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.
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.”
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.
- If you need to make an important decision—don’t. Relinquish it to your partner
- Once you arrive in a foreign country, don’t try to drive a tractor, regardless how appealing it sounds
- Most people are trying to do the best they can. Be tolerant. If you can’t be tolerate, then be silent.
- If something goes wrong, it’s probably your fault
- If you’re a man, check your fly—often.
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