5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Going Through Chemo

I wrote this while I was on day three of my chemo flu haze, so this is authentic info. (Keep in mind that I am now finished, so this doesn’t apply anymore.) But on day three, I was like, “Holy F*CK, do I feel like sh*t. My hair is falling out all over my keyboard. I look like death warmed up and somehow feel worse. This f*cking blows.” However, I am so grateful that chemo exists, and that I was able to get it, because it was the only thing strong enough to kill cancer at this level (stage four breast cancer with mets, what up). At the time of writing this, I was two sessions down, only 14 left to go. And I was only half-joking when I asked one of my best friends who brought me pho one night to kill me, so I think I handled it pretty well.

Since I’ve been dealt the most bullsh*t of hands, I figured the least I can do is give you some insight in case this happens to you or your best friend. One in eight women get breast cancer, just FYI, and October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re forced to undergo the incredible poison that is chemo, there are some ways that you can prepare.

Shave Your Head Beforehand

There are some chemos that don’t cause a ton of hair loss, but most of them do. Chemo works by killing off fast-producing cells in the body. The fastest producing cells are cancer. But so are the ones in the lining of your mouth, your stomach (which is why you get sick), and your hair follicles (which is why your hair falls out). The sickness and the hair loss just really show you, hey, it’s working! Your doctor will let you know the likeliness of hair loss based on your medication. I was on the AC-TC track (very common for aggressive breast cancer) and my doctor basically was like, “You’re going to be a baldie; go get your eyebrows microbladed.”

Since I knew there was no shot in hell of keeping my hair, I got my eyebrows tatted on, bought some false eyelashes, and had a head shaving party the night before I started chemo. I also bought a ton of fun wigs. My friends came with me to the hair salon and we all shaved my head together. It was actually really fun to do something so chaotic, and made me feel more in control of the situation. I did a buzz cut because you don’t want to risk cutting your head (your skin doesn’t heal well on chemo). I’m so glad I did it, because after my second session, my little buzzed hairs fell out all over the place—and it would have been totally traumatic with my long hair coming out like this. Also, my head felt sore since the first day I started chemo, due to the weight of the hair in the follicle (even with the little hair I had), so it’s more reason to just chop it off on your terms.

You can watch me shave my head here:

You Actually Want A Chemo Port

I had never even heard of a chemo port until I met with my oncologist, and the idea of it was horrifying. Basically, they surgically insert a sort of button under your skin that is connected to the main vein of your heart. So when you get chemo, IVs, or blood drawn, they stick the needle right into the port instead of going after the veins in your arms. They do this because some chemos (like mine) will actually collapse all of your arm veins. But yeah, go ahead and pour it directly in my heart, sounds good, guys! This really freaked me out until I got it done. My port then became my favorite thing in the entire world.

After freezing my eggs, my veins were absolutely shot from the near-daily blood draws, to the point that I was in tears every time I got an IV. The port made this so easy: they couldn’t miss, so there was no more digging in my veins and no pain other than the small needle puncture. Best of all, I couldn’t feel any of the chemo/saline/whatever they were pumping into my body. A blood draw took, like, two seconds (and they took a lot of blood at the oncology office). If you aren’t getting the really strong chemo, but are bad with needles, have small veins, etc., I would highly recommend actually requesting a port. When you’re done with treatment, they’ll just take it out.

My surgeon was really good, so you can barely see my port in this picture. This was three days after I got it in, so the incision was fresh and looks way better now. You can see it sticking out through the skin, but barely, and it doesn’t hurt at all. The port is the round circle below the incision:

You’ll have tiny incisions near the neck where they connect the port to the veins (gross). I also discovered that I didn’t like wig caps (too tight!) and preferred wraparound headbands for my wigs. Your skin will become really sensitive on chemo, and I preferred not to have the indents from the caps.

You’re Going To Be Sick AF

I’m not going to lie, I was so F*CKING sick. Like, I was mostly lying on the floor in the fetal position. They will give you anti-nausea drugs, and while they do work, you’re still not going to feel okay. They told me the third day after chemo was the worst, but for me, it was the same day. Everyone is different, though. I would get my chemo every other Tuesday, so I knew that, Tuesday through Saturday, I would feel like I’d had the worst flu of my entire life and that I’d also been run over by a semi-truck… and then the truck backed up, just to make sure it really got me good.

But then, come Sunday, I’d be more like could-maybe-go-to-class-if-it-was-a-test-day sick. And by Monday/Tuesday of my off week, I almost felt human. Not amazing, like I still would have major body aches and was completely exhausted, but I could at least do laundry, watch Netflix, and go to dinner with a friend. Once you know how you react, it’s easier, so you can plan ahead, and let your friends/family know when you need their help.

Getting Chemo Is Easy

I thought the experience of getting chemo would be awful—I pictured tiny, dark, crowded hallways like in the movies, with all the sick and old people lined up in chairs with their IV bags. I’m sure some places are this depressing, but mine was not—it felt like a first-class cabin. There were these cute little pods with lots of light, comfortable chairs, big windows, and seating for friends. And there was WiFi! Plus, with my chemo port, I couldn’t feel anything while getting the chemo. (The sickness didn’t hit until a few hours later.) So chemo was like social hour for me, with my friends and family hanging out for a few hours. Like happy hour, but except instead of alcohol, it was just a bunch of poison. The only bad part was that while I couldn’t feel the meds, I could taste them. (They tasted like blood and pennies, and that taste reappeared for the next week after starting the meds.)

Food Is Not Your Friend

As mentioned above, chemo causes a very metallic, very revolting blood-and-pennies taste that keeps reappearing. This makes it hard to eat or drink because everything tastes like it—even water. It’s kind of like having food poisoning—you know exactly which food poisoned you and never want to have it again. Or like how you can’t drink screwdrivers after that one time in college. Your brain knows this taste made you sick, and you get nauseous every time it comes back. So it’s like having horrible food poisoning, and then being forced to eat the same thing that made you sick every meal. You just openly reject it.

So here’s my advice: take the nausea meds before you get sick (they work better that way), don’t eat anything with strong flavor or that you really like the first few days of chemo (it will be ruined), stock up on very bland meals ahead of time (grocery store chicken soup, saltines, bagels), and buy every water flavoring product you can find to mask the chemo taste. I also found that I really liked pho during chemo, and it gives you extra hydration since it’s so hard to drink water. But, basically, the chemo diet is whatever you can keep down, so do what you’ve got to do.

I hope this answered some of your questions about chemo, but if you have any questions about my cancer journey or if there are more articles you’d like to see, please let me know in the comments. I’m a very open person, and I wish I had had more resources for this process that weren’t just about statistics. Because let me tell you—at stage four, they’re really f*cking bad, so reading them is not helpful. Also, CHECK YOUR F*CKING BOOBS. Mine are consistently trying to off me.

But don’t worry, guys. I’m a pretty tough bitch.

Me to my boobs:

(Because after chemo ended, they got chopped the f*ck out of me via double mastectomy.)

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Holly Hammond
Holly Hammond
Holly is an ex-sorority girl with the personality of Elle Woods meets Wednesday Addams. She is an artist, writer, animator, and part-time magician. Her parents are v proud but also like to ask her when she's going to get a real job. Buy art from her so she can pay for her bulldog's dermatologist.