Saturday, February 12, 2011

Chemotherapy Side Effects? -by Joe

Since Heidi and I are both experiencing chemo side effects at the same time, I thought I would jot down observations from our experiences.

The 'classic' side effects from (non-specific) chemotherapy are hair loss, nausea and exhaustion. The reason for these side effects is that classic chemotherapy targets ALL faster growing cells in the body; so, along with fast growing cancer cells, hair and stomach lining cells also get hammered(baldness, nausea), causing exhaustion as well. Heidi has endured these (but luckily only hair thinning, not hair loss) from her 2004 course of CMF and now of Navilbene+Xeloda.

Newer chemotherapies target specific parts of a cancer cell. For example, since Heidi's lung and bone metastasis in 2008 consisted of breast cancer cells that 'eat' estrogen, she was placed on targeted chemotherapy that wiped out ALL estrogen in her body (femara). In this case, side effects were more specific to the type of drug - she experienced terrible arthritis type side effects, especially in her hands, requiring two carpal tunnel surgeries.

In my case, the targeted chemotherapy for my bladder cancer is to inject a weakened Tuberculosis bacteria into my bladder each week to trick the body's immune system into attacking the bladder lining, hopefully destroying it and forcing a new, healthier lining to grow, without cancer cells. As a result, I get local symptoms of severe burning, cramping and bleeding; plus it feels like I have a bad flu.

As if direct chemotherapy side effects weren't enough, additional medicines add their own side effects. Heidi gets an oral steroid to help manage the chemotherapy; this caused two surgeries to fix cataracts caused by the steroid. She also gets a 'bone hardener' (zomeda) to strengthen the bone against weakening by the cancer..this can cause bone pain. In addition, she gets a bone marrow accelerator, to force increased production of normal white blood cells (her chemo destroys white cells) and that also causes serious bone pain.

Pretty complicated, isn't it? I guess the lesson here is that if you have a family/friend undergoing chemotherapy, expect them to have some sort of serious side effects while on chemo, even if they aren't bald!

As always, thanks for the support and compassion!



  1. wow, just wow. and i'm thinking about you both.

  2. Hi Joe and Heidi.....your post is very well written. It is so hard to explain to other people what it's like to feel pain with digestion. And all the side effects......I am really rooting for you guys. You are amazing.

    My naturopath is helping me with my diet. If you can tolerate it, cantaloupe is very soothing. It settles my tummy. Although I'm NED now, I still am recovering from the chemo damage.

    God Bless you both!!!!

  3. Thanks Chris!
    Denise: yes, I think cantaloupe has been one of Heidi's longtime favorites, especially with Xeloda's GI side effects.. I am so sorry you are still experiencing chemo effects!
    - Joe

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