Side effects

When you have cancer or another serious illness,  you are often faced with unsavory choices. Kind of like the game “would you rather”, where you have to choose the least worst scenario (For example: Would you rather eat cockroaches or have your legs waxed).

I remember being told that the drug I was being given to treat my cancer-like illness could cause cancer.  So my choice was to die now or die in 10 years. We used to give my son limited choices like that. “You can go to bed now or in 5 minutes”. Like my son, I went for the maximum time. (So far so good on that side effect front).

Some doctors are  a bit cavalier about the side effects. “Oh that complete body rash that kept you up for three nights running, hah, hah, well I guess it happens to some people”. “Oh yeah, by the way, that chemo you’re about to have  is going to send you into early menopause. Did I forget to mention that?”

Not all of the side-effects of my medication are so severe. Of course, when you are given a new drug, the “factsheet” that accompanies it is enough to swear you off all medication for good. Too much information makes taking every pill a scary prospect. In fact, I became so nervous about side effects that I was extremely resistant to taking  new drugs for a while.

For example, at one point it was recommended that I take thalidomide. Thalidomide! I shrank in horror from what I perceived to be the most evil of all drugs with the most dramatic side effects. I resisted for a good year or two before giving in. I remember taking the first pill with great ceremony and marking the “moment when I began to take thalidomide”.  My life would be marked BT and AT. I soon found out that taking the thalidomide was a non-event. It was the most effective drug I had yet taken and I did not experience extensive side effects. All that resistance for nothing.

I’ve stopped reading the factsheets because it seems like 95% of potential side effects are listed only for liability purposes. If I was to resist every drug because of the potential side effects, I might not be here today. In some ways its easier not to know and, thus, not make myself crazy with worrying about what might happen.

There are times when the side effects are a mixed blessing. I can stay on my current medication as long as it is working and as long as I can tolerate the side effects. You bet that I’m going to tolerate quite a number of side effects in order to stay on this drug. Better to have the side effects than to not have my disease controlled, although I do miss being able to whine.

Just about all cancer treatments have side effects of some kind. Even the medication for side effects have side effects themselves. What are your stories about side effects?



One thought on “Side effects

  1. Maggie DiStasi says:

    I can certainly relate to your comments. What I have also found difficult is that I readily agreed to certain procedures that had significant side effects (i.e. early menopause) without being able to stop to consider the consequences – with cancer, it’s often ‘do or die’ and that really isn’t much of a choice. Nonetheless, I know that sometimes I have to make decisions that have serious consequences, but now I’m trying to approach them as Victor Frankl would: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.” It doesn’t seem like much, yet simultaneously it really can be everything.

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