“You look good!” While that’s usually nice to hear, because of my situation, I hear these words often. I think some people who haven’t seen me in a while just don’t know what to say, while others expect me to look gaunt and bald…how a cancer patient is “supposed” to look. How you look and how you feel can be two different things when you have cancer. Just because you look good, it does not necessarily mean you feel good. Looks can be very deceiving!
Many women who are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer look healthy. The cancer hasn’t ravished their bodies and they haven’t begun treatment. It is most likely those treatments that will make them look and usually feel sick, not the disease itself.
One treatment, chemotherapy, is especially responsible for making a patient look and feel sick. Not all patients with breast cancer will have to undergo chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a drug used to cure cancer and control cancer. Chemotherapy is used to destroy cancer cells, but it can also harm healthy cells. Damage to these healthy cells is what causes unpleasant side effects.
Side effects from chemotherapy can, but don’t always, include hair loss, and is what most people think of when they think of someone with breast cancer. Know that chemotherapy can also cause mouth sores, weight loss, weight gain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, nerve damage, nail changes, rashes, swelling, appetite changes, constipation, diarrhea, anemia and more. Who would look good going through this crap?!?
A bald head seems to be the signature look of a woman with breast cancer, and my dear friends, I have much to say about this.
Earlier this month, a television personality for a morning show was doing a segment on breast cancer awareness. They were looking for women who have breast cancer to be part of this segment. Woman who were interested were advised to send an explanation of their situation, along with a photo of themselves. Some woman were told they could not attend because they were not bald enough. WTF!?! More on that later.
As I mentioned above, when you are newly diagnosed with breast cancer, depending on what type of breast cancer you have, you usually do not have symptoms. Those with metastatic breast cancer, like myself, will usually start to experience unusual symptoms, which prompts us to get them checked out.
In my case, I had a lump on my head, I was breathless, I was pale, I was bruising easily, and I was nauseous. I did not feel like myself, and knew something was not right. These symptoms led to further testing, which in turn gave me my new diagnosis of bone and liver mets.
Treatment for metastatic breast cancer patients is different than those whose breast cancer is contained to the breast. I will use my diagnosis of hormone receptive positive metastatic breast cancer to explain. Hormone therapy is usually the first treatment used for hormone receptive positive patients. These drugs work by preventing the cancer cells from getting the estrogen they need to grow. Chemotherapy is a first treatment for patients who have a life threatening metastases. One benefit of having chemotherapy is the response time. Chemo shrinks tumors faster than hormone therapy. Unfortunately, I needed to begin with chemotherapy. Thankfully, it did what it was suppose to do, stop the cancer from spreading.
The chemo drugs I received after my first diagnosis in 2010, adriamycin, cytoxan, and taxol made my hair fall out…everywhere! I had almost every side effect imaginable from these drugs. I looked and felt sick, but not because of my illness, but because of these drugs.
The chemo drug I received most recently, Cisplatin, gave me many unpleasant symptoms. While the hair on my head thinned, I did not become bald. Even though I felt awful, and the insides of my body were being attacked due to illness, I looked good.
You see, a bald head does not reflect how sick a patient is or feels.
I would like to revisit the women who were rejected from attending the morning television show segment. As many of you know, October is breast cancer awareness month. It mainly showcases those woman who are newly diagnosed, or the survivors. Those of us with metastatic breast cancer do not fall in these two categories. Most of us are not newly diagnosed, and although we are surviving, we will ultimately not survive from our breast cancer diagnosis. This morning show segment wanted to focus on “bald” because the television personality recently told the world she has breast cancer and was featured on People Magazine in all her baldness glory. One woman who was rejected, has metastatic cancer. She blogged about her experience, and said that after receiving some not so nice mail, the morning show did eventually invite them to attend. Gee, thanks!
We deal with physical and emotional challenges every day. Being bald is a visible result of cancer treatment, but it is not our badge of courage. Greater awareness and education by these television personalities is needed. “You look good” doesn’t alway mean a breast cancer patient feels good. But feel free to let me know I look good, it’s still nice to hear! 😃