Monday, April 26, 2010

Chemotherapy-related Hair Loss

I’ve just been told that I need to have chemo and will lose my hair! What should I do now?
A) Let my hair fall out on its own
B) Cut my hair short before my first treatment
C) Shave my head bald

After talking with many survivors who have been through this, the general consensus is “C”. Being diagnosed with cancer can be devastating in itself and for many people, especially women, the thought of “going bald” can cause a whole new firestorm of emotions. Losing your hair, no matter how prepared you think you are can bring on many tears, fears, and anxiety. I often suggest to those newly diagnosed to go ahead and shave your head about a week after your first treatment as a way to gain back a sense of control. It’s also important to allow yourself to grieve the loss of your hair while remembering that this is a temporary situation, your hair WILL grow back once you’ve completed your chemo. Any of the three options above will be the best choice for you. Which one would you pick?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lost in Translation

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can feel like your traveling in a foreign country, where you don’t know the language and customs, and you don’t have the maps to help you find your way home. Once a diagnosis is made you are likely to meet with an array of different specialists, undergo a variety of tests, and get bombarded with terms that sound as if there is a minimum letter quota in order to qualify as a medical term. While all this is occurring, it is reasonable to find it difficult to focus on what is being told to you because you are still trying to digest being diagnosed with cancer.

When learning a new language, having an interpreter or a guide can be of great assistance. When navigating through the initial phase of diagnosis, having someone with you at appointments and tests can help to document while you listen and verify that you both heard the same information. Words and terms that you don’t know or understand can be written down and researched. It is also important to let those who are providing care know if there is something you are unclear about or have questions that need to be answered before proceeding forward. Understanding the language and terminology will aid in helping to make decisions regarding treatment and care.

Two websites that might be helpful are: National Cancer Institute www.cancer.gov and the American Cancer Society www.cancer.org. Both have a glossary of terms and are useful for support in many aspects of cancer care. Are there are tools that you have found helpful in navigating through the initial phase of a cancer diagnosis? If so, sharing them would be helpful for those in need of support.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Things People Say!

I often hear from cancer survivors about upsetting remarks that people make to them after learning the survivor has cancer. Since when did a cancer diagnosis make you fair game for unwanted advice from strangers? Is it acceptable for you to be asked if your hair loss is a result of chemo just to satisfy someone’s curiosity? Or worse yet, why are people compelled to tell survivors the horror story of a relative or friend going through chemo or that they knew someone who died from that?

I believe at some point each of us has said the wrong thing. Maybe we were uncomfortable with the silence and searched for words to fill the void. Maybe we wanted to encourage someone going through a difficult time but the soothing words missed their mark. Sometimes it is okay to say “I don’t know what to say” and offer your support rather than risk offending or upsetting a person. Be genuine and respect the privacy of someone who has cancer. Just as with any other illness, it is their personal choice to share their experience. If you are fortunate enough to be the one they share it with, don’t try to find words to fix it, just be a friend.

Share your experience…What have you heard that you wished you hadn’t and how did you respond?