A Few Lasting Side Effects That Aren't So Bad

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I couldn't believe that I would benefit from some of the side effects of my cancer treatment.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Mary Sansone

Side effects from cancer treatment can be horrendous. My heart goes out to all who are currently experiencing any pain and suffering caused by chemo, radiation, surgeries and other therapies. I wish you peace and comfort.

I no longer have cancer. Better yet, I have a celebratory spirit. Despite the misery and temper tantrums during treatment, the bad side effects were worth it.

To lighten the mood for a moment, I thought I would be a bit cheeky and provide some hope by way of appreciating a few “good” lasting side effects.

Let’s start with a profound revelation.

  • I no longer have to shave my armpits; nothing grows there anymore! And I go weeks before I see any stubble on my legs. It’s been two years post-transplant. I think these are permanent benefits.
  • My cranium hair is now curly. I used to have incredibly thin, sparse, straight, hair; it required product to keep it from looking like a balloon was just rubbed all over my head.I have a grade school picture, when my health was at its apex, that zooms in on my braces and mega-static-y head. My hair literally floated in all directions away from my face. (I also decided to also wear a large lapel polyester blouse with a fourth of July theme. And this is one of my better pictures.)

Granted, my curly hair is now the sum of about 900 strands. These scant hairs are not evenly placed on my head. I have sections of scalp that get an unobstructed view of the sky.

But I now get to sport a wig! This is not a bad thing; I never had good hair. For decades. My mom and sisters would encourage me to “maybe just blow-dry it more.”

I got a few “tester” wigs and brought them to a family Christmas. The 12 of us went in a circle trying them on. Everyone looked like a badass Steven Tyler or a schoolmarm. Dad in a wig resembled Keith Richards and freaked us all out. It was a blast.

  • I was appalled when my nails fell off and my skin chafed away. But as this was happening, new nails and skin introduced themselves to other regenerated body parts. I thought to myself, maybe all my internal organs got arefresh too! I decided to believe this. 
  • Before I went into treatment, I had blotchy red skin on my neck and chest. Broken blood vessels left dull red marks in some spots on my arms and legs. Chemo took all this away. The blotchiness never came back. Never mind the wrinkles that come with the privilege of aging; my skin looks pretty darn good for my age. (We’ll skip over the rash experience.)
  • During treatment, mise-en-place for nearly every meal consisted of arranging a milk carton, a few sugar packets, and a box of Rice Krispies neatly on my handy bed tray. The blander the better.

Some people say that their taste goes away during chemo. My taste buds became very acute. At the time, this posed a problem.

Spaghetti tasted like chewy worms covered in a sauce infused with Valvoline. Someone in the world invented a rotten-fruit condiment and topped my meals with two tablespoons and some aluminum shavings.

But then the acute taste buds started to celebrate flavors! A baked potato could send me over the moon. “Oh my God, this is so delicious!”I savor everything now, from bagel chips to beef bourguignonne.

  • Frustration, boredom, and distress are mental side effects during treatment. Mine were full-fledged. But the pregnant anguish birthed a new creative outlet.

While undergoing chemo, a friend gave me a watercolor set. I never created art in my adult life. As it turns out, I’m not too shabby. I wasn’t offered a gallery showing or anything, but I found my work amusing.

Had I not needed a distraction from physical and mental misery during the bone marrow transplant, I never would have created “Sister Series: The Early Years”. The collection introduces me as a “fledgling artist who applies a purposeful messiness to reflect the sloppy joy of sisterhood. Works include- “Jumping on the Bed”, “Getting Ready to Play in the Wisconsin Snow”, and “Girls Lost While Camping.”

After treatment, I continued to draw, picked up writing, and started learning about gemstones among other leisure pursuits. Now I want to be a writer, a fashion designer, an artist, a whale and pachyderm scientist, and a 5-star African safari resort traveler and vlogger. I’m 58 in a few weeks. A person can dream.

I was recently asked by a cute older couple at the mall if I was a celebrity. “I don’t think you would be familiar with my work,” I wanted to say.

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