Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 3: Fun With Chemo Side Effects!

My treatment regimen consisted of six months of chemotherapy. I’ll go into more detail in another chapter but for now, a little sarcastic look at some of the side effects that I dealt with. I saw this next part in play form so that’s why it’s written the way it is:


I’m thankful for traditional medicine but I’m also a believer in alternative medicine if the situation calls for it. If you can treat something without the use of a harsh drug I would rather go that route if it’s safe, and frankly the thought of going through chemotherapy scared the shit out of me, but I had a family at home that I wanted to live for and the prognosis for me was good if I went through chemotherapy, so chemo won the coin toss!

NARRATOR: Let’s see, chemotherapy… here are some chemo side effects: nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, indigestion, acid reflux, possible lung damage, possible heart damage, skin changes, possible sterility, mind numbing fatigue a general feeling of crappiness…

JENN: Wow, where do I sign up? Everyone’s chemotherapy is different and I’m certainly no authority on anything but what I went through. For my treatment my “cocktail” was called ABVD which stood for the four different medications being pumped into my veins twice a month for six months. Adriamycin (which turns your urine red…Thankfully they tell you that ahead of time so that you don’t think that you’re hemorrhaging the next time you go to the bathroom and it usually only lasted for a little bit that day), Bleomycin, Vinblastine (which when injected into my IV gave me such a gross taste in my mouth. I tried to eat different types of mints when it was being injected so that I wouldn’t taste it. The only ones that worked for me were Altoids. I would literally put at least three in my mouth as it was being injected and they would mask the taste of the medicine which to me tasted like moth balls. Yuck, I know. God bless those curiously strong little mints!) And last but not least Dacarbazine which burned while it was being infused. They would run saline at the same time to minimize the disintegration of my veins who now hide whenever I need any bloodwork.

NARRATOR: Wait I have some more possible side effects: Emotional instability.

JENN: Like I needed more of that.

NARRATOR: Hair loss.

JENN: You say hair loss I say I don’t have to shave my legs for six months, I’m a glass half full kind of gal, and since most of my chemo took place during the spring and summer, it was a little chemo perk not to have to shave.

NARRATOR: Oh wait here’s a good one, apparently chemo can either give you diarrhea or make you constipated.

JENN:  Yeah, I don’t know what’s worse, shitting your brains out or being full of shit, that one’s a toss-up.

NARRATOR: Mouth sores.

JENN: They’re as fun as they sound.

NARRATOR: Weight gain from anti-nausea meds which are also steroids.

JENN: I was happy to gain weight rather than lose it during chemo and possibly be more immune compromised but most of my weight went right to my middle. Let me tell you, looking three months pregnant when you are is really cute, looking three months pregnant when you’re not, not so cute and in the irony of it all one of the side effects from my anti-nausea medication was that it may cause nausea. Wait a minute this is an anti-nausea medication that may cause nausea, am I missing something here? But I took it anyway and it worked.

NARRATOR: Chemo brain. What the hell is chemo brain, did you make that up?

JENN: Ah, good ‘ol chemo brain. Let me explain. In very simplified terms chemo brain is a general sense of mental fogginess, cognitive and memory issues that can occur during and after treatment. For example, one time I went to the grocery store to recycle my plastic bags and I was carrying my canvas reusable bag on my arm. As the cashier finished bagging my groceries into three plastic bags, I looked down, saw my reusable bag still on my arm and laughed to myself. That’s chemo brain. It’s the madness we all feel normally, what day is it? Where did I put my keys? What did I do last weekend? Now magnify that times one hundred and you have chemo brain. Okay maybe my formula isn’t scientifically valid but that’s what it feels like.

NARRATOR: Chemo can throw your body into early menopause.

JENN: Now prior to my cancer diagnosis I had already been wondering where my libido had gone. I even put up signs, “If you see my libido can you tell it to call home?” I told my doctor that I thought my libido may be backpacking through Europe, she laughed. Maybe it was a pity laugh but I’m not above taking a cheap laugh. Then my period starting getting weird around July. I would get it and then it would go away after a couple of days. Then it would come back again the next week. My period did that again in August and then in September I didn’t get my period at all. My uterus didn’t know whether to shit or wind its watch.

– Jenn G.D.


To My Pasty Peeps

Welcome to summer! Okay, I know it’s been summer for awhile now, but for the sake of this blog just humor me. So…welcome to summer! Also known as, that time of year when other white people like to point out just how pale I really am. If you tan well, you may not be aware of this phenomenon or maybe you’re one of the perpetrators, hmm???

Dear fellow Caucasians…

First of all, I’m white? WHAT? Now that’s a brilliant observation. Please point out something else blatantly obvious while you’re at it.

Some white people, not all of us, but some white people get a little weird about other white people’s skin color as soon as the summer comes along. As if those of us who don’t tan well or choose not to tan are somehow offending their delicate sensibilities. It’s not like my skin color is going to miraculously change when the rest of the year I’m as pasty as Elmer’s. I mean, come on.

Some of us are melanin challenged and I apologize if my paleness offends you.

Yes, I’ve heard it all before; I’m so white, I’m pale. Let’s face it, I’m practically translucent.

Let me answer one of the questions that I usually get asked; Why yes, I go out into the sunlight everyday, but with SPF 700 it’s kind of hard to get a tan. And before you say anything about my SPF level, know that if I don’t use it I’ll get as red as a boiled lobster and that’s just not the look I’m going for. Not to mention that little thing called skin cancer, but I digress. All four of my great-grandparents came from Italy, but apparently my DNA either didn’t get the memo or just doesn’t give a shit.

So white people who tan easily, it’s going to be OKAY. You can’t catch it. Your savage tan will not disappear in my pale presence. And to all of my pasty peeps I say…stay pasty my friends.

Women Have Vaginas…and Other Facts Body Shamers Don’t Know

In today’s “stating the obvious” news I’d like to talk about this epidemic of body shaming, how some people think it’s ok to comment on women’s bodies whether they’re celebrities, just some regular person on the internet or the person standing five feet from you. I don’t like when it happens to men either but women definitely get the brunt of the criticism. Recently another woman was called names online for a picture of herself in a bikini because people saw she had, wait for it…CELLULITE.

Here’s the thing, saying women have cellulite or that they’ve gained weight after having a baby is like saying women have VAGINAS, yes because they’re women, it goes with the territory. All women have cellulite, on some women it’s less visible but we all have it. And baby weight, maybe if you’re genetically inclined you lose it quickly but that’s not the norm for most women. Pointing stuff like that out is like when you have a pimple and someone comments on it. Gee thanks I didn’t see that thing on my FACE until you had to so generously remind me it was there, thank you.

Here are some other shocking facts about women, we also fart, burp and poop. We’re human beings, not robots. I also think that men and boys should be able to cry and show emotion when they’re hurt instead of how our society shames them into bottling their feelings. They’re human too, and not robots, and raising generations of males filled with rage because we expect them to deny their emotions has really turned out well for society…but that’s another issue for another day. For the people who like to point out what they see as flaws in others, here are some other things that are factual like cellulite: the sky is blue, grass is green, it’s cold in the winter, hot in the summer…you get the idea.

I’ve been very thin my whole life and have been asked questions over the years like “Do you eat?” Really? No, I just happen to magically exist, like a unicorn. My point is this, no matter what you look like someone will always have something to say about it, even though they shouldn’t. If you want to change because it’s your decision that’s fine but don’t change who you are or what you look like because of something someone mean said to you.

Anyone who feels the need to point out what they see as “negative” in other people needs to look in the mirror and work on their own self esteem. Because people who are confident in themselves don’t feel the need to tear other people down. Here’s a good rule of thumb, it’s what I teach my children. If you have something nice to say about someone’s appearance then by all means compliment them but if you don’t then zip it. If you’re truly concerned about someone’s health you can say something to them but I think there are some rules that should go along with that. First you can’t just be an acquaintance who “means well.” You must actually love the person, have celebrated a birthday with them, something substantial like that. If not refer to my previous rule and zip it. To those of you who always point out the negative, you know who you are, if you learned this behavior because someone in your life said mean things to you, you must now take responsibility for your behavior and change. When you catch yourself about to say something mean, stop and think would you want someone to say that about you or someone you love? I don’t think so. Now go spread some love!

(Find me on Twitter @JennGDonohue)

I Might Tell My Son That Santa Died…

Ok to be honest I’m not really sure if I’m going to tell my son that Santa died but I’m seriously thinking about it. Now hold on, lest you think that I’m a soulless scrooge, let me explain. I don’t know about you but I suffer from L.A.S.G., Lying About Santa Guilt, especially at this time of the year. Christmas happens to be my favorite holiday. I love everything about it from the music to the decorations to the entire spirit of the holiday. I even love the idea of Santa, it’s sweet. As my children have gotten older though, they’re 11 and 7, the lying has had to get more creative and my guilt started to set in.

My daughter found out about Santa earlier this year. I’ll get to the story of how I was so lucky as to be the one to crush her little spirit a little later on. And yes I think I may need therapy now.

My son started his Christmas list this year by being obsessed with wanting a surfboard. He can’t even swim yet (we’re working on it). He tells us it’s ok though because he doesn’t want to actually go surfing with it, he just wants to play with it in the house. Great! Why not? We can use a huge surfboard in our small house. We’ll get rid of the couch, who needs furniture? So I got to thinking maybe I can tell him that Santa died? Perhaps in a tragic surfing accident? For those of you sick of a certain elf I can say they were together and the elf was eaten by a shark who mistook him for a skinny little seal? Ho, ho, ho, oh noooo! Too harsh? Ok fine.

My son says “I want an iPad and a Nintendo 3DS” and why not, Santa can bring them he tells me. Damn you Santa! How can I argue with that? We’ve told him he exists. We’ve fed the beast. Santa’s freaking magical and he wants to give you exactly what you ask for! So now it’s either rob a bank to buy all of that, and I really don’t think I’d like jail, or I can just tell him that Santa died. Easy, no one gets hurt…or arrested. Well maybe Santa gets hurt but you’re missing the point.

It’s insidious this Santa myth. You don’t realize it’s happening. Before you can even think about if you want to perpetuate it you find yourself sucked in! Before our children can even speak we’re excited for them because Santa is coming! Every year the grandparents ask, friends ask, hell even strangers ask, are you excited for Santa to come? What did you ask Santa for? We go so far as to orchestrate phone calls, letters and video emails to our kids from Santa. We put out cookies, milk and reindeer food. Hell Santa even has a website now where you can see him and the reindeer live!

We use Santa as a bribing tool, be good he’s watching! (slightly creepy that one). Oh it’s all well and good until your kids are really invested in it and then one day the hammer drops and they ask you “the question” (cue the dramatic music) dun, dun dun!

I don’t remember finding out about Santa and being upset, unless I was too traumatized and I’ve blocked it out. I’ll work it out in therapy and get back to you. I think it was just an evolution for me of realizing who was really buying the gifts and I just accepted it. I was a very sensitive child and it seems that quality has been passed down to both of my children. This is a quality that I can appreciate and when nurtured appropriately can be an asset and not something to be “fixed.” But you don’t know how sensitive your child is going to be when they’re little. You find out as they get older and by then the Santa myth has really solidified.

This is the conversation in my head. My children trust me, how could I have lied to them about this thing that they believe in with their heart and soul? How will they feel when their beautiful little spirits are crushed and they learn the truth? Since my daughter is older the panic began to set in a couple of years ago. I could feel the question coming. Oh shit my daughter is going to be really upset when she finds out! Oh shit she’s going to be so mad at us for lying! Just as I feared, when she found out she was devastated. Truly, like I had killed Tinkerbell in front of her with my bare hands.

I remember it all so clearly. I was folding laundry in my room when she walked in so innocently and then it happened. There I was in the midst of a huge parenting dilemma wishing that aliens would abduct me (only nice aliens though not the probey kind). I started to laugh nervously and uncontrollably as my mind raced. Do I tell her the truth? She’s going into 6th grade. She’ll be in school with older kids who will ridicule her when she insists that Santa is real “he is, my mom said so!” Do I keep lying to her? What do I do? Aaahhhh! It’s going to crush her. I hate myself for lying!

Now that we’ve pulled her into the ruse, which she is not entirely happy about, she’s shaking us down like Tony Soprano. In exchange for her silence she’s negotiating for exactly what she wants and as all of you with older children know, the older they get the more expensive the things they want get. Once they hit a certain age there will be no more giggles of glee with just a $20.00 toy people! Start saving up now. She also takes delight in torturing us as she jumps on any opportunity to not so discreetly hint to my son that Santa may be even closer than he thinks.

Ok I have to go now and bake cookies for Santa. I guess he gets a reprieve this year. Damn that jolly bastard!

(Find me on Twitter @JennGDonohue)

Health Insurance Company “Job Listing”

Disclaimer: The health insurance companies had this one coming. Please note that this is not about insurance brokers or anyone who works for an insurance company (unless you’re the CEO) who are just trying to do their jobs. I have a great insurance broker who is smart and caring. This is directed towards “the man” aka the top executives of these companies, the ones who make all of the crappy rules like “preexisting condition” clauses and other wonderful things like that which make it difficult and sometimes impossible for people to get healthcare in our country. This is a very sarcastic “job listing” for health insurance company CEO’s. I wrote this after much stress and aggravation given to me by various insurance co’s (for example being told they didn’t cover my chemotherapy when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, getting four preexisting condition letters in a four week time span, which meant I had to fill out the same form four times in a row & hope that the “powers that be” would approve the dr. visits I had, even after I waited the amount of time told to me by them in order not to have to deal with the preexisting condition clause, things like that). If you’ve ever had any issues with a health insurance company, I hope you enjoy this!
“Calling All Entrepreneurs”
I’m about to present an amazing business opportunity that you won’t want to miss!
Here’s a riddle: What kind of business can you run where you can chargepeople for your services or product, take their money and then decide later on whether or not you actually want to give them the service or product that they already paid for? And here’s the kicker, if you don’t want to provide the service or product you don’t have to give them their money back!
What kind of business can you run where you basically decide if someone lives or dies based on whether or not you provide your service? Sounds like organized crime you say? Oh no it’s much worse than organized crime, it’s the health insurance industry in America! Hmm, come to think of it, it’s one of the biggest organized crime rings in America!
Found a lump that you want to get checked out but can’t even afford the co-pay? Go ahead and ignore it because we’d tell you that we don’t cover the chemotherapy anyway for the very treatable cancer that you just found. Better keep sending us your money though because if we have to drop you and you’re under the age of 19, good luck ducking that preexisting condition clause with your new insurance company. No matter how you slice it, you’re screwed!
We’re looking for fat cat CEO’s in the making who want to make all of the rules and want to take hard working people’s money. Compassionate people need not apply. We really don’t care about people’s health, we really care about how big our wallets are. We’re looking for go-getters who have no regard for other people’s health and well being because bottom line other people’s health and well being aren’t good for our bottom line.
Are you sadistic? It’s ok, you can admit it, it’s fun to make sick people squirm and what better way is there to make them squirm than to deny them their health insurance? Is there a black hole where your heart is supposed to be? Are you lacking empathy, sympathy and compassion, then you’d be a perfect CEO for the health insurance industry! Don’t delay, call us now!

(Find me on Twitter @JennGDonohue)