Bald 'n Sassy

Life is for the living. Live simply. Expect less.

Archive for the tag “hair loss”

Chronicles of Chemotherapy – Dealing with side effects and how I deal with it

What I am about to share about dealing with chemo and the side effects are purely from my own personal experience. Each cancer patient may encounter different side effects depending on the type of drugs administered by their specialist.

Prior to starting chemo, I have done my fair share of research on the drugs to further understand what they are and their possible side effects. The two drugs my doctor has prescribed to treat my cervical cancer is Carboplatin and Taxotere. As you can imagine, the search engine spewed a whole bunch of medical websites and some of the articles are just not meant for patients to digest.  One of the very first sites I stumbled upon that was easy to comprehend is presented by Scott Hamilton, the former American Champion figure skater who has a benign brain tumor removed.

The side effects usually occur in the first week after chemo. I put myself on a 7 day house arrest after each session.  Reason being is my immunity level drops considerably which means I have to avoid large crowds and anyone that may have fever/cold. Here is a snapshot of what I experienced thus far.

  • Hair loss: The medical term is Alopecia. This is a very common side effects (and a very visible one too) to almost all cancer patients.  To minimize the sudden hair loss, I decided to shave my hair after the first chemo.  By the second chemo session, my scalp was smooth.

From the pictures here, it looks like I am having a good time shaving my head.                    To be brutally honest, I was eager to go bald.  I mentally prepared myself . When                I sat in the hairdresser’s chair and told him what I wanted to do, he was                                apprehensive to do so.  But I assured him that it is what I wanted to do.

  • Lethargic.  I get tired very easily.  I take naps whenever I needed.  Listen to your body.
  • Sleeping pattern goes haywire. I then to wake up several times during the night having to go to the toilet.
  • Lack of appetite. I still have my 3 main meals in the day. I eat small amounts to give me some energy. I believe that it is important to maintain a good nutrition throughout the treatment.  This may help to deal with other side effects better.
  • Headache: This is my least favourite effect. A constant headache or hangover feeling that lingers on for a good few days. Feeling stoned throughout the day is not a pleasant feeling. I don’t take any medication to deal with this.
  • Nauseous: I do have nauseous feeling at least 2 days after chemo and this disappears around 4th/5th day.  I am given Emend (Aprepitant) tablets prescribed by my doctor before and post chemo. This assists in reducing vomiting and triggering nausea.
  • Susceptibility to common bugs, fever: As briefly mentioned above, your immunity is very weak in the first week post chemo.  It is best to stay away from large crowds in public places and lay low from those who may have fever or common cold.
  • Scars, freckles gets darker: Any cuts, scars or freckles becomes darker as each chemo progresses.  But don’t worry, according to my doctor the skin tone of the freckles will return to normal once all the chemo rounds are completed.
  • Brittle Nails: Nails are very brittle once I started chemo.  I have noticed that my nail bed shows one dark line indicating when I had chemo and one white line when my nail is growing.  It is safe to put some nail strengthener to help your nail from chipping from doing day-to-day tasks.
  • Psychological: Apart from the physical side effects, I must not forget the psychological side effects.  No words can describe how difficult it is to deal with the cancer, let alone endure the treatments.  I urge you to be talk to your family and/or friends about how your feel.  Tell them about every little thing you are experiencing from brittle nails to lack appetite. They are there to support you every step of the way.

Hope my experience helps you or someone who you know who is tolerating chemotherapy.   Now, I am feeling tired.

Signing off now to get some shut-eye.

Cervical Cancer – My treatment, my story (Part 2)

It’s 11.18pm on Friday night.  I decided to continue my story on my cancer treatment.

So I left off where I had to have my hysterectomy surgery.  I made great recovery post operation that I was discharged 6 days. This was the third week of November 2008 when I left.  Boy, was I eager to get home.  Don’t get me wrong, the nurses at Mount Alvernia Hospital here in Singapore looked really great care of me. And I was also happy that my mum was able to fly from Sydney, Australia to help and look after me post surgery.  I needed my mummy at this stage.

I spent the next several weeks recuperating at home.  My mum being the very traditional chinese mother cooked all the right foods that would aid my recovery. According to my mum and many other chinese mothers’ firmly believe certain foods can help and while others I must avoid.  Take for example, chicken liver cooked with some ginger and sherry replenished the blood loss.  Another good example is specific breed of fish cooked with some chinese herbs could speed up the healing of the scar.  On the other side of the spectrum, consuming prawns and other shellfish would irritate the wound and this would slow down the healing process.  Even consuming soya sauce can darken the scar.  Yes, it is very old wives tales but there is some truth in traditional chinese medicine (TCM).

The 4 weeks healing period was also filled with follow-up medical appointments.  It was also my time to consult the specialist to plan out the radiation treatment. Endured all the pre radiation scans and test. I was blessed to be referred to a great oncologist situated at Mount Elizabeth hospital.  He sat down and walk me through the entire process from how it works and targeted radiated area. I even got to view of the scans of my womb post op. 28 was the magic number assigned to me – this was the number of radiation sessions I had to complete.  I would be radiated daily from Monday to Friday starting 5th December 2008.

When the day arrived for my first radiation session, it took a little longer as the nurses had to use a permanent marker to mark on my pelvic area.  These markers will be used to align the machine to make sure it was precisely targeted.  It took about 10 to 15 mins to be radiated.  While the machine rotates to radiate my front and back of my pelvis, I remembered looking around the room and saw there some posters of fishes and corals on the walls to ease the patient’s tension.  The first session went smoothly and the great thing was that it is pain-free 🙂

One of the side effects, I felt from day one of my radiation was fatigue.  Since my session is scheduled in the morning, I would be very tired just after lunch.  As nurses guided me, I took a nap when this happens.  As I progressed along the radiation treatment other side effects I encountered included pubic hair loss, darkened skin where it is radiated and diarrhoea.  In addition to no shellfish and soya sauce intake, I had to change my diet to a low fibre diet to reduce the tummy side effects.  Oh what fun!

Aside from the western treatment, I decided to complement my radiation with some TCM.  The TCM doctor recommended to take some ginseng and cordyceps to minimize the side effects of radiation.  TCM is a mind-boggling and you have to combine the right herbs is not easy.  So I bought a premium grade ginseng and cordyceps.  I would alternate between 2 herbs where it would be simply brewed with water.  You could say drinking the brew was a necessary “caffeine intake”.  Some chinese medicinal herbs don’t always have a pleasant smell and this is a deterrent for me.  If it taste awful, it would take me a little longer to finish drinking the brew.  I force myself to drink simply because it is meant to be “good for me”.  Luckily the ginseng and cordyceps had a nice after taste that I didn’t mind it all.

Come to 3rd week of January 2009, I successfully completed my 28 sessions of radiation.  I asked my oncologist if I get a certificate of achievement for completing all the sessions.  He laughed at me and said that he will work on that.  To this day, 2 years later, I am still waiting for my certificate.

Another round of CT scans and other tests were conducted not long after radiation to see if there was any signs of cancer cells still lurking around. Results looked great.  I was declared that my cancer is in remission.  Yippee!  Now I can return to living my life.

Next step was to pass the 5 year mark to be declared cancer free.

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