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The Falling, Wandering and Crashing Business of Cancer Treatment Side Effects

If you’ve experienced neuropathy, you know what it entails.
PUBLISHED December 26, 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.
With neuropathy as a result of treatment comes a whole host of issues. The first one I can think of? Oops, there goes the wine! In more ways than one, actually, as wine is probably one of the last things you can enjoy while undergoing chemo. And not only can you not enjoy it, but when you try to lift that glass onto your kitchen counter, neuropathy will cause you to instead bash it against the edge. Hopefully this was not your special glass. If you try it again while in treatment, pick the cheap old glass you got at a yard sale. No big loss. The bashing goes on for a while but it does get better.

There is also this thing I call “the twitch”. And even 10 years out from my initial chemotherapy experience, it is very much alive. Example? I poured a cup of coffee and go to set it on the table, but at the last moment my hand twitches and the coffee slops all over. I usually swear when this happens – it’s better than heaving the damn cup at a wall – but the swearing does help, especially after ten years of this.

Grip strength is another issue. Can’t open that olive jar to get at those bleu-cheese-stuffed babies? Maybe it’s the raspberry jam for that peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch time. I have this old gadget called a jar opener that belonged to my mother-in-law and let’s just say that I’d starve without it. Fortunately, it adjusts small enough to open a screw-top on a bottle of wine. Again, I’m 10 years out and still dealing with this issue. So no, this effect has not improved much over time.

I am a walker, which is probably one of the things that helped me make it through three adventures with ovarian cancer. I had to give up roller blading when I passed out once, and dropped downhill skiing from my schedule after the cancer came back the first time. Running eventually went too, but then I am 75 years old. So this walking business is very helpful – but balance issues after treatment cause me to wander off track sometimes as I take my evening walks. Someone watching me from behind might think I was plastered, but really, I’m just trying to walk down the sidewalk. It is better than 10 years ago, but it will never go away.

Falling is also a problem. In fact, I’ve come close to falling on my face. How embarrassing. One time after it happened on a walk, a man yelled out his front door, “Are you alright?” I thanked him, answered I was alright, just clumsy, but the anger surged, and then the self pity, as I wondered what I would have done on that cold, dark night if I had fallen on my head. What trips me up? Lifted sidewalk slabs, curbs I fail to focus on, fallen branches, but often just my clumsy neuropathy-affected feet that don’t always register in my brain. Mind you, this hasn’t happened in two years, though I sometimes don’t lift a foot high enough and am reminded again to pay closer attention.

Then there’s the #$%^ double strikes on the keyboard! I probably take more time cleaning up my typing than I do to put together a whole blog, thanks to double strikes with my neuropathy-affected fingers. The twitch also enters the picture, causing a finger to snap sideways at the last second. But I’m a writer; that’s what I do, damn it, and I’m not giving up!

While all these issues are bothersome, I have not broken any wine glasses recently or fallen flat on my face. The jar opener remains a fixture in my life, as does the twitch. Wandering on my walks is not as much an issue unless I am tired. The typing issue is front and center and, I suspect, will remain there.

But I’m still here.
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