Warning: This post will contain numerous references to poop, will talk directly about poop, and there will most likely be poop related puns. If any of this offends, concerns, or disgusts you – you might want to leave now.
There’s a funny thing about never having to have been at a hospital before. Intellectually, I knew that checking your bowel movements would be an important thing. However, I didn’t realize just *how* important.
Quite literally everyone that walks into the room for the first time asks me about not only the frequency of my pooping, but also the texture, quality, and quantity of it. They’re always polite and discrete, but one of these times, I’m going to drop a “it was coiled like a cobra” right on one of them, and I don’t think they’ll know how to handle it.
Now, before learning all this stuff, I had always thought that the major side effects of chemo were:
- You lose your hair.
This is *the* thing that everyone *knows* about chemo. I still have all my hair, and I’m now 5 days removed from the last dose of chemo. I’m probably keeping it through this round, which I didn’t realize was a thing that was possible. I figured I was definitely losing my hair, so I shaved it into a mohawk. It’s a good thing I look good with a mohawk.
- You vomit all the time and generally feel sick.
This is true…to some extent. I can’t speak for other types of chemo, but for the 7-3 regimen I was put on, I was also given crazy IV anti-nausea meds before each dose. The first 7 days, I didn’t feel a thing. Nights 8 and 9 I had some stomach cramping, but more muscular pain than nausea. I haven’t thrown up once, and haven’t even had an inkling that I might want to. From what I understand, unless you’re one of the unfortunate folk who have a reaction to the anti-nausea meds, this isn’t really a problem with chemo anymore.
- General Fragility / Sickness
This one is true to varying degrees. The fragility comes I think from the fact that your white blood cell and platelet counts are pretty much non-existent from the chemo. The low platelet count means that you have to avoid getting cuts or bruises, because you pretty much don’t heal from them. The low white blood cell count means you have to avoid going out into the world, avoid small children, avoid raw foods…etc. Nothing too horrendous.
Turns out the actual major symptoms that affect you on a day to day basis, or at least, for me, for this round, have all been poop related. When I’m out of here, I swear, I will never again take my normal bowel regularity for granted.
First, those miracle anti-nausea meds that I mentioned before? Yeah…they make you ridiculously constipated. To the point where they have to constantly check your stomach to make sure it’s not distended. It took 2 full days of laxatives and stool softeners before I was able to actually poop again.
Then, when you finally get *some* relief from the laxatives and softeners, you realize…oh no. Oh no, we’ve gone entirely too far. But there’s no turning back at that point. You’re in it for the long haul, and the long haul includes a LOT of toilet paper. Why is it a long haul? Because they have to make sure the volatile mess you deposit in the toilet, despite inducing it via laxatives and stool softeners, isn’t because of an infection. So they take a stool sample and test it. That test takes about 24 hours. Have fun waiting!
Next, they give you immodium or mylanta or some other poop-stopper. And then you get to be bottled up like a brewing volcano, and you have a rough few days before they pop the top off with more laxatives.
Rinse and repeat. For your entire visit.
When I go home, and have a normal feeling and looking poop, I swear, I’m going to (first; wipe) run around the room dancing and celebrating.
Oh, and if you’re visiting someone on chemo, be prepared for basically every nurse, nurses’ aide, doctor, physician’s aide, and any specialists to walk in, ask about the patients last bowel movement, and then expect them to describe consistency, volume, and texture. I’ve run out of ways to say my poop is somewhere between diarrhea and solid. I’ve settled with clumpy.
It’s kind of shitty, guys.