Monday, November 8, 2010

Absolution Research: Chemotherapy

During my research for Absolution, I was looking for information about chemotherapy that would help me write certain aspects of the book. My own experience of chemo and cancer treatment in general has come from watching friends and relatives battling the disease. It's never been pretty. Most of them lost their hair, grew gaunt from being nauseated or constantly bloated from chronic constipation. And it never cured them, not even combined with radical radiation treatments. Thankfully things are changing on that front, but the list of side-effects and complications resulting from cancer treatment is huge. Everyone reacts to it in their own way.

While I wrote this book, it was important to me to portray what it's like to go through cancer today--specifically breast cancer--because now there's more hope than ever for patients diagnosed with the disease. I found some surprising things along the way.

First off, pretty much every source I checked said that Taxol (usually used in breast cancer chemo) resulted in hair loss. Most of the people I interviewed about it said they lost their hair a few weeks after the first treatment, and they lost it suddenly. A few literally woke up with hair on their pillow. Most were terribly nauseated, especially after that first treatment, and for quite a while. Needless to say, many women going through this find their libidos at an all time low, even when in a loving, committed relationship.

To make Absolution work as a romance, clearly I had some obstacles to overcome. Hard to write a romance without the hero and heroine being together, if you know what I mean. I'd kind of painted myself into a corner, and yet I felt very strongly about the storyline. But then I found some encouraging stories out there. Several women I spoke to that had been receiving Taxol reported being very nauseated after the first treatment, but much less so during and after subsequent treatments. Some weren't nauseated at all after the first dose of chemo.

I found similar reports about libido. Some women have little or no interest in sex during treatment, while others reported little or no change in their sex drive. One lady I spoke with said it was hard for her to be intimate with her husband at first because she felt so unattractive, but connecting with him that way made her feel like a woman again and went a long way to help stave off the depression she was suffering. She credited her survival with his loving, unfailing support. Now that's a romance hero :)

What about any of you? Have you known anyone with a similar experience while going through chemotherapy?