[Part Two of a Series. I was writing to a friend of mine the other day talking about some of the side effects of chemo and all of the things I was doing to try to head them off. And then it occurred to me: I have been doing an absurd amount of work to keep myself healthy and to stave off any side effects from the treatment. And maybe some of you would like to know what a day in the life of a cancer patient might look like.
Note: This is no way intended to be a recommendation for other cancer patients - each person is given their own treatment plan specifically crafted for them by their medical team.]
One of the most upsetting and gripping side effects of chemo for breast cancer patients is losing your hair. And not just the hair on your head - ALL OF YOUR HAIR. (Think about it.)
As most of you know, I have been using Penguin Cold Caps to try to save the hair on my head, and so far it has been going well. On the day of chemo cycle #2 (23 days past chemo cycle #1) - my hair should have started coming out in clumps, but it didn’t and that's when we knew the caps were working. What started to happen around Day 26 was heavy (and I mean HEAVY) shedding which dramatically thinned out my hair but did not leave me with any bald patches. So my hair is not thick and flowing any more, but I do not look like a cancer patient and as soon as chemo is done I am assured that the hair will grow back like gangbusters.
What’s hardest about all of this is the anxiety - with all of the shedding it feels like, “My god, how do I have any hair left on my head!” All I can do is follow the intense protocols of the cold-cap treatment and keep hoping for the best. Here are those protocols:
On the days when I’m allowed to comb my hair (just 2 days a week) I douse my hair in an organic detangler and then take about 30 minutes with a wide-tooth comb to comb it section by section, being careful not to tug on the roots. On other days I have special hair ties that are delicate on the roots. On the days when I’m allowed to wash my hair (just 1 day a week) I start by detangling my hair, and then wash my hair using cold water instead of hot, use organic PH balanced shampoo & conditioner, and pat the shampoo and conditioner on my hair rather than rubbing or lathering, and then lightly rinsing it.
I’m not allowed to do any heat chemical styling to my hair - no coloring/dying, no blowdrying on hot heat, no curling irons, and I’m really not supposed to be putting product in it. So while I’m trying to save my hair, my hair is actually looking the worse it ever has! I will be allowed to use all natural hair dye, which my stylist will help me with - the problem is that I am not a natural blonde (shhhh!) and the only thing that makes a brunette a blonde is chemical treatment. So I’m going to have to get fancy with my roots pretty soon here. Maybe I’ll have to do something funky like these fashionistas:
Another difficult impact of breast cancer chemo is WEIGHT GAIN. You heard me correctly. GAIN, which seems terribly unfair. The steroids they have me on to manage side effects of the chemo cause terrible water retention, and it also creates ravenous cravings. So while I’m already feeling unattractive from the thinning hair, now I don’t really fit into my clothes and that just plain stinks. The good news is that the weight should come right off when the treatments are done, so I just have to put my vanity aside for a while.
I’m writing a more intimate article for my personal blog about the impact of appearance on me as an actor and a human being - be sure to check for that here. And if you're looking for ways to help, you can check out this blog post with my wish list.
Please leave a comment. It would be great to hear from you!
My treatment regimen:
4 bi-weekly cycles of dose-dense Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide (AC), to be completed October 6, 2015.
12 weekly cycles of Taxol (T), to be completed in January 2016.
30 sessions of radiation over the course of 6 weeks - that’s 5 days a week for 6 weeks, to be completed by March 2016.