I have to confess that I have never been much of a cook, one pan recipes are my saviour, the fewer the ingredients the better. That said, I recently made a cheese and onion flan, only two ingredients, cheese and onion, yet I managed to forget the onion! Not that long ago I juggled several pans, treating dinner guests to a wholesome meat and potato pie with veggies followed by apple pie and custard. It would have been a resounding success, if only I had managed to serve the pies in the right order! So, you can see why it came as quite a shock to everyone, especially my husband, when during chemo I suddenly became a brilliant cook!
The first part of my treatment involved a drug called Doxorubicin, a bright red cocktail that a nurse would slowly inject into my sad, tired vein. I was convinced that this stuff must be the blood of Mrs Beeton, as this could be the only explanation as to why I had suddenly become an avid and quite frankly, talented cook. The Doctors had laughed heartily at this, saying it wasn’t a side effect that they had ever come across before. They thought I was kidding but I wasn’t, I really did believe the Doxorubicin was the cause of my new found talent.
This got me to thinking about the side effects of chemo and medicinal drugs in general. Can anyone think of an illness or disease that when treated, does not give you vile or debilitating side effects? Even over the counter pain relief will have a list of possible side effects that sound far worse than any malady you may wish to cure. As if it isn’t it bad enough that we have these horrible conditions to contend with, any treatment that may be available to ease or cure us, always brings with it the most ghastly and nauseating side effects. So, my question is this, “With all the money that goes into drug research and development, why can’t they create drugs with enjoyable side effects?”
While I appreciate that it might not be possible to lose the side effects altogether and that we may have to accept them as a ‘necessary evil’, couldn’t they at least be a little bit more pleasant? A talent that you had long wished for could be your side effect. You might become a beautiful singer, a brilliant pianist, an accomplished artist or maybe a ballet dancer, whatever your heart desired. I would have quite liked to be an ice dancer but best of all, I would have loved to have been able to fly. Swooping and soaring like a bird, the cool, fresh air washing over me, liberating me of my pain and the mental demons that cancer forces upon us.
People would no longer give my bald head and grey skin a sideways glance of sympathy, instead they would be ducking and cursing as I swept through shopping centres, whizzing round and around in revolving doors, my laughter echoing throughout the mall.
From my own experience of breast cancer, there were many side effects associated with the chemo that I would love to have swapped for something less revolting and embarrassing. Having a super power might be asking too much but how about swapping painful and nauseating for ridiculous and funny?
The most obvious and often the most devastating for some people would have to be the hair loss. I can confirm that it is true that 90% of your body heat escapes through the top of your head. I know this because when I was bald, it was absolutely bloody freezing! So much so, that I had to wear a woolly hat whenever I opened the fridge door!
Having a cancer diagnosis means that not only are you having to face a bleak and uncertain future but you have to do it looking like somebody you don’t recognise. A pasty complexion, and a bald head with a face devoid of eyebrows and lashes, looks back at you from the mirror. Tired, worried and confused, you can’t even see a glimpse of what you once were.
With a bald head, you can look edgy and quite attractive but once the eyebrows and lashes go – well then you just look – basically shit, like some kind of alien or a guppy!
If they could just tweak the drugs so that instead of finding all your hair on the pillow one morning, you could wake to find that your hair has grown several feet (that’s feet as in inches, not feet as with toes, now that would be ridiculous!) You would step out of bed to find long, thick waves cascading to the floor and you would bear an uncanny likeness to cousin It from the Adams Family. You could cut it each morning, trying a different style every day or you could leave it growing and enjoy your new floor length hair. The massively bushy eyebrows would need regular trimming but hey, you can’t have everything.
There are many side effects I would like to swap, like the loss of taste I would swap for highly tuned taste buds, finger- nails that grow like talons rather than turning black and dropping off, the excruciating muscle pain would be exchanged for the strength and physique of an athlete. Then there is the exhaustion, the vomiting and much more and much worse, all of which, would be replaced with boundless energy, a ravenous appetite and something, in fact anything, that would improve the day.
It would be great if we could all pick and choose the side effects, even if it meant that we just got one good one to go with the bad ones. We don’t choose the illness so it would be nice if we could at least choose the side effects. How absolutely fantastic would it be if we could each have our own talent or super power. It could be running at the speed of light, leaping tall buildings with a single bound or just being able to glide across the ice. You could fly high in the sky, circling mountain tops and swoop over golden corn fields before returning to hospital for the next super power infusion.
So come on you wonderful, clever scientists, give us some side effects that will make having a life threatening or debilitating disease a little more bearable or even dare I say, fun. There’s a range of recreational drugs out there, designed to give a ‘high’ to those who use them. They do no good, they can be addictive and in most cases, they are illegal, so why not create something for Good rather than Evil and develop a chemotherapy drug that gives a non-addictive high that will offer some respite from the toil, pain and exhaustion of cancer.
We don’t have to turn cancer patients into super heroes, righting wrongs and preventing world disasters but while they are under- going treatment and worrying what their future might hold, could they not at the very least, have a bloody good time and fight their cancer on a ‘high’, a positive attitude and most of all, a smile.