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Breast Cancer Treatment’s Collateral Damage – Let’s Talk About It, Part 1

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for a while. Sometimes I hesitate to write about breast cancer treatment’s collateral damage (aka cancer crap fallout) that goes on and on and on following a cancer diagnosis.

Notice I say, following a diagnosis. I don’t say post cancer or post-cancer treatment because as far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as post cancer. Unless you’re talking about dying, which I am not.

Once that cancer beast barges into your life, you can’t completely be rid of it because along with the ongoing threat of recurrence, the collateral damage lingers, for most of us anyway. You can’t go back.

And if you’re metastatic, the collateral damage goes to a whole different level.

A long time ago, I decided I would allow myself a good rant here on the blog now and then about some of that cancer treatment collateral damage.

Are you ready?

Breast cancer treatment’s collateral damage is a big deal. Let me repeat, it’s a BIG deal.

Sometimes, this collateral damage is short term. Sometimes it’s long term. Regardless, talking about collateral damage you have does NOT mean you are a complainer. Or a whiner. Or that you’re ungrateful. I don’t know of one single cancer patient out there who is not extremely grateful.

But being grateful does not mean you must keep quiet. No, it does not. 

This post touches on a half dozen or so collateral damage issues, of the physical sort, that I deal with. There are others, but some things are private and shall remain that way.

Besides, we don’t have all day, right?

When you get done reading about some of my breast cancer treatment’s collateral damage, I would love to hear about yours. Commiserating about this stuff can be helpful and downright good for you, too.

You don’t have to keep your “issues” secret. You don’t have to remain stoic. Really, you don’t.

Besides, who doesn’t love a good rant now and then?

Well, that’s what I’m hoping anyway. So, let’s discuss some of that breast cancer treatment collateral damage, shall we?

My hair, or rather, my lack thereof

I hate my hair these days. In a nutshell, it’s wispy. Hell, it’s sparse. If I sound vain; I do not care. Before cancer, my hair was one of my better features. No more.

I wonder if things will improve up there when I go off Exemestane, one of those blasted drugs we love to hate. Some say, yes. Some say, no. Time will tell.

These days, every day is a bad hair day. And btw, when someone loses her hair to chemo, or due to whatever reason, do not say, it’s just hair. Or, it’ll grow back (mine didn’t, okay, it did, but not the way it was before). Do not say those things. Just do not.

I can’t tell you how many times a day, I check my bald spots and strategically rearrange things. It’s embarrassing to even type those words. But I am typing them anyway in case you are doing the same thing. I have over a dozen caps now. Before cancer, zero caps. These days, a cap is my most-often-used accessorizing essential. Sad, but true. And oh yeah, my brows and lashes, those are sparse too.

I fully realize my friends who are metastatic would say they’d gladly be bald for the rest of their lives if it meant having an extended life. I also know most of them are some of the kindest, most compassionate and understanding women on the planet, and they totally get this hair thing. They really do. They’ve told me so.

Fatigue – Why the heck can’t I get more done?

Fatigue is still a big fat nuisance. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to find my mo-jo, new normal or whatever the heck I’m supposed to have found by now.

Are those little white pills the culprit?

I don’t know for sure, but I do know I gave up my day job of substitute teaching because there is no way in hell I have the stamina to stand in front of a classroom anymore. Seriously, I would not make it through the day.

Writing blog posts and completing freelance writing gigs is all I can handle work-wise these days, and even on the blog, I’ve cut back to one post a week. Cripes, I used to write two.

I have yet to find the energy to start my next book; I have plans for at least two more. I’ll get to them. Eventually. I hope. I try not to think about the fact it took me five years to write my memoir.

Do you ever feel as if everyone gets more done and in less time than you?

Yeah, me too.

Taking this one step further, sometimes I wonder if blogging and writing I do manage to get done is “real” work that matters at all. Whenever I mention I’m a writer, of course, the natural question that follows is, well, what do you write about?

When I say, cancer, let’s just say, the eye-contact avoidance, fidgeting and uneasy side-ways glances begin. Sometimes there are actually audible sighs of relief when the subject gets changed. I kid you not.

Who can blame them? Other than you guys, who wants to read about cancer shit anyway? (Thank you, Readers.)

And, I cannot forget about the state of affairs inside my house; it’s not pretty many days. Who has the energy to deal with housework? Or yard work? Let’s just say the bar of tidiness has been lowered.

Fatigue, you do not belong here. Please go away.

That other ‘F’ word – Fat!

Do I really need to say more?

I didn’t think so. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about, am I right?

If not, click here. 

A little bedroom talk – we both miss my original parts

There is so much I could say here, but Dear Hubby is a very private person; heck, believe it or not, so am I. Maybe I’ll write a post about this topic at some point, but let me just say again, I miss the old me my breasts. They were mine. I had them a long time. I liked them. Dear Hubby liked them.

Now during intimate moments, my reconstructed ones give me no pleasure whatsoever. They are numb, after all. In fact, they cause me angst and discomfort. I wonder if the darn things will shift, or leak, or break.

And that special erogenous nipple zone. Gone. Forever. Luckily, Dear Hubby and I have figured out ways to amuse ourselves with the parts I have left, but the reality of what has been taken by cancer remains very real to us both.

I need my bones not to crumble!

An important issue for many of us post diagnosis is bone health. Before starting on an aromatase inhibitor, my bone health was stellar. Now I am labeled as having osteopenia. I am not happy about this development. Not one bit.

A person my age should NOT need to worry yet about taking a tumble and breaking her bones. I shouldn’t have to over-worry about slipping on the ice this winter or thinking about giving up my daily walk with the dog because I might fall down. And let me remind you, I live in Wisconsin. The winters are long here. Very long.

After my recent oncology check, another health issue was revealed. I’m not ready to go into this one, so I won’t. Nothing terribly serious, but it is ONE MORE THING! And it pisses me off!

I would also like to suggest that medical professionals are not helping when saying something like, this type of condition isn’t all that uncommon for a woman of your age. 

Drives me crazy when things obviously (to me) linked to cancer/cancer treatment are attributed, far too often in a cavalier manner, to normal aging. Not buying it.

Besides, even if is it normal aging, does that mean, sorry, you’re on your own from here on out? Really?

Regardless, can I just say, f*** off, cancer?

(Why yes. Yes I can say that.)

You might want to read and download, Endocrine Therapy – Managing & Making Decisions About Your Aromatase Inhibitor Medication.

Oh, those tingling toes…

Your feet don’t lie. They let you know immediately if something’s wrong underfoot, do they not?

I read somewhere that there are some 7,000 nerve endings in each foot. Incredible. Other than podiatrists and shoe salespeople, who thinks about feet umpteen times a day?

Well, people with neuropathy in their feet do, that’s for sure. I have a mild case, and let me tell you, I think about my feet every single day. Many times. Thank you very much, chemo.

And then there is my chronic arm and shoulder pain, joint pain and ongoing watch for lymphedema…blah, blah, blah.

Enough, right?

Even I’m getting tired of this rant!

So…those are some of the areas of collateral damage I deal with. I have a sneaking suspicion many of you, Dear Readers, are dealing with them (and others), too.

And the thing is, who knows what issues are yet to come?

Sometimes, procedures and treatments that save or prolong lives also impair them. This is just reality in Cancer Land. However, patients should be warned beforehand and also offered guidance when impairment does happen.

The risk of developing long-term side effects from cancer treatment is very real. It’s important to be aware of them – not paranoid,  just aware.

You might want to read, Are the Long-Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy & Other Cancer Treatments Under-discussed?

Part 2 , when I get to it, will address cancer treatment collateral damage of the non-physical sort, of which there can be a lot as well. And as we all know, the scars we cannot see can be even harder to deal with.

I bet you relate, right?

Finally, let me repeat, I am grateful. Very grateful. However, I am allowed to be grateful, AND I am allowed to vent now and then about cancer treatment fallout shit.

So are you.

Rant over. Thank you for reading it. I think I do feel better now.

Now it’s your turn!

If you like this post, please share it. Thank you!

If applicable, what are your top cancer treatment collateral damage issues, physical or otherwise?

Do you ever feel you are expected to keep quiet and/or remain stoic about them?

How do you see yourself these days when you look in a mirror?

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Breast Cancer treatment's collateral damage, Let's talk about it. #breastcancer #cancer #sideeffects #hairloss #chemotherapy #lymphedema #health #womenshealth

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Angela Thomas

Wednesday 11th of November 2020

The collateral damage is the life that I worked so hard for. It’s like all of the nights that I spent studying in college and the days I spent working my way up the corporate ladder were all a waste of time. I am no longer able to work, my life is dictated by cancer - it’s many appointments for treatment, all of the pains that I now have, the neuropathy in my fingers and toes, the constant fight in my head to not go down the winding road of depression and surrender. I now feel like I’m collateral damage.

Nancy

Wednesday 11th of November 2020

Angela, I'm sorry you are dealing with so much collateral damage. It can't be easy. I hope you have a good support person or two (or more) to lean on. I wouldn't think of all those accomplishments as a waste of time. They are part of who you are too and though the trajectory of your life has been drastically altered, you are so much more than cancer and the collateral damage it caused. I hope some of your issues improve and/or that you get the support you need and deserve to deal with them. My best to you. Thank you so much for sharing.

Sarah

Wednesday 15th of April 2020

Where to start? I was lucky enough to keep my breasts, my favorite physical feature, only to wake up to having them permanently changed anyway. No lumpectomy, just lymphedema in my breasts causing them to now (and likely permanently) be noticeably even. I developed lymphedema in my left arm a week and a half after surgery and resent the sleeve and glove I will wear until I die. I have a bald spot right in the front of my head on the top. Impossible not to see. The fat is unbearable, especially since everyone thinks I should have lost weight on chemo. Don’t even get me started on the vaginal atrophy and the nightmare that entails. I’m sure there will be more, but I’m OT quite two months post surgery and still undergoing radiation and HP. We’ll see.

Nancy

Friday 17th of April 2020

Sarah, I'm sorry you have so much collateral damage. Believe me, I understand. Lots of us do. I appreciate your candor. Thank you.

Denise

Monday 10th of February 2020

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in Oct 2016 bilateral masctetomy in Nov 2016 did the chemo and radiation treatments wet back to work thought things were good then in Aril of 2019 had my routine scan and BAM!!! The brick wall hit me .my cancer had metastasized to my lymph nodes started chemo wasn’t bad on 2nd scan after 2nd diagnosis it wasn’t working know I’m on a new chemo drug and a immune therapy drug they are working. I completely understand the lasting effects had to quit my job which I dearly loved loved, and the bald doesn’t bother me it is coming back a little bit I was blessed the first time and this time not having been the throwing up sick I just don’t have a good appetite. I have emotional break downs this time I can’t do things as well as I use to such as house chores, but I do have two family members that have experienced cancer too my Mom and my brother so when I make comments about side effects they understand, my Mom has been cancer free for almost 20 years she still has problems. Thanks for your rant it helps to know that other cancer fighters get me and I don’t start think I’m going crazy. May God truly bless you!!!

Nancy

Tuesday 11th of February 2020

Denise, Thank you for sharing. You're definitely not alone and not going crazy either. My best to you.

Deb Maes

Saturday 9th of November 2019

Thanks for another great article . Pain n tiredness are constant for me . I get tired of hearing about “being positive and fighting and battling”. I am greatful to be here as I have been living with mbc for almost 2 years and have seen many pass of this while I have been living with it . I do feel that a lot of days I m just taking it one day at a time , it’s never going to be the same .

Nancy

Monday 11th of November 2019

Deb, One day at a time is all any of us can do. Pain and tiredness are difficult to manage, I'm sure and yes, hearing people tell you to just stay positive isn't that helpful. Thank you for sharing. My best to you.

Jan

Thursday 7th of November 2019

Does anyone live in the Columbus OH area? If so I would love to help. I can do housework, laundry, yard work....Free of charge. Let me know!