Runny Nose: Another Unexpected Side Effect from Cancer Treatment


Lymphoma treatment came with a number of unexpected side effects for me, including a runny nose.

cartoon drawing of non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor and blogger, John Smelcer

Before beginning my chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment for stage 2, non-specific, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,a nurse went over a list of possible side effects from the chemo. One of the things listed in small font was “runny nose,” as if you might have the occasional sniffles. What an understatement!

I don’t know the medical reason for why a cancer patient’s nose runs so much for months on end, but I have a theory. The body simply doesn’t know what else to do in response to the harsh chemicals being pumped into it. When a person is sick with a cold or flu, the body knows to make mucus. That’s what it does. When in doubt, make mucus. Confused by what is attacking it, the body simply does what it knows. And so, for the duration of treatment, you have a red, chapped nose from all the blowing. The never-ending runny nose is like a river, in which salmon spawn in the shallows and hungry bears wade out into the rapids to catch their slippery dinner.

The good news is that no two patients go through cancer treatment exactly the same. What happened to me may not happen to you. The good news is that shortly after the chemotherapy ends, the river dries up.

As a poet, I wrote poems throughout my cancer experience. I wrote every day. I wrote so many poems that they were eventually compiled into a book. “Running from the Reaper: Poems from an Impatient Cancer Survivor,” is now available online. Funny, sad, satirical, genuine and uplifting, the book is a perfect gift for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, who cares for someone with cancer, or who loves someone with cancer. My runny nose was so incessant and annoying that I wrote a poem about it. You may think it is gross and hilarious, but its snot.



At the meeting where the nurse told us

about all the possible side effects of chemo

(the list filled a sheet of paper and included death)

one of the things listed was “runny nose.”


What an understatement!

It should have been printed in oversized, bolded font.


Ever since I began chemo my nose runs all the time,

like a leaky faucet or Niagra Falls. It never ends.


There are boxes of tissue in every room of our house.

I go through two or three boxes a day—

that’s 2,000 tissues a week; 8,000 a month;

50,000 from beginning to end.


I go through so many tissues that I bought stock in Kleenex.

The price of the stock sky-rocketed from high demand.

Now I’m a millionaire! I’m the Snot King!

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