A Wee Problem: Another Chemo Side Effect They Didn’t Tell Me About


One side effect of chemotherapy that no one warned me about was frequent urination.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, John Smelcer

One of the side effects of chemotherapy is a little embarrassing to talk about. The list of possible side effects the doctors and nurses tell you about does not do justice to this rather personal problem. I’ma dude, which makes it even harder for me to talk about. I may make a big deal about it, but it’s actually a wee problem.

“What goes in must go out,” they say. How true this is about chemo. For me, during my hospitalization, I went through a regimen of four large bags of chemo at a pace of about one per day. Bags of saline were pumped into me along with the toxic chemo. It felt like gallons of liquid to me, which of, it was all told. Eventually, given enough time, the liquid needed to come out. As they say about beer: “You only rent it.” I had to pee more than I ever have in my life. I swear I’d just finish going to the bathroom when I’d have to turn around midway to my bed and shuffle back to the bathroom, dragging my IV pole. “Come on, Roley,” I’d say. It was unbelievable! It was hard to get a good night’s sleep with all that getting up.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Just as the chemo kills cancer cells and injures other fast growing cells (like hair, nails, etc.), so too does it harm the urinary system as it passes through on its way out. A couple days after I got home, my urinary system was damaged from the harsh chemicals. Things just didn’t work right. It’s hard to explain. There wasn’t pain, per se, but the muscles that control the system and the ureter lining (and perhaps the prostate itself) were injured in such a way that I could feel the need to go (often), but I couldn’t get it to come out. It was more discomfiture than anything else. I would sit on the toilet going through various positions trying to get the flow to go. I’d bend over forward and sideways. I raised my arms over my head. I must have looked like I was doing the “YMCA” song by the Village People. I might have looked like someone holding an old-fashioned TV antenna in one hand and holding the other in awkward positions trying to pick up Gilligan’s Island. My wife said my contortions looked like someone playing the game, Twister. This inability to wee would last for weeks, until the fast-growing cells recovered. Unfortunately, I went through six chemo cycles, so it never really ended for me until a month or so after I rang the bell on the Oncology ward. My doctor eventually prescribed Flomax to help. As far as I can tell, six months out, there are no lasting side effects. Everything is back to normal. Thank goodness!

Throughout my debilitating cancer treatment—lasting half a year—I wrote poems, I wrote every single day. I wrote about everything I went through and about all my complex and mixed emotions. I even wrote about my wee little problem. Eventually, the poems were compiled into a book. Running from the Reaper: Poems from an Impatient Cancer Survivor is now available worldwide. It’s an unconventional, humorous, sardonic, and uplifting “must read” for anyone diagnosed with cancer, going through cancer treatment, or for anyone who cares for or loves someone with cancer.




When my wife married me, I was strong, muscular, confident.

You could tell I had once been a body builder.


But six months of chemo stole that from me.

Nowadays, I’m gaunt, boney, withered—

a wasteland of flesh and blood.

When you look up “emaciated” in the dictionary

it shows a picture of me.


Before cancer, my hair was white and my blue eyes sparkled with life.

But now I am bald and wrinkly like one of those hairless cats.


Chemo has made me ugly, turned me into something

I don’trecognize in the mirror.


I can’t even pee normal. I have to go through contortions

like I’m playing Twister or using my arms to spell out Y-M-C-A

from that old Village People song. It’s embarrassing.


I worry my wife won’t want me anymore. Who would?

I know she vowed for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,

but I’m pretty sure she didn’t bargain on being hitched to a corpse.

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