Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Tags: Cancer | chemo | coping | strategies | side effects

Coping With Chemo: A User's Guide

By    |   Tuesday, 08 October 2013 10:07 AM

 A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.
Most people can hear Julie Andrews singing this song from "Mary Poppins."
The sugar can be both real and metaphorical. The easy part is chasing a bitter pill with something sweet. The harder part is to remind ourselves that the chemotherapy fighting our cancer and the other medicines we take are "sweet" because they are making us well.
This is easier to do with more distance from treatment, when you might be on maintenance drugs. If anyone had said to me when I was sick from chemotherapy, "This is good for you," I would have swatted them if I could have lifted my hand. But it did help when various people gently reminded me, "Just think, this is making the cancer go away."
You can visualize the chemotherapy as a powerful force coursing through your veins to chase the cancer out or as an army of soldiers fighting the bad guys.
Then there are the drugs taken afterwards to correct imbalances in your system.
Chemotherapy can cause a low white blood count that increases your risk of infection. I gave myself daily shots of a prescription drug called Neupogen to raise my white blood count. The box of pre-filled needles looked incongruous in the refrigerator next to the milk and orange juice.
My potassium was high, so I dissolved a grainy mixture of a medicine called Kayexalate in water to bring it down.
There was an easy fix for my low sodium: Eat plenty of salty snacks.
I took another prescription drug, Exjade, five pills dissolved in water every day to help an imbalance in my blood created by having had multiple transfusions.
If the dog or anyone else around had heard the sound effects I made when I chugged these disgusting medicines, they might have thought I was dying. Somehow, though, that helped me get them down.
Thank goodness for the antibiotics I took this spring when I had pneumonia. But the antibiotics led to thrush in my mouth and the need to take anti-fungal medicine.
My morning routine now looks like this: 
  • Swish and spit anti-fungal mouthwash.
  • Suck on anti-fungal lozenge
  • Take 14 pills.
  • Use prescription eye drops.
  • Wash off anti-viral cream applied to hands last night. 
I sighed and said to a friend who was visiting, "So many meds."
My friend said, "Thank goodness for that medicine."
Words of wisdom to remember.

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Chemo can be a bitter pill to swallow, but there are things you can do to help the medicine go down.
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Tuesday, 08 October 2013 10:07 AM
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