My Chemotherapy Treatments Gave Me a Superpower

After enduring an extensive treatment of 60 chemotherapy infusions, a patient with metastatic breast cancer has developed a superpower — an extreme sense of smell.

Having endured 60 chemotherapy infusions consisting of Adriamycin (doxorubicin), Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Abraxane (paclitaxel) and Halaven (eribulin mesylate) over these past seven years while living with metastatic breast cancer, I have found I’ve been gifted with the phenomena of the extreme sense of smell.

I liken it to my very own superpower. I’ve searched Google and elsewhere and everything I have read says the side effects should go away once you are finished with the treatment. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the nature of the scent, my sense of smell has remained in this hyperactive state all these years. I attribute it to just one of the many lingering side effects from too much chemo.

Some smells can trigger memories, either wanted or unwanted. The medicinal or chemical smells can bring back memories of all the chemo I have had and all the times my veins would give the nurses trouble. Food aromas can be appetizing or unappetizing, but it’s the scent of springtime in California I love most of all. One example of my super smelling abilities happened just recently when my car was backed into by someone in a parking lot and I had to use a rental car for the few days mine was in the body shop.

I picked up the rental car while wearing my COVID mask, so I didn’t really detect any unusual odors until I got home. Once I was home and maskless, I couldn’t help but notice the car reeked as if I had asked for a non-smoking room in a cheap Las Vegas motel and accidentally was given the smoking room. It was like an ashtray on wheels. I tried airing it out. I tried using my air purifier. I vacuumed and wiped down the interior. I even bought an air freshener. Without my mask on I just couldn’t handle it. The odor was so strong to me I felt physically sick.

Thankfully, the rental car company was very understanding when I brought the car back to exchange it for another odorless one. A bonus benefit to mask wearing, it can mask odors too.

Food odors can be another trigger, sometimes making me hungry and sometimes making me lose my appetite altogether. Walking past the pizza place in town always smells so good, yet when I eat their pizza, I am always disappointed to find it doesn’t ever taste as good as it smells.

Back in my working days I had a coworker who was really into egg salad sandwiches for lunch. We didn’t have a lunchroom and I could always tell the days she would have egg salad. Her secret ingredient in her egg salad sandwich was jalapeño juice. Who puts jalapeño juice in egg salad; it makes my stomach turn just thinking of it. I never had the heart to tell her that my nose had superpowers and her lunch was making me gag. I just tried to move far enough away and distract myself. Another bonus to not working anymore.

Perhaps the best smell of all during springtime in California is the scent of pink jasmine blooming. Pink jasmine is a vine that seems to grow like weeds in my area. Most of the year it doesn’t look like much. In the spring it will have hundreds of small pink and white fragrant flowers.

We planted one next to our living room window so on nice days we can enjoy its scent wafting in on the ocean breeze. I notice the pink jasmine a lot on my walks and it is one scent I am more than happy to have enhanced by my super smeller. These days I always take time to stop and smell the pink jasmine and I try my best to avoid the triggering noxious smells amplified by my chemo superpowers.

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