What Does Chemotherapy Feel Like?

Steffany Ritchie
15 min readApr 5, 2022

Real talk, for anyone interested.

Photo by Rok Romih from Pexels

“What does chemotherapy feel like?” is the second most searched Google term relating to chemotherapy. Call this a shameless exercise in SEO auto-filling, if you wish.

For me, chemo was eighteen years ago now: I went through it between December 2003 and the end of May 2004. I was twenty-eight at the time of diagnosis, twenty-nine when I finished. I still remember much of it vividly, possibly aided by many stunted attempts at writing about it.

The experience of living through cancer is so surreal that I imagine most people aren’t completely present in their bodies/right minds during it. I know I wasn’t.

You don’t want to think about it too much, you try to distract yourself, but obviously, everything is a reminder, and for the next several months to a year especially, your life is going to revolve around your cancer treatment.

Do people who aren’t going through it really care what chemo feels like?

Well, whatever, I am writing this as much for anyone with questions who might be about to go through it or has been through it and is thinking how effed up it is they can’t talk about it in gory detail because that is too scary for most people.

It is a very intense experience that no one seems to want to acknowledge how scary and hard it is, so we mostly just deal with it alone. But this is just me, I know everyone is different. I know I was quite young when I had cancer, so none of my peers had been through it, making my experience a little trickier perhaps than if I had it later in life.

Like any medicine, sometimes it is worse than others. I had eight rounds of CHOP+R regimen for aggressive primary mediastinal Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

This was a rare sub-type that is actually more similar to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I had a bulky tumor located in the center of my chest that was blocking off my superior vena cava, a main artery to the heart.

This caused dramatic swelling in my head and neck, which was it turned out trapped lymph fluid, as well as causing the veins on my torso to become more pronounced/visible.

I still have after-effects of this, most of the swelling is gone but there is still…

Steffany Ritchie

Hi, I write memoir, essays, music, and pop culture. American in Scotland.