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Taking chemo dose with humor

Sat., Jan. 19, 2013

Going through cancer is certainly an interesting experience, if not a fun one. Chemo has been a five-month road trip through increasing debilitation, when I hoped to go through it like Wonder Woman. But I’ve mostly kept my spirits up and my sense of humor.

As expected, I lost my hair, brows and eyelashes. The positive side is that getting ready in the morning goes faster, and I’m having fun wearing a blond wig that gets lots of compliments. The downside is that without eyelashes, I fear my face somewhat resembles a bland pudding, my eyes constantly water, and I look pale and tired. This is the last time I get cancer for vanity’s sake.

I endure lots of clammy hot flashes followed by chills, and there are times I’ve wanted to rip my clothes and wig off right in the middle of the aisles at Fred Meyer. Dang, I’m going to be having hot flashes for at least five years. This is the last time I get cancer to regulate my hormones.

At first I felt pretty lucky not to have “chemo brain” with the perpetual fogginess and memory problems some experience. But during Taxol treatment I’ve definitely begun having chemo brain moments, as my husband, Richard, has thoughtfully pointed out. After continually denying this I’ve finally gotten through the five stages of grief and accepted it. I swear, this is the last time I get chemo to improve my mnemonic powers.

What was I saying?

I dream about grapefruit, chocolate, coffee, steamed sprouts, salads, pineapple, ice cream, homemade chocolate chip cookies. Food and drink is either tasteless or tastes bad, and with Taxol, tastes as if sprinkled with vile saccharine, even savory foods like soups and meats. I have to avoid sweet foods entirely and chocolate tastes like dirt. This is the last time I get cancer to become a gastronome.

The day I receive Taxol No. 9, I joke to the nurses that I’d rather have Love Potion No. 9. I might even run down the street and kiss a cop. I think. This is the last time I get cancer to joke about novelty songs while getting toxins pumped into my body.

Taxol causes neuropathy in my feet, legs, hands and arms. Kind of klutzy at the best of times, I can’t seem to hold on to anything without dropping it, because my fingers are feeble and don’t feel things as they should. This is the last time I get cancer to become more graceful.

My nails have a brownish cast with some darker sections and streaks. They are brittle and break in unpleasant ways. At least none have come off and the brown will grow out. But this is the last time I get cancer to have strong, gorgeous nails.

Chemo has kept me isolated at home much of the time, feeling like a certified member of the Mole People. Heck, the trash gets out more than I do. I spend too much time reading and dozing. My sleep is poor, so I often read in the wee hours, and I’m always exhausted. This is the last time I get cancer to become a sybarite.

Gosh, I’m wiped out and feel like (to quote Sandra Bullock in “While You Were Sleeping”) “doggy poopy.” Lacking strength, I can’t walk very far; at my last Taxol treatment I was too weak to lift and toss my lightweight coat over the back of the chemo chair. Pathetic. This is the last time I get cancer to train for a triathlon.

As you read this, my last Taxol treatment was Friday. I’m unable to do much dancing about to celebrate, but I made it! It’s hard to believe that chemo, if not its effects, is finally in the rearview mirror. Soon I’ll start 6 1/2 weeks of radiation therapy in which I get nuked like a chicken breast in the microwave.

Chemo has been an interesting experience, all right. But I’m telling you, this is the last time I get cancer to become a powerful, indefatigable and perky ball of fire.

I’ll leave that to Wonder Woman.

You can reach Deborah Chan at Previous columns are available at

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