During 18 weeks of chemotherapy, it often occurred me on more that there were many similarities between chemo and pregnancy. It may seem strange to compare the pleasure of new life with the distress of cancer treatment but bear with me as I provide my point below.
Every 3 weeks, the combination of Carboplatin and Taxol caused gut-wrenching nausea (but fortunately no vomiting thanks to inhaling vast quantities of anti-emetic drugs) flooring me for 3-4 days following treatment. I was fortunate not to have suffered from nausea during both my pregnancies. However, I now have complete empathy with anyone who suffers from morning or travel sickness.
Chemo brain is very much like baby brain. In both cases, brain cells are lost, whether as a result of chemo toxins or hormones released during pregnancy. However, in both cases, the memory loss assists in moving forward and having more than one baby or enduring further chemo treatments.
Food cravings / dislikes
During both my pregnancies, I craved Marmite, something I ordinarily detest and haven’t eaten since. During chemo, I craved fish – fried, battered or breaded but grilled was also good – even and especially when the nausea took hold.
Bizarrely, during both pregnancy AND chemo, I disliked the same thing – coffee! After pregnancy, I resumed drinking coffee, albeit decaffeinated. A month on from chemo and I’m still off coffee and not sure I’ll ever go back!
Putting on weight is inevitable when you are growing another human being in your body. And also when your body is being pumped with toxins and especially, steroids. I eventually lost the baby weight and I am assured I will shed the 20 pounds gained during chemo.
Emotions run high during pregnancy, because of the hormones raging around your body, as well as the impending, life-changing arrival. Emotions run high during chemo for quite different reasons – fear, confusion, impatience and tiredness, which leads nicely onto the next similarity...
The tiredness experienced during both pregnancy and chemo are alike and is nothing like just having a bad night’s sleep. It is fatigue of epic proportions – think not sleeping a wink for 72 hours combined with jet lag after a round-the-world flight crossing 25 time zones, topped off with limb-paralysing flu.
Hair loss / thinning
A common side effect of chemo is hair loss and even when using a cold cap, hair can thin. In pregnancy, hormone changes may cause hair to thin too. The good news is that in both cases, the hair grows back.
Chemo and pregnancy can affect the senses of taste and smell. During chemo, I became particularly sensitive to perfume smells. During pregnancy, I couldn’t stand the smell of coffee (see above, Food cravings / dislikes). Both induced Nausea (see above).
Sex can suffer during both pregnancy and chemo, mainly as a result of the other side effects (see Nausea, Weight Gain and Fatigue) which affect desire and the ability to drum up enthusiasm.
Both events are life changing, in different ways, and both can affect how you conduct your life for the duration of gestation/treatment. You may feel less inclined to go out and will almost certainly want to sleep more.
Whilst you may view pregnancy as a positive and chemo as a negative, what both have in common is Hope – nothing says hope like the promise of new life; similarly chemo provides hope following a cancer diagnosis.