingernails. Neat!

White Blood Cell Count

I mention this one in one of my updates, but it bears repeating. It was something they covered in passing while discussing various possible side effects and you go “Oh, so I will run the risk of getting sick easily.” No. You will run the risk of dying from the common cold. Personally, my white blood cells packed up and left the building, and after my first treatment, I wound up in the hospital. They will tell you that if you run a fever over such-and-such, call the doctor. No matter how casually they say this, it’s kind of extremely important.

Clear Complexion

I haven’t had a pimple in months. Not so much as a clogged pore. I have actually had people comment on this. The chemo clears the skin and the steroids give you a warm glow. Better than an apricot scrub. It sort of offsets the whole hair loss thing, as pimples on a bald head are a really bad joke by the universe. What’s that? Hair loss? Oh, right…

Hair Loss

When you start to lose your hair, you will look like this.

When you start to lose your hair, you will look like this.

They will tell you that you MIGHT lose your hair. This is a lie, designed to make you not freak out when a lot of freaky things are being thrown at you. You WILL lose your hair. All of it. What they also don’t mention is that you don’t just lose the hair on your head, oh no… you lose it all. You will lose it in places you don’t even really consider the idea that you have hair there. Some of you might be having dirty thoughts, so I’ll just say, yes you’re right and move on. The three fun ones: eyelashes, nose hair and eyebrows. Now, the hair in these locations serve very specific purposes. We evolved them for a reason.

Eyelashes are there to keep the dust and wind out of our eyes. Without them, every single piece of dust in a five-block-radius will make a bee-line for your eye. More than likely, the slightest breeze will make your eyes water. But be careful: if you rub them with your hands, you’ll risk an eye infection. Remember the bit about no immune system? There you go.

When your hair is completely gone, you will look like this.

When your hair is completely gone, you will look like this.

Nose Hairs are similarly the prison guards for your sinuses. They are there to keep the dust out to prevent irritation of the sinuses. They are also there to prevent every single drop of liquid, generated by the previously mentioned irritation, from running right on out of your nose. The end result is that you will be blowing your nose. A lot. Carry tissues.

Eyebrows are generally what give us expressions, and when they are gone, people won’t be able to put their finger on why you look so strange, but they’ll know something’s up. Ever see those observer guys in Fringe? A guy in a crowded elevator told me once I should go as one for Halloween. I resisted the urge to tell him “I have cancer.” and ride the rest of the way down in a very awkward silence. Practically, however, the eyebrows are there to prevent sweat or any water/rain that happens to be on your head from going straight into your eyes. This makes working out and dancing problematic. But it’s okay because….

You Will Feel Like Crap

From stories that I have heard, I think I had the least amount of crappiness ever experienced by someone going through chemotherapy. This does not mean there was not a whole lot of crappiness going on. There were plenty of days when all I wanted to do was curl up in bed, watch movies and drink hot chocolate. But generally I was able to be up and about. I actually think this helped a bit, rather than just sitting there thinking about how crappy I felt, I could walk around and think about how crappy I felt. I could also more easily distract myself with various activities. Your mileage will vary, but I would recommend having no qualms about just passing out when you feel the need. You won’t really have a choice, actually. This part above all was actually very helpful. It allowed me to very easily decide whether I wanted to do something or not. I would always remember Occam’s Razor for some reason, when people asked me to do something. My body would very readily respond “I think I’d be okay with that.” or “Hell no!”.


Oh, the famous one. The one for which you get to smoke pot legally in California. I actually never threw up once. I would be a bit queasy the first week, but I was given a regimen of anti-nausea pills which prevented the all-out puke-fest. These pills, however, came with their own batch of side effects. Mostly having to do with the digestive system, which I won’t go into in detail. Suffice it to say, it will be one extreme or the other. (Dude! Extreme Chemo!) As for the nausea, I recommend getting ahead of the symptoms, and the side effects, by pre-emptively taking the appropriate medication before you feel like calling Ralph on the big white telephone.

You Won’t Heal

Any and all little cut or bruise will take about twice as long to heal as it did before. Your body is fighting off massive toxins, so it’s a bit too busy to deal with whatever your clumsy-ass does to it. So be careful out there. If you’re as accident prone as I am… consider shin guards and other protective paraphernalia.

Junkie Arms

Oh, how they love to take blood. Every time I went to see someone, they wanted a few little vials of my blood. Every few weeks, I’d get another scan of one kind or another, so they’d pump me full of this or that contrast. And, of course, every few weeks, they’d pump me full of ol’ Dirty Uncle Doxyrubicin. This is a lot of wear and tear on the veins. Toward the end, there was concern about my veins getting hard and unusable. Not to mention that it freaking hurts. So they find every possible vein they can use, some nurses having better luck than others, and I would leave with the bruises to prove it. The rockstar of our universe was a nurse named Stinzi, who could hit the vein every time. We would try to schedule my treatments around her.

This brings me to the Mediport. They will mention this as if it’s an option. It really isn’t. For my experience, they didn’t really explain what it was and what it would be like having one in. I thought it would be some kind of tube sticking out of my chest, which isn’t the case at all. Having one of these things put in would have saved me, and my arms, a lot of trauma, so do get the full information on it right at the start. Mediport: for the cancer patient on the go!

There were other assorted maladies which arose as a result of some of the side effects I have listed, but I won’t bore you with those. During my treatment, I got to know the staff at Urgent Care (think: Emergency Room for cancer patients) pretty well. I’m not trying to scare you off of getting the treatment you need, rather, my goal was to prepare you for some of the things they don’t think to tell you.

Because, hey, who doesn’t know chemo gives you the hiccups?

Categorized as Medical Fun!

About the Author

An actor trained in physical theater, living in New York City, livin' the dream. I am married to an amazing woman without whom I'd probably be dead by now, and step-dad to the irrepressible Izzy! I sculpt masks, I juggle, I act, I design graphically-type-stuff, and when offered the choice between two evils, I take the one I've never tried before. I listen, I fly planes, I bike to the beach, I am a tea brewing ninja, I design new board games with my daughter, and I tell stories... too many stories. And while I used to be trying to learn to juggle my work, living in this city, my dreams, my wife, but now I am reminded every day they are all one, all my life, and every day is one more day I get to live it.
All Content © Zipperleg Chronicles 2013 - Except for most of the photos, those are taken from the Internet. Sorry.
I am not a doctor, so none of my ramblings should be taken as medical fact.
Your milage may vary.