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​Off Side Effects

Kim Graham StudiosNEXT WEDNESDAY, with my eighth chemotherapy cycle, I shall finish the course of treatment begun last September and, hopefully, neverhave cancer darken my door again.
And now it’s all over, bar the testing (fingers, toes, eyes, all appendages and extremities crossed,) I’ll list, in descending order, for your entertainment, the side effects I’ve liked least of ingesting copious amounts of toxic chemicals.
The best was my finger and toenails turning jet black, as if painted with nail polish. (I was trendy for a few months there.) The worst is difficult to pick from a crowded field.
My oncological nurse, Rhonda, eg, warned against drinking anything cold after chemo, because it would be like swallowing glass splinters. I had to prove her wrong and I did, and she was: drinking cold water was like swallowing a whole Julie mango-sized shard of broken glass.
The hair loss, so traumatic for so many, didn’t bother me because Mother Nature had beat chemo to my bald head by a decade. Similarly, my lifestyle long ago prepared me for the chemo brain that makes your head so fuzzy, you cannot remember what it is you can’t understand.
But nothing prepared me for the loss of libido; it firetrucking vanished. Not so surprising when you’ve soaked yourself in noxious chemicals for several months. If you disconnect a car battery, the ignition will not fire, no matter how often you turn the key. With my particularly aggressive mix of chemo, I couldn’t even find the key. What the repeated insertion of a catheter had started, chemo finished with its own particular glee. From my first surgery on 10 December, until the mid-March, the matter simply never arose. It might have been devastating, if I had been well enough to appreciate the theoretical deprivation.
Pre-surgery, my nausea was nullified by good medication during chemo itself but the post-chemo nausea has triumphed in the post-surgery cycles. Chemo also changes the taste of a lot of things people love. Last November, I stopped my sacrosanct daily ritual of coffee with a cryptic crossword because coffee now tastes so horrible.
The worst physical side effect I’ve had so far, the Camp Auschwitz weight loss, was due to post-surgery complications, not chemo, but chemo has added to it by making a lot of food taste bad. Forced by the need for protein, I returned to eating everything I’d stopped years ago: cow; pig; lamb and the other cute animals. To force yourself to eat food that tastes bad that might stick in your throat and earn you a day of tests in hospital and an instant return to a liquid diet is a debilitating thing. If you’re lucky – and I am – lemon chicken and fried rice and peanut butter and pineapple jam and chocolate chip cookies and brownies still taste good.
Chemo also has the double-edged sword of all but guaranteeing constipation or diarrhoea – or both! You end up, as it were, being grateful it’s pouring out of you like floodwater: even if you’re weak and exhausted,. at least your belly ent bind like every passenger on the Fatel Razack!
But by far the worst side effect of treatment came from post-surgery complications.
All my life, I have loved drinking cold water, even more than ale, premium rum, single malt scotch or Portugal juice.
For half-a-century, after exercise, I have gulped down a pint glass of freezing cold water.
Maybe two.
I can only sip room temperature water now. One teaspoonful at a time. And, if I don’t toss my head back (to close my epiglottis and prevent water vapour from entering my lungs), I cough like I’ve got bronchitis or pneumonia. If I don’t bring the fit under control using yoga breathing techniques, I will cough until I throw up.
From inhaling while taking one sip of water.
If not for watermelon and liquids with high specific gravities, like coconut water, unsweetened apple juice and the dilute jello-water I make for myself, I’d have dehydrated months ago. Sometimes, attempting blood tests, my blood has clotted the moment it has left the needle in my arm.
Hopefully, I will be able to drink water like a normal person again one fine day.
Until then, I’ll look at everyone I see and seethe with jealousy that they can drink a glass of cold water.

BC Pires is capable of only dry humour

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