Making Chemo More Comfortable

Oh, goodness – this topic is vast, and I think so many people have different experiences. During Mom’s three years being off and on chemo, she experienced a multitude of symptoms, but rarely experienced the classic nausea and vomiting.  She did, however, often have a low appetite, and so would eat things like tapioca pudding or Ensure to keep calories coming in.

Symptoms are different depending on what type of chemo medication a person is taking. Some meds result in hair loss, but not all.  Some cause a terrible amount of nausea, and some are easily controlled with anti-nausea meds.  But there were many other effects that were a surprise.

When Mom was on a chemo cycle, she often got terrible mouth sores, which we would attempt to alleviate with a prescription mouth wash made with lidocaine.  During these times, she would not be able to eat acidic foods, so our menu would change to accommodate her needs.

Another med caused the skin on her hands and feet to blister and even slough off, and made them very sensitive and sometimes painful.  When this problem was very bad, Mom wore soft socks and gloves, and stayed off of her feet.  We put natural lotions and ointments such as “Unpetroleum Jelly” in an attempt to keep the skin soft and less irritated. Sometimes we would put these lotions and ointments inside her socks and gloves.

For the chemo cycles that caused her to lose her hair, we found that her head would get very cold, so she slept with caps on.  She would pencil in her eyebrows and put on eyeliner as she also lost her eyebrows and eyelashes.

Chemo and the cancer also caused a lot aches and pains, which she, of course, took pain medication for, but also would alleviate with warm corn bags and heating pads, or warm baths.

And then there were the hundreds of other ways that chemo had an affect on how the body functions, causing interruptions and complications large and small.  So many things to remember as more and more new medications were introduced, i.e., chemo has messed with clotting factors so we are now taking Coumadin, and not to eat too many greens so as not to further mess with clotting factors.  And by the way, also make sure to eat lots of fruits and veggies so as not to get constipated, and so on, around and around. To say it is head-spinning to keep up with it all is a drastic understatement.

What were some of the side effects you or your loved one experienced with chemo, and how did you deal with them?


Coming Up for Air

It has been months – MONTHS – since I have written a post for this blog.  I could tell you that I was busy with selling my mom’s house, and with our move, and with the holidays, and with life.

Which I was.

But that’s not the reason I didn’t write.  The truth is, somewhere around the one-year mark, the wind went completely out of my sails.

I’m not sure what happened, exactly.  True, the house took much longer to pack up than I had anticipated, and the process proved to be akin to torture.  We were exhausted and pushed to our limit with the emotional strain of sorting out what articles of Mom’s life would stay with us, go to another family member, or go away forever.

The sale itself also took longer than I had hoped, by far.  It was disheartening that people would walk through my mother’s home over and over, and after we had come to the painful decision to sell it, no one wanted it.  We dropped the price several times, and finally accepted an offer below what our bottom line had been.  But, it was done, and the man who bought the house was a kind one, full of humor at the closing.  Mom would have liked him, I think.

Somewhere in there was our first Christmas without her, and the first anniversary of her death, December 31.  And then what would have been her 61st birthday just three days later.  All of these milestones passed with us living in our home with no furniture to speak of, our belongings packed in storage except for what we could fit in suitcases.

We were also house-hunting furiously, but as hard as we tried, we could not find our new “home”.  So, we settled on a cute rental and decided to stop looking for a while.  That was a good choice, because I have realized that I actually had no idea what I wanted to do next.

That could be what happened.  I might have run out the sense of purpose I had been existing on for the four years prior.  My purpose had been to keep my mother alive.  And then it had been to make her last years great and memorable to the best of my ability.  And then it had been to support her during her passing.  And then it had been to make her life and her passing mean something by writing about it.  And then it had been to honor Mom’s wishes as I navigated the unbelievable amount of paperwork and stress that comes from being the executor of an estate.  And then it had been to help my children understand what had happened.

Maybe I realized that I didn’t understand what had happened, either.  The world was upside down, sideways – wrong.  And I lost all will to share, to write, to do anything but get up in the morning, make it through the day, and go to bed.

The world is still wrong, but we are settling in to our new normal.  We love decorating our cute little (really little – tiny) place, and we are making a roadmap for our future.  I am excited to write again and look at what lies ahead for us.  I have come back from sabbatical to jump into my midwifery practice again, and that is glorious.  Welcoming new life into my hands is the best feeling in the world, I promise you.

There is still a whole pile of estate stuff to do (I hope it’s done someday), but it’s manageable now that the house part is over.  There is a light at the end of that tunnel, at least. (people, make your arrangements, and use an attorney – it is SO HARD for people after you are gone if it’s not done right.)

And please remind me to redo mine when this is all over.  I have two more kids than I had last time I did up my paperwork.

So, I am coming up for air, as the title says.  Air is good, light is good, life is good.  I wonder what is coming up next on our little yellow-brick road?  We shall see.