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Counting the Days of Chemotherapy

I was never any good at math, but I can count. So I learned to live by this bit of information by counting the days that passed after my treatments for ovarian cancer.
PUBLISHED November 06, 2019
Sherry Hanson has published hundreds of articles, essays and poems. In 2013 she won a MORE Award for excellence in reporting on musculoskeletal issues from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). She also won the 2014 Paumanok Award for Poetry from Farmingdale State College, Farmingdale, NY.

Sherry is a three-time survivor of ovarian cancer and volunteers in the “Survivors Teaching Students” program for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance of Oregon and Southwest Washington. She is also a volunteer Scientific Research Advocate for the Knight Cancer Institute, affiliated with Oregon Health Science University in Portland, Oregon.
I was never any good at math, but I can count. So I learned to live by this bit of information by counting the days that passed after my treatments for ovarian cancer.

Day one: Walk in, get the poison, walk out, go on with your day. No sleep that night because of the steroids pumping away inside.

Day two you still feel okay, but a bit shaky toward the end.

Day three I felt strange; don’t know how else to put it, maybe like there was something in my veins that was tingly or wired. Fatigue set in, loss of appetite. No sleeping either, because of the steroids, so that did not help with the fatigue.

By day four, one of the chemotherapy side effects that set in right away for me was an aversion to caffeine. Gone was my mid-morning cup of coffee that I so enjoyed, especially while working on writing assignments on my laptop. I don’t like tea, except iced tea, and I think I have allergies to some of the herbs that teas are made of anyway – it gives me an instant headache. Water? Not so much. In fact, yuk. I took up drinking ginger ale during these days of chemotherapy instead.

Also on day four there was more of the same: no appetite, though I could eat. Oatmeal was somewhat appealing, and that is what I ate for breakfast all through chemotherapy. For me, breakfast is not breakfast without my orange juice, so I drank it. Beyond that, things got weird. All I wanted was salt! As in Chinese food, bacon, potato chips and chicken broth - as long as it was not the low-salt kind. The steroid dose was going down, so I was finally able to sleep a little bit.

Day five is the “up” day, meaning the fog gradually lifts and I start to feel like myself again, though with successive chemotherapy treatments, that feeling of recovery would take longer each time. It’s called “cumulative effects,” but that’s another story.

My energy was coming back and my appetite was better. I went outside and took a walk without feeling like I might have to sit down on the sidewalk.

By day six I was able to go for three blocks, alternating between jogging and walking.

I was never able to drink a cup of coffee until the end of all chemotherapy, plus at least a month. Caffeine is a nauseator, and while I was not nauseated during my cancer treatments, I did not want it. I did not even like the smell. I consider myself very fortunate, in that I was not nauseous or sick.

Overall, I did well. I went bald by about week five, like everyone else on this same protocol. There was not a hair on my head, or even an eyelash to be seen. But I made it through chemotherapy!
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