Chemo causes strange sleep patterns

Powerful dreams and far out hallucinations have been the strangest experience of going through chemotherapy.

During the first couple days, the combination of steroids, anti-nausea drugs, chemotherapy, anxiety, and lack of sleep really affected me. I felt exhausted, but my mind was working hard processing and dealing with the medications. Sleep was interrupted and the strangest hallucinations and dreams occurred.

On the night before I started chemotherapy, I woke up seeing little birds flying around and landing in the corner of the room. They seemed so real as I watched them fade away.

On the second night when I had begun chemotherapy, I dreamt there were people standing next to me. I didn’t feel like they were bad, but it was odd to have three strangers standing next to my bed peering down at me. They weren’t solid, and they seemed to fade in and out of the room. On this same night, I saw what appeared to be several one inch black chalky lines come out of the ceiling. They swiftly darted and swirled across the room and then landed on me. All of this seemed something out of a supernatural movie for sure. Apparently, this unsettling experience is a completely common side effect. Once the steroids wore off, peaceful sleep returned.

To help combat these bad dreams and reduce my fears, I spray my bed with lavender, frankincense, and lemon verbena. I also found warm Epsom salt baths with lavender helped calm and comfort me. Bath & Body Works makes a nice Sleep body cream that has lavender and cedar wood essential oils that I use before I go to bed. Sometimes it comforts me to keep a small Himalayan pink lamp next to the bed on low. Having someone near by while you sleep is a great comfort. I am grateful for my husband and dogs.

Being an ardent Grey’s Anatomy fan, there was an episode that helped me where a boy had bad dreams in the hospital. The mother of the little boy would wave her hands over her son and say, “Bad Dreams, Bad dreams go away. Good dreams, good dreams here to stay.” I hope this helps and the good dreams stay.

Losing my hair

I love being a woman and femininity. Holding onto my femininity during chemotherapy is very important for me. Friends and family say I am a warrior, but I prefer to be more of a queen or fairy godmother. This is difficult to maintain when you are going to loose all of your hair and be forced into menopause. To get ahead of my impending Kojak look, I went early to Supercuts on the morning after my first round of Chemotherapy. I didn’t want an audience, and I figured getting there right when they open would be easier for me. Also, Supercuts is a walk in salon. I didn’t know how I would be feeling emotionally and physically, so not having to make an appointment lessened my burden. There was no pressure or judgement. Armed with my Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla coffee, I felt ready when I walked in and told them I needed someone to buzz all of my hair off. I will admit that a few tears were shed, but it will grow back. In the big picture, losing my hair really is the least of my worries. It has actually simplified my life. Now it takes less time to get ready. Furthermore, I will save money not buying all the conditioning and styling products I used on a daily basis. I was a little nervous seeing how my kids would react, but they handled it well. They told me I look like Eleven on Stranger Things, and this seems fitting for me. Now, I have one less thing to worry about as I continue through this wild trip through chemotherapy. I would like to thank Tiffany and Nicole at Supercuts for helping me through that difficult morning. Also, to my husband, I have never loved you more. You still complete me.

Which is stronger faith or fear?

Getting diagnosed with breast cancer has forced me to think about my life and it has given me a new perspective. In facing my fears, faith has been my greatest comfort. I have faith in my doctors, faith in myself, faith in my dear family and friends, and faith in God. Sometimes miracles happen. Lately, I have found hope from complete strangers who somehow know and say what I need to hear. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing. I have had friends of family and even strangers who have gone through similar experiences reach out to me. Their experiences and words of encouragement have helped me so much.

I know my diagnosis has worried my family. My mother recently shared with me a story that gave her the reassurance and validation needed to hold on to faith. My parents were out for dinner to celebrate my her birthday, and she noticed a woman sitting in the corner of the restaurant alone. Something made my Mom and Dad want to pay for the woman’s dinner. My father went to get the car, and my Mom went over and told the woman it was her birthday and she wanted to buy her dinner to celebrate. The woman was a complete stranger and she thanked my Mom. The woman shared how she was going through a very difficult time and then stated, “Tell your daughter she will be fine.” My mother was amazed and emotional that this woman would say this without knowing, and felt it was an angelic message.

It reminds me of a favorite quote from the Bible from Hebrews 13:2 “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Whatever your spiritual belief, I believe we have the power to help others through difficult times. It gives me faith to know there is good in the world, and I know that no matter what, I will be fine. I believe faith is stronger than fear.

Fortitude beats fear

When I was little I was proud of my mother who had been an Air Force Nurse in the Vietnam War. Carol Hallenbeck experienced the trauma and horror of war first hand. Also, as the wife of an Air Force fighter pilot, she was often left alone with her two energetic daughters for months at a time in distant places. Always strong and resilient, she taught me a helpful coping skill to use during difficult times. She told me that if you are subjected to an unknown or difficult situation and you need to keep it together, to do your times tables in your head starting with 1X1. If you are in an intense situation and you don’t want to cry, or you are worried you are going to panic or you are in pain, try to do your times tables in your head. It will help you focus and get through the moment, so you can think of what to do next. You will figure out what you need to do. Also, no one will know what you are thinking. The first time I tried it was when I was ten years old on the swim team in Okinawa. My coach told me that in order to compete, I would need to dive off the the starter’s block into the water. He told me to look out at the flags hanging across my lane and to reach for them. I was terrified, but didn’t want to disappoint my coach or parents. I stood on the block and got into place. I started my times tables and the gun went off. I dove toward the flags, but it was more of a jump. I went down and pushed off the floor of the pool. I was disqualified. However, I realized I need not be afraid, and I successfully dove in my next event. Later, I used this technique in uncomfortable meetings or in emergency situations where I needed to refocus. I have just completed 25% of my chemotherapy for breast cancer and now have three rounds to go. With preparation, I gained the skills to get through my treatment and to focus on what I need to do next. Sometimes things don’t go as planned or practiced, and you need a moment to figure things out. I hope this will help others who are going through a difficult time. You can do it, and you will conquer your fears.

Susanna Hargreaves is a mother of three enchanting children, an educator, and writer from New Hampshire. For more information, visit