Chemo Hangover

Back in my younger, non-carcinogenic days, I still wasn’t much of a drinker. I was the world’s cheapest drunk and I still am. I can get loaded on a glass of wine––sometimes half a glass. But I was always careful to drink a lot of ice water at the same time. I never had a hangover until the early 90s, when I went out drinking with my aerobics instructor. That woman partied me under the table so that I never had a chance to drink enough water and for the first time in my life, I was hungover the next day––not just tired but completely yuck. I haven’t had a hangover since.

Or rather, I hadn’t until I got cancer. Now every three weeks, I have a chemo hangover.

For those who have wondered, or even if you don’t give a rat’s caboose, I’m on CarboTaxol––carboplatin and paclitaxel. I get the paclitaxel first. It takes somewhere between three and four hours; the carboplatin takes about an hour and in between, there are saline flushes (the IV equivalent of a palate cleanser). The paclitaxel has alcohol in it and if you’re as cheap a drunk as I am, you’ll feel tipsy. And if you’re a cheerful drunk, which I am, you’ll feel like acting silly. Photos have been posted on my Twitter feed and my Facebook page. Considering I’m actually being poisoned in an attempt to kill cancer cells, chemo day is kind of a fun day. I joke with the nurses, my fellow travellers laugh at my t-shirt, and my husband stays right by me all day.

But then there’s the morning after.

The first time, I had to have a CT-scan, which they insisted on giving me as soon as I finished chemo. I had to drink something called ‘contrast’ and it didn’t sit well with the chemo. I woke up in the middle of the night so violently ill that I had to go to A&E (the ER, for US readers). After that, I spent a week in hospital, running fevers.

When it was time for my second round of chemo, I didn’t anticipate any problems. But the morning after, I was bent over the loo again. I had nothing to bring up––everything I’d eaten the night before had been digested and moved on, unlike in the first round, where it just sat as if waiting to retrace its steps and come out the way it had gone in,

This round of chemo is my third and puts me at the halfway mark––three down, three to go. This time, I thought I might get sick and I was prepared. Sure enough, I was up at 3 a.m. and everything I’d eaten for dinner was still parked in my stomach, waiting to exit, even though I had taken an extra anti-nausea pill before going to bed.

Business taken care of, I settled down in the living room so as not to disturb Chris, who’d had a long day with me without benefit of alcohol, and did some deep-breathing exercises. And that was it. I slept for a little while and I’ve had no further problems. So I guess that’s just how it is––first thing in the morning after, I suffer the effects of a chemo hangover. I suppose it could be worse but nausea is the one thing I hate more than anything else.

Nausea is the one thing that cripples me; it stops me dead. I can’t think, I can’t move, I can’t even watch TV let alone read to take my mind off it. I can function with a headache or a sore throat or other pain, with a cold, with a fever, with just about any other problem. But if nausea hits me, I’m done till it stops.

Chemo hangover. Who knew?


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