The Effects of Chemotherapy on Joints

Most of the side effects of chemotherapy have since gone away. My hair has returned, as has my weight, muscles, energy, libido and my healthy skin tone. To most observers, I am a picture of health. But one side effect has lingered longer than all others. They say that chemo kills fast-growing cells, like cancer. Unfortunately, it kills all fast cells in the body, even things you wouldn’t imagine like the cells in the mouth and on the tongue. One common side effect is achiness. Our joints are composed of fast-growing cells that help the body move and bend fluidly. At the lowest point of my six months long chemotherapy regime, every inch of my body ached: my knees, neck, feet, ankles, back and especially my hips. I felt like a one hundred year old man whenever I got up from sitting or lying down. I hobbled around bent over for a long time until my joints warmed up and didn’t hurt and I could stand tall.

All the other joints eventually healed, all except the hips. It still takes a few minutes until my hips are warmed up enough to move comfortably and without pain. I imagine the reason is simple: the hips are bigger than the ankle or elbow or knees. They carry the weight of the body. It’s getting better, but I imagine I’m only halfway to total healing. My oncologist chalks it up to the fact I’m getting old (I turned 60 this summer). But I never felt even the slightest achiness in my joints until chemo. But I’m determined to rebuild my wrecked body. I go to the gym to lift weights three a days a week. I walk. I run. I recall what the doctors kept telling me throughout my cancer treatment: “We’re killing you to save you.” Luckily, they didn’t succeed in killing me, but they sure as heck slowed me down.

Throughout my cancer treatment, I wrote almost a hundred poems about my experiences. Some were amusing. Others, like the one below about how much my body deteriorated over half a year, were not so funny. But they were all necessary, the way good medicine is necessary. The poems are genuine and human, full of strength and weakness, humor and despair, doubt and faith. In the poems I ask questions like, “Why me?’ and “What did I do to deserve getting cancer?” Anyone who has cancer or loves someone who has cancer should read this book. If I learned anything from my experience, it’s that one does not fight cancer; one surrenders to the cure. The collected poems appear in Running from the Reaper: Poems from an Impatient Cancer Survivor, which is now available on Amazon and elsewhere. The small book is a perfect gift for anyone going through cancer, or for anyone who cares for someone going through cancer treatment and recovery.


When my wife married me, I was strong, muscular, confident.

You could tell I had once been a body builder.

But six months of chemo stole that from me.

Nowadays, I’m gaunt, boney, withered—

a wasteland of flesh and blood.

When you look up “emaciated” in the dictionary

it shows a picture of me.

Before cancer, my hair was white and my blue eyes

sparkled with life. But now I am bald and wrinkly

like one of those hairless cats.

Chemo has made me ugly, turned me into something

I don’t recognize, hunched and slouching.

I worry my wife won’t want me anymore. Who would?

I know she vowed for better or for worse,

in sickness and in health, but I’m pretty sure

she didn’t bargain on being hitched to a corpse.

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