Reflecting on my time during active treatment, I learned a few things to help manage specific side effects and find a little control during a terrifying time.
Before my first chemo treatment, my social worker signed me up for a class called Chemoflage in Atlanta. It helped prep those of us who had to get chemo and to make the experience a tad less traumatic. Here are some things I used.
Tips and Tricks During Chemo
Brian Joseph’s Brow and Lash Conditioning Gel
It's best to use it before your first chemo, but it worked wonders for me when I used it before my second chemo.
I was able to conserve my eyebrows and lashes for almost 4 months before they officially fell out. Even though I had lost my hair, I still didn't "look sick" for those few months because this product helped keep my brows and lashes from falling out for that bit of time.
It's OK to want to look and feel beautiful for as long as possible before the side effects flatten you like a monster truck.
My favorite pharmacist at the cancer center recommended this product to me. I had mentioned how frustrating and painful the mouth sores were and didn't feel the "magic mouthwash" was working well.
She suggested I use Gelclair in conjunction with the magic mouthwash.
First, you swish with the magic mouthwash. Then, you swish with the Gelclair, providing a protective coating inside your mouth to help prevent mouth sores. This product was a lifesaver for me. I didn't have any more mouth sores once I added Gelclair to my routine.
During chemo, I would sometimes get this sickening sweet taste in my mouth. White rice was the only thing I could tolerate that helped remove that awful taste. I did not use any butter or seasoning. It was just plain white rice.
How to Tie a Headscarf | My Cancer Journey
Thanks to this YouTube video, I learned creative ways to tie scarves on my head when my hair began to fall out. It was the one way I could find some control and creativity as I coped with the trauma of losing my hair from chemo.
There was a point where I was too fatigued to keep tying my scarves in creative ways, but I enjoyed trying new styles while I could, which gave my self-esteem a boost.
For those who must get Neulasta injections, one of the side effects is crippling bone pain. A way to combat bone pain is to take Claritin. No one knows why it helps reduce bone pain intensity, but it does help.
It's best to use the regular Claritin and not Claritin-D. It doesn't completely relieve the bone pain, but it does give more relief than I expected.
After surviving a grueling 6 months of chemo, a blood transfusion, multiple surgeries, and 33 radiation treatments, I thought everything would heal and be well. I know that was wishful thinking, but I had to hold onto some hope, right? It turns out that "surviving" breast cancer is much more challenging and frustrating than I thought.
I refuse to say I had to learn my "new normal," because nothing about me was normal pre-cancer. I don't like the term "new normal." I've always been a tad extra and unique. I've had to learn how to live with this post-cancer body that feels and looks foreign.
I often say I've had to learn new routines to keep pushing forward as permanent damage from chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries reared its ugly head and made daily life uncomfortable and often painful physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Post-Treatment Tips & Tricks
One of the things that happened post-chemo was I developed new skin allergies and could no longer use anything with fragrance or specific ingredients. My dermatologist recommended using this particular cleansing bar for my face. It works exceptionally well without drying out my face and helps keep any breakouts at bay.
OCuSoft Lid Scrub
This product helped when I developed contact dermatitis. According to the Mayo Clinic, contact dermatitis is an itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction. The rash isn't contagious, but it can be very uncomfortable.
I developed this on my eyelids, which became very painful, and it took over a year to figure out what I was touching that was causing this reaction. This product also helps to remove dry flakes from your lids when your skin is dehydrated, especially from menopause.
My dermatologist conducted an allergy test where I was pricked with different substances on my back to see which ones would cause a skin reaction. We discovered that I am allergic to the orange, yellow, and pink dyes used in antibacterial soaps in hospitals and at home.
ReBuilder Treatment for Chemo-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy
Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a severe side effect caused by specific types of chemo. It severely affected the nerves in my hands and feet, making me a fall risk. Unfortunately, there is no test to determine who would be more susceptible to it.
My medical team kept choosing gabapentin or L-glutamine to help combat this side effect, but none worked. I was literally at my wit's end until I found a fantastic chiropractor, Dan Ruitenbeek, DC, BCN, who specializes in CIPN and understands how debilitating it can be for cancer patients.
Dr. Dan at Explore Health & Wellness introduced me to the ReBuilder, an electronic muscle and nerve stimulator. It improves your blood flow, strengthens your leg muscles for better balance, and relaxes you in an all-in-one simple daily treatment at home. This treatment has improved blood flow, given me more feeling in my hands and feet, and improved my balance. It has changed my life, and I am no longer a serious fall risk. Call him to ask more questions.
I didn't realize how big a role estrogen played in keeping my skin smooth or how it would change after I was surgically moved into menopause.
I found this amazing dermatologist and content creator, Dr. Alexis Stephens, on YouTube, who discusses the best types of moisturizers for those dealing with super dry or combination skin. I could no longer use the moisturizer I'd used pre-cancer because my skin had changed entirely.
I started using skinfix moisturizer 3 months ago and am impressed by how soft it has made the skin on my face and brightened my once dull pallor.
There is no official roadmap to healing because everyBODY is different. Instead, get to know the different needs your body has now. Your skin might become more sensitive, or new allergies can occur that you didn't have before.
While some people can bounce back quickly and revert to their pre-cancer body, there are many more of us whose bodies have entirely changed, and we must modify the things we used to do and products we used to use on our bodies.
"Focus on what you can control" – Unknown.
To connect with other breast cancer survivors, join our Breast Cancer Facebook Support Group.
Photo Credit: Peter Griffith / Stone via Getty Images
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