It’s not a good idea to have meaningful discussions, work with heavy machinery, or travel to Europe shortly after chemotherapy. I managed to keep my mouth shut, avoided working with anything resembling a bulldozer, but, unfortunately, a trip to Hungary was scheduled months in advance of my hormone injection.

Chemotherapy, Logic and Raging Hormones

One would think I’d remember what chemotherapy does to my body and psyche for a month following the injection—after all, I have had hormone injections for prostate cancer every three months for thirteen years. One would think that someone who writes about cancer would have the sense to schedule the trip two or three weeks later. Yes, one would think I should be aware of these and the other side-effects of my ongoing cancer treatments. But you can throw logic out the window when chemicals rearrange the cells of your body and brain.

The trite phrase “Hope Springs Eternal,” should be tattooed on the forehead of everyone living with cancer.  We hope the cancer will go away or at least abate. We hope a cure is found before it’s too late. We hope the side-effects of the last treatment were only an aberration. We hope for many things that help us to move forward with our life. Unfortunately, it often creates more problems than it eliminates. Maybe we should have a second tattoo below the first: “The above is a dumb phrase.”

Awareness of Changes

There are obvious changes I’m aware of such as the thirty daily hot flashes, constant hunger, and feelings of exhaustion. But other, more important effects remain below my radar when they are occurring. Fortunately, my wife and adult children try to accommodate even the outrageous ones. In conversations with other people living with cancer, I’ve found I’m not an oddity, but rather I’m one of the gang.

Most people undergoing cancer treatments have unique combinations of physical and psychological changes during and immediately following chemotherapy. In my case, chemicals powerful enough to coral the cancer reduces my ability to cope. Trivial problems become ones requiring heroic intervention. I routinely transform helpful suggestions into condemnations of my character, and reminders for things I know I forget into statements appropriate for someone approaching senility.

Blaming Others

When I lost my watch going through security at San Francisco International Airport, I assumed someone stole it. I emailed security and accused them of not being diligent. I received a polite response saying I left it in a bin and they will hold it for me. In Frankfort, I insisted we sit at a gate scheduled for our flight to Budapest. Only when I heard an urgent call from the gate next to us for “passengers Goldberg” did I believe my wife insisting we were at the wrong gate. In Budapest, I became annoyed because the ATM didn’t have an English language option. My wife suggested I scroll down the screen, and as if by magic there it was!

I’m retrospectively aware of how chemotherapy affects me. But I’m clueless when the Jekyll and Hyde transformation is occurring. During those uncomfortable moments I do what most people do following chemotherapy—I muddle through life and believe everything would be fine if computers were designed differently and everyone was more understanding.

I explained to a friend and his wife who will join us on the river cruise from Budapest he should expect someone with a mood disorder. He responded, “I prefer to spend time with a grouchy Stan than a dead one.”

Suggestions

If your loved one or friend appears different following a chemotherapy treatment, think about my friend’s response. If you are undergoing chemotherapy here are some suggestions you might find helpful, especially if you’re traveling abroad.

1. If you need to make an important decision—don’t. Relinquish it to your partner

2. Once you arrive in a foreign country, don’t try to drive a tractor, regardless how appealing it sounds

3. Most people are trying to do the best they can. Be tolerant. If you can’t be tolerate, then be silent.

4. If something goes wrong, it’s probably your fault

5. If you’re a man, check your fly—often.

 

I value feedback on my articles and respond to each comment.

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11 Responses

  1. Cathy A

    Stan,
    Thank you for posting this very personal insight into your experience.
    In the hustle and bustle of life, it is very important to take time to slow down and appreciate each other… And keep in mind that Oscar the grouch from the muppets remains lovable…. Even at his worst. Very touching post, Stan.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks for your kind words Cathy. I’m never concerned about revealing something personal if I think there’s a lesson others can learn from it.

      Reply
  2. Julia Hallisy

    I love this statement:
    “Most people are trying to do the best they can. Be tolerant. If you can’t be tolerate, then be silent.”
    This applies to all facets of our lives, irrespective of any health diagnosis.
    Thanks for this insight, Stan.

    Reply
  3. Becki

    Great one Stan!! Friends and family and strangers all need to read this. Chemo is a huge double-edged sword!!

    Reply
  4. Esther

    How to respond to a cancer diagnosis is a very personal decision. Most people respond out of fear. Not a good place from which to make a decision about treatment. There are currently dozens of websites that discuss natural and effective ways of healing cancer. I decided 5+ years ago to only use methods that honored and respected my body. I also use God and spirit as my partner along with natural supplements that prevent metastasis and build up my immune system. No need to suffer the effects of chemo if you do your homework. Check out Ty Bollinger and Bill Henderson websites for info.

    Reply

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