Sunday, April 20, 2008

Chemotherapy Has Turned Me Into a Bloodhound

Cancer drugs scramble the signals that the nose and tongue send to the brain, with bizarre results by Jason Carpenter

When one of the doctors offhandedly mentioned that my sense of taste or smell could be affected by the high-dose chemotherapy treatments I was getting in my battle against multiple myeloma, I didn't pay much attention. Not until I found I could detect the slightest whiff of anything from 20 feet. Not until anything I put in my mouth had a taste so intense that I vomited every meal for two weeks.

It was a horrible cycle that I could not break: When a meal came back up, it smelled awful and made me puke more. My mom, who spent some time at the hospital with me and at my house after I was discharged, developed a two-puke-pan routine: She would remove one pan on my command, then slip another one under me so I didn't have to endure the output.

While in the hospital, I developed a vomit association with just about everything the institution stocked for supplies: bathroom soap, hand soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and even facial tissue (I could smell tissues rippling in the air across the room). Clearly, some of this was in my head, but a good portion of it was not, according to

Thirty-two days after my transplant, I cannot smell hospital supplies without gagging. Because I need to constantly disinfect my hands and face (trying to banish germs that could attack my weakened immune system), I've had to switch to neutral-smelling antibacterial baby wipes. Things are somewhat better: I gag but don’t usually vomit, though I do risk hurling on my laptop just writing this down. I'm told this will slowly ebb over the next weeks or months.

Even my sense of touch has been affected. For the first few post-op visits to the hospital, I nearly jumped out of my skin with pain when the nurse drew blood. I have had my blood drawn hundreds of times, and it's never hurt like this. The nurse noticed and said, "Your nerves are sensitive because of the chemo. It's completely normal."

Normal, my ass. I'm a bloodhound; my food tastes as if someone turned the volume to 11; and I screech like a little girl when I have my blood drawn. But I’ll say it again: I'll take all these wacky side effects over cancer.

As to my progress, I went to the doctor today and my white blood count is back up to 4.1 (close to the low end of normal), my platelets are good, and my red blood cells are charging back. The doctor is so pleased with my recovery that I don't need to see her for three weeks. She even said that I can start to ease the restrictions of being around people. Which means I’m planning to play poker again, tonight, latex gloves and all.

See Jason Carpenter's ongoing video postings about his life with cancer. Warning: Some expletives.
Stem Cell Transplant Update: Advice On Hair Falling Out

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