Hair loss is a common side effect of most of the chemotherapeutic drugs used in the management of Breast Cancer and this period is quite traumatic for patients. It takes them some time to adjust to their new appearance, but their problem does not stop there.
After chemotherapy, majority of the breast cancer survivors start curly hair and no one exactly knows the reason behind this. This trend is universal and not restricted only to India. There is a lot of information about this on the net but no one exactly knows the scientific explanation behind this phenomenon. After reading a lot of survivor stories, I could infer that the texture of the hair after chemo is certainly different from a patient’s original hair and although some patients experience slight improvement in the quality and texture of their hair over time, for majority, this problem is life long.
For some patients, hair growth after chemo is a morale booster and they welcome this hair growth, without being concerned about the texture and the quality of hair. But for some patients, managing these curls can be quite a problem. It takes them a long time to get used to their new appearance and new hairstyle.
The following websites provide more information about chemo curls and how to manage them
Her symptoms appeared on a normal day, approximately two years back, after she had finished her daily quota of cooking (her first love and something which keeps her spirits high despite all odds). She noticed blood in her urine, which refused to stop despite medications and it made her and all of us anxious. Without any delay, we got an ultrasound done and it confirmed our worst fears. She had multiple tumors in her bladder. When we broke the diagnosis to her, she was, like all cancer patients, initially in denial but very quickly she reconciled to the fact that she had cancer and started preparing for the battle ahead.
Out of all the doctors in the family, she trusts my decisions the most (advantage of being a grandson 🙂 ) and so she called me to understand her disease and further course of action. Because she had been under the knife many times in her life, she was very calm about the diagnosis & the upcoming surgery, and for once she was happy that something was going to be removed from a her body rather than being added. In all her previous conditions, something had been added to her body (lenses after cataract, stents, pacemaker and artificial knees). 🙂 🙂
She was a bit nervous before surgery, not so much due to the cancer but because of her cardiac condition. Fortunately, her surgery went off really smoothly and although she had multiple lesions, all of them turned out to be superficial lesions which were completely removed. She had a speedy recovery, which was evident from the fact that she was back in the kitchen, cooking delicacies for us & knitting sweaters (her other passion), within a week of her surgery. My grandfather tried to discourage her from knitting after her surgery but we always encouraged her because it was one activity which kept her busy and left her with very little time to think about her disease.
More difficult than the surgery was her ordeal with the six cycles of intra-vesical chemotherapy (chemotherapy instilled into the bladder). She had to tackle repeated infections during this period but her strong will-power helped her pull through during this difficult phase. The first couple of days after each cycle were tough but on the third day she would be back doing what she enjoyed the most (cooking & knitting).
She finally finished her treatment and has been cancer-free for more than a year and a half now.
As a doctor observing her fight against the disease, I realised that being passionate about something (in her case, cooking & knitting) can really help one in channelizing his/her energy and it helps to tide over difficult times. I often give her example to my patients and it gives them hope and courage to fight their cancer with a smile.
Like most of us during childhood, I also wanted to fly and as I grew old I thought that Sky diving is the closest I am going to come to flying. During my visit to UK for my MRCS convocation ceremony, I decided to pursue my dream and booked a jump at Hinton Airfield (close to London).
The whole skydiving experience was amazing but it taught me a very important lesson about TRUST, which I felt was applicable during cancer treatment as well. Although comparing skydiving to cancer treatment would be like comparing apples to oranges but I would try to draw some comparisons to make my point.
Jumping from an airplane at 14,000 ft strapped to an instructor whom I had met for the first time that morning was a terrifying proposition but to fulfil my dream and I had to trust him. I was completely dependent on him to make it a ‘once in a life time experience’ and MORE IMPORTANTLY get me to the ground ALIVE. Similarly, a patient diagnosed with cancer approaches an unknown doctor (unless the patient comes from a family of doctors) to help them battle the disease and help them live. Trust in both cases is of paramount importance. In my personal experience, I have seen patients who have trusted the team of doctors doing well and suffering from less anxiety and side effects as compared to patients who shop for doctors and delay their treatment because of that.