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 | cancer | therapy | side | effects

Dealing With Cancer Therapy's Unexpected Side Effects

Wednesday, 14 Aug 2013 10:04 AM

By Ronni Gordon

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If it’s not one thing, it’s another. People like me who have had their immune systems manipulated through bone marrow transplantation often find themselves saying this.
 
On top of the intense chemotherapy and the implantation of someone else’s stem cells, many of us are on prednisone to treat the inflammation that occurs from Graft vs. Host Disease, in which the donor’s cells attack various parts of the host: skin, eyes, lungs and in my case, the liver. Prednisone inhibits immune system functioning, allowing one thing or another to creep in.
 
Last week I wrote about the removal of a lesion that appeared on my kidney, one of those secondary cancers that survivors can tend to develop. As the pain from the incision subsided, I got another kind of pain, this time from little blisters that appeared on my lips. I am awaiting results from a viral culture that my doctor took.
 
Meanwhile, so far to no avail, I have increased my dosage of Valtrex, the anti-viral that I already take prophylactically. I am also applying an antibiotic cream. I am told that these are brought on by stress.
 
The other night I could barely open my mouth to eat dinner. My lucky Labrador retriever, Maddie, ate most of my hamburger. I drank a Coke through a straw. My morning coffee, which I usually like hot, burned my lips.
 
“You must feel a little like Job,” a friend said to me.
 
To top it off, I developed a toothache. Yesterday the dentist told me the tooth needs to be removed, having decayed so quickly that it cannot be saved. I have already lost four teeth, all for the same reason: My immune system was suppressed so long during chemotherapy that bacteria in my mouth had a field day. I am not a candidate for implants.
 
“How am I going to chew?” I asked him. He said that I still have plenty of teeth left. “You could even eat a steak, as long as it’s a good one,” he said.
 
I wonder if the friend who took me last time when I had two teeth removed will do it again. As per doctor’s orders, I had taken two Ativan so I would be relaxed when I had the teeth removed under local anesthesia.
 
This friend and I often meet for coffee. After the extractions, my mouth stuffed with cotton, I insisted that we go out for coffee and then visit his mother. He got me home only by promising to get me a coffee when I was settled. It was a moot point, because I immediately conked out.
 
I have talked to other survivors who have had one thing after another, and we all say the same thing: At least we are alive.
 
 
 
 

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