Are you going through your own journey, or have a friend or family member who is? – then this may help you to understand. This post is 9 things the doctors didn’t tell me enough about re cancer, chemo and treatment.
Please note: Everyone’s chemo ‘cocktail’ is different depending on type and severity of the cancer, plus your age, but my diagnosis was ‘hormone receptor positive’, ‘stage 2 early breast cancer’. Surgery involved 7 lymph nodes removed (but no cancer cells there) and the lump removed. Then 4 x 3 weekly chemo cycles and 30 days radiation. Below is only from my experience. Would love to hear if you agree, or not.
1. Nails– keep painted MUST – Think of nails just the same as hair…….they will damage and may die. I kept my toenails painted in light colours but not my fingernails and whilst same fingernails discoloured and lifted sooner, the toenails did follow. 12 months on and a few fingernails are still growing out the dead part and my big toenails are bubbled, lifted and black so they remain painted. Try the frozen gloves during chemo if you can handle it, I just couldn’t, but otherwise paint all nails as dark as possible, as supposedly the UV light combining with the chemo inside is the problem, so the darker will reduce the UV affect.
2. Hair – it all just goes and then comes back totally different – You get told this, but I didn’t really believe it. The doctor advised that the chemo used for breast cancer always causes hair loss and normally around 10 days after the first cycle. I was right on the mark. Even though you know and you prepare…..I had my long hair cut short prior to first treatment, when you run your fingers through your hair and you come away with hair in your hands, it is traumatic. It is also really weird to not have any armpit or leg hair. Then to go through the patchy look – I then had Anthony shave it all off. After the end of chemo it starts coming back slowly……become peach fuzz and then finally I was confident to head to the hairdressers…….as it was dark with grey……..and curly. I have been told that eventually it goes back to your previous style, but I am now at 8 months of cutting and colouring and still curly. But I have hair, so that’s the positive.
3. Ongoing meds – joint pain – Then once through the chemo and radiation I was informed that I have to take ongoing medication for 5 years. Yes 5 years, as supposedly if going to come back will likely be within 5 years – well that is the current research. My type of breast cancer grew on estrogen, hence no ‘birth control’, pushed into menopause but also your body has a gland that converts male hormone to estrogen – go figure, so the mediation blocks that gland from doing that. But of course it has its own side effects, one being joint pain. Every morning I awake with arthritis like joint pain in hands and feet. Then during the day my knees pain when standing up – try getting up from the ground – not good.
4. Fatigue ongoing – I remember during chemo that I felt very fatigued and was looking forward to that reducing, but not so. I believe it is a combination of the medication and also apparently your body can take some time to recover fully from the chemo, so I get very puffed walking and at the end of a day when doing lots of walking, am in pain and very fatigued.
5. Female parts are affected – Now this is not mentioned at all. So not only does the chemo affects your skin cells, making them dry and itchy, but the no estrogen in your body, makes it 10 times worse. My male oncologist has a habit of asking about my ‘stratchy girly bits’ and he is so right. So not only do you have scars, feel tired and in pain, but also dry and itchy – oh it is a wonderful journey.
6. Scar/s hurt – As I said everyone if different but my scar still hurts. After the operation naturally it was the surgery, but the scar was nice and neat, however now 12 months on and it has become dimpled, lumpy under the skin and still painful to push on. The surgeon states that the dimpling could get worse, so that’s something to look forward to.
7. Skin becomes more sensitive – The skin being one of the fast growing cells in your body, that is ‘killed’ by the chemo, can take some time to come good. I have found that my skin is drier than before and certainly during chemo I lathered on cream. The radiation also greatly affects your skin, but the radiation nurses are excellent at monitoring and recommending treatment to help. However I still have a slight tan line from the marked area, the tattoos are there still and I get very itchy in the area. I have also found that my neckline, where previously I had hair, is sensitive to hair treatments, such as tinting my regrowth – I come out in a painful rash, almost like being burnt.
8. Teeth issues – I recall it being mentioned that if I had not been to a dentist I should attend prior to chemo, however as I am a regular dentist visitor I was not overly concerned. However since treatment I have found that even as a ‘good dental practitioner’ I have had issues with gum regression and needing a crown and root canal. The dentist advised that highly likely that I would have had these issues anyway, but the chemo was sped up the timeline.
9. Arm pits numb and no left arm use – Post-surgery, with lymph nodes removed I was given exercises to stretch the underarms etc and still do them even now. However something to get used to is shaving your armpits and not being able to feel anything…..you have a very weird sensation, but can’t feel the razor. Plus you have to remember to not have blood tests or blood pressure taken on the side that lymph nodes were removed…..all very inconvenient.Another ladies Blog Post which is very informative is Katrina from Sista With Style – read her blog here.