It’s hard to describe what chemotherapy does to you. I’ve had more than fifty rounds of chemo in the past eight years and the side effects have varied from mild discomfort and insomnia to projectile vomiting and near-death experiences.
The causes and cures for these maladies are drugs. The ones I’m taking now are tame compared to some of the weapons-grade toxins I’ve had, including Cytoxan—a derivative of mustard gas—and Cisplatin—known in nursing slang as “Cisflatten,” but they still pack a punch.
“Poisons and medicine are oftentimes the same substance
given with different intents.”
—Peter Mere Latham
My current cocktail is comprised of Rituximab and Brentuximab vedotin. About a week after receiving these monoclonal antibodies my bones and muscles start to ache (arthralgias and myalgias) and I get some nausea that’s akin to motion sickness.
There are pills for these ills but they have their own side effects, for which there are still more meds to mitigate the damage. It takes a juggling act with prescription bottles to get me through each phase of the chemo-cycle.
I’m very thankful for pharmaceuticals but they are a mixed blessing as Dr. Katrina Firkin points out in Another Day in the Frontal Lobe:
Anything strong enough to help you is strong enough to hurt you. No treatment, at least no worthwhile treatment, comes without risk. … There are plenty of medications that work wonders without us having a clear idea as to how or why they work. To me, that means there are probably other things those drugs are doing that we may not expect. … I’ll take a medication when I need it when the time comes, if the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. But I won’t expect to get something for nothing.
The “something” I get out of my Faustian bargain with drugs is time. Every new day is worth the price of admission.