I think anyone would be scared facing chemotherapy, it’s a daunting prospect and you feel terrified, there’s nothing you can do, your not in control. You know your body is going to be poisoned and you will face the unpredictable side effects.
When I was diagnosed I said I can understand needing surgery, I’m fine with that! but why on earth do I need chemotherapy?? My heart completely sank when I heard the word. My Breast Care Nurse said what exactly is your view or chemotherapy Tracey? I said bed ridden, thin, pale, bald, sick, in hospital? She said no it is much more advanced now and a much friendlier medicine. We give you anti sickness drugs so your not sick and we encourage you to be active rather than lay in bed. You arent in hospital we send you home and encourage you to get out, do some light exercise like walking and gardening. I was obviously relieved to hear this but of course I still worried and imagined the worst. I thought she was just saying it so I wouldn’t worry,i found it so hard to believe her.
Searching images on Facebook and going on Google just made me more fearful. My surgeon told me to stop looking online.i always thought Google was full if facts, the no 1 place to research breast cancer but it’s full of old statistics and American treatment plans. I was advised to only use the official UK Breast cancer websites.
Everyone reacts different to chemotherapy, the possible side effects are:
Hair loss, sickness, headaches, fatigue, achey joints and bones, skin rash and weight gain (from the steroids taken alongside chemotherapy), loss of taste buds, mouth and throat sores, diorreah, constipation, blood disorders, nerve pain, nervous system effects and more. You won’t get all of these side effects, it’s a wait and see situation.
Usually you are fine for around four days (so I have heard) then you get ill for around seven days, your third week is when you are more yourself and have a stronger immune system and then repeat the process. Often people undergoing chemotherapy will plan things to do in this third week. I will have to be careful I am not around anyone who is ill, the common cold could result in pneumonia for me!! Any sign of high fever will result in a hospital visit and ill be put in a side ward (to avoid infection from other patients) with an antibiotic drip injection. All warning signs are in your chemotherapy book and an emergency phone number. I’ll never dare leave the house!! 🏡
- Use a dark gel nail varnish, my nurse thinks there’s no truth to this one however most chemo patients do this. The rumour is chemicals in normal nail varnish can react with the chemotherapy and the dark nail polish stops the sunray exposure to the nail bed. I know people who have lost nails during and after chemo. This should prevent this from happening. (update*I wore black Polish throughout and didn’t lose any nails, success!)
- Use an acetone free nail varnish remover. Your nails will get slightly damaged through chemo, this is a much more gentle nail varnish remover.
- For eyelash and eyebrow regrowth use caster oil however chemo seems to make hair regrow thick and fast!
- A NHS synthetic wig is waiting for you free of charge (max amount varies depending on location). I read one comment about them being ‘expensive, uncomfortable and itchy’ Luckily there are real hair wigs available online but they are costly. I raised money for mine and it made me feel so much more confident.
- Use alkaline free deodorant, harsh chemicals in our deodorants can cause cancer. Make sure it says paraben free.
- Use sensitive Toothpaste, alcohol free mouthwash and a soft kids toothbrush. Your nurse should provide you with a mouthwash similar to corsodyl.
- Watermans shampoo and conditioner help with hair regrowth. There are often discounts online for this, try Groupon!
- You could have eyebrow tattoos in prep for losing them if your oncologist is in agreement, they look very realistic and help with the loss of your brows. I left it too late to get this done (you need 6 weeks healing time). I missed my eyelasges the most luckily my eyebrows didn’t completely go 🙂
- When I still had some lashes remaining I used eyelure false lashes for special occasions (yes, you can still go out on a night out if it’s during your recovery week!) the best one to get is the full length pre glued strip.
Questions to ask your oncologist, I have added the answers too which may help you:
- What type of chemo am I getting and how long for? A: 3 rounds of FEC and 3 rounds of FEC T. First three will be injected via seven syringes each visit. Last three will be drip fed.
- Will I have anti sickness drugs? A: yes we will try various types until the sickness is controlled.
- Will I receive daily injections for a week? A: yes you will, you will do them yourself into the stomach this will result in achey joints and bones.
- I am triple negative, do I have access to Zoladex for ovarian protection? A: yes you will be okay to go ahead with Zoladex which will shut down your ovaries and start early menaupause. You may experience a lot of hot sweats until your periods (hopefully) return. You will have the zoladex injection every 4 weeks and will need freeze spray beforehand as it is a rather large needle.
- Will I be on steroids? A: yes only a mild form for a few days each round, they will make you put on weight and increase the appetite.
- Do I need a dentist appointment and dental care before chemotherapy? A: you could go and ensure good dental health before starting but it’s not essential as long as you have no worries about the health of your teeth currently. A mouthwash will be provided and you will need sensitive toothpaste and a soft brush.
- Can I take any drugs such as paracetamol and ibuprofen during chemotherapy? A: yes but paracetamol could bring your temperature down which needs to be monitored.
- Do I need a flu jab? A: yes I do think this is necessary before chemotherapy
- Does healthy eating help? A: yes it could help and drink plenty of water
- Is your immunity better in the third week? A: yes you will find that your immunity is low so your more prone to illness which could be serious. If you catch anything you will come to hospital and be injected with antibiotics. I don’t want you to put your life on hold though you can still go about your dailt activities just be more aware and more cautious. Your immunity is stronger in the third week.
- Is it possible to exercise and go to the gym? A: I would avoid the gym as you may pick up germs, it is more beneficial to go for walks and bike rides
- Can you refer me to get a wig on the NHS? A: yes NHS wigs are available.
- Are there long term side effects? A: there can be an effect on the heart long term.
- Will I have gene testing? A: yes you will need to see if you have the BRAC gene which may affect your decision to have a mastectomy on the other side. This will also help to determine if you have inherited this gene. (update – I do not have the brac gene and it is not in my family history!)
- How will I monitor my health during chemotherapy? A: you will need to monitor your temperature and will be given a 24 hour contact number.
- Should I consider being involved in a clinical trial? A: Yes this often gives patients access to new drugs available to test them out. There isn’t anything available at the moment in this area for triple negative. (update – there are now clinical trials for triple negative during chemotherapy)
I was shocked to hear it could effect my heart in the long term and hear it confirmed by a pro that cancer can come back in future. With triple negative it’s more likely to come back in 3 years than any other type of breast cancer. If I make it to 5 years my chances of long term survival improve more than the other types (fingers crossed)
I started chemo on 19th October 2016 and it was such a scary thought. I knew I had the fight of my life ahead of me. I had to try to be positive there was nothing else I could really do. I heard positivity helped and I painted a smile on with every round. My first visit to the chemotherapy wars was terrifying. I was told chemo can leak out of my veins and the seriousness of watching out for warning signs such as high temperature and to phone the emergency number whenever I was unsure.