Saturday, April 19, 2014

Beauty and the Breast Issues - Looking Good Post-Cancer

Do you have breast issues? Has breast cancer nodded its ugly head toward you? As a two-time survivor, I'll share some of my musings on beauty and the breast.

Weight gain

Breast cancer patients often gain weight from treatment. This fact escaped me when I first underwent treatment with chemotherapy. One reason is chemo-induced fatigue, resulting in decreased activity. Another is steroids contained in pre-chemo medications. 
 
To combat these effects, patients should eat a balanced diet of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthful fats in moderate amounts. In addition, cancer survivors should invest in exercise if at all possible. Once chemo was through, I hit the gym. One study reveals that 150 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week lowered a patient's risk of dying from breast cancer. Any amount of exercise beats sitting around.
 
Hair

After the second round of chemotherapy, my hair seriously started to shed. I chose to shave my head so my hair wouldn't fall out in clumps. Then I headed to the local American Cancer Society (ACS) office, which provided a plethora of nice-looking complimentary wigs from which I could choose. They also supplied me with wig shampoo and styling advice. What a blessing to have these services available!
 
I asked my oncology nurses about taking a drug to grow my hair back more quickly. They weren't enthusiastic about any medical remedies. Since I had wigs and didn't desire to apply another topical treatment besides hair coloring, I scrapped the notion of a follicle-sprouting lotion.
 
Eventually my hair did grow back. After yearly treatment with Herceptin, however, it did not return as thick as before. Further, the daily pill Arimidex I take to reduce chances of recurrence causes hair thinning. To counter this, my hairdresser advised using Nioxin hair-thinning system, consisting of shampoo, conditioner, and treatment spray. After three months of use we noticed new hair sprouting. Mousses, volumizers, and thickening gels with wheat protein may also create the illusion of thicker manes. 
 
Skin Products

Cancer treatment can cause skin to dry out. Our local dermatologist gives monthly free skin-care advice to patients undergoing chemo or radiation. At his sessions he not only talked about how and why cancer treatments affect the skin, hair, and nails, but also showed us how to use cosmetic products correctly. We learned that creams are better than lotions in moisturizing the skin. Best of all, he handed out free samples of skin products in generous quantities.  
 
Fingernails

Another beauty symbol rife with breast issues involves fingernails. Chemo caused permanent ridges to form on mine, and Herceptin gave them the consistency of tissue paper until the drug left my system. "Sally Hansen Hard as Nails" nail polish helped to strengthen them. At my dermatologist's urging I also took biotin supplements to counteract nail brittleness as Herceptin coursed through my veins. I continue on biotin, as I believe it makes a difference. Before taking any supplements, however, patients should consult their oncologist.
 
Makeup

The program "Look Good ... Feel Better" offered by the ACS is well worth the time invested. This free service is dedicated to educating cancer survivors about beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during treatments.  Cosmetologists taught us the best way to apply makeup. We also received hundreds of dollars of free cosmetics as a favor bag from this "party." My take-away message?  Blush and lipstick work color magic on faces pale from chemo.  And they take so little time to apply!
 
Reconstruction or Prosthesis

One of the largest breast issues is the decision whether to have reconstruction. For personal and medical reasons I opted against this procedure after my double mastectomy. To many women who undergo disfiguring surgery, however, reconstruction is an image-saver. 
 
I discovered that my local ACS office offers a large assortment of free prostheses and mastectomy bras.  Governments may require insurance companies to cover purchases of this sort; the patient seeking faux breasts should investigate all possibilities so she can look and feel her best in public.   

Jewelry

Since my cancer journey I have discovered jewelry of every style, color and shape.   Each piece helps brighten my day.  I found my post-chemo short hair looks cool with dangly earrings. But rings provide a challenge for me, a lymphedema patient. I have solved the dilemma by wearing my wedding band on my unaffected hand and buying rings with elastic bands so I can still dress up fingers on my swollen hand. We survivors are ever resourceful as we face each new trial.  
 
I pray that these musings on breast issues will help you sort through truths you can use when dealing with the modern-day obsession with beauty. Like objects in a side-view mirror, beauty is closer than you think.