Tag Archive | cancer support group

Skin Care Tips

Extracted from Breastcancer.org

Here are a few things you can do to make the skin less sensitive during radiation treatment and to help it return to normal after radiation treatment is over.

Prevent irritation before and after daily treatments

  • Wear loose-fitting shirts, preferably cotton.
  • Use warm rather than hot water while showering.
  • Try to not let shower water fall directly on your breast.
  • Avoid harsh soaps that have a lot of fragrance; instead use fragrance-free soaps with moisturizers (such as Dove).
  • To help prevent redness and skin irritation, avoid having skin-on-skin contact. This most often happens:
    • where your arm presses against your armpit and the outer portion of your breast
    • along the bottom crease of your breast, where your breast might droop a bit and lie up against your upper belly wall
    • along your cleavage where the breasts snuggle up against each other

    To avoid skin-on-skin contact:

    • Try to keep your arm away from your body whenever possible.
    • Wear a strong bra without an underwire to keep your breasts separated and lifted.
    • If you have large breasts, when you’re not wearing a bra, stick a soft washcloth or piece of flannel or soft cotton under your breast.
  • Regularly dust the breast area and inside skin folds with cornstarch to absorb moisture, reduce friction, and keep you smelling fresh. You can use baby powder made from cornstarch (don’t use talc) or sifted kitchen cornstarch. Apply it with a clean makeup brush or put some cornstarch into a single knee-high nylon or thin sock and knot it at the top. Gently tap the sock against the skin to dust the surface. If your doctor has recommended using creams or salves, apply those first, then dust the area with the cornstarch.
  • With or without radiation, yeast infections are common in the skin fold under each breast — particularly during warm weather in women with large breasts. Signs of yeast infections are redness, itchiness, and sometimes a faint white substance on the skin. If you have a yeast infection, take care of it before radiation starts so it gets better, not worse. An anti-fungal cream (such as athlete’s foot medicine) usually works well.

Manage irritation during and after your course of radiation

  • At the beginning of treatment, before you have any side effects, moisturize the skin after your daily treatment with an ointment such as A&D, Eucerin, Aquaphor, Biafene, or Radiacare. You also can put it on at night — wear an old T-shirt so the ointment doesn’t get on your bed clothes.
  • For mild pinkness, itching, and burning, apply an aloe vera preparation. Or try 1% hydrocortisone cream (available without a prescription at any drugstore). Spread the cream thinly over the affected area 3 times a day.
  • If areas become red, itchy, sore, and start to burn, and low-potency cream no longer relieves your symptoms, ask your doctor for a stronger steroid cream available by prescription. Examples include 2.5% hydrocortisone cream and bethamethasone.
  • Some people get some relief by blowing air on the area with a hair dryer set to “cool” or “air” (no heat).
  • Don’t wear a bra if there are raw areas.
  • If your skin becomes dry and flakey during the course of your treatment, moisturize frequently and cleanse skin gently.
  • If your skin forms a blister or peels in a wet way, leave the top of the blister alone! The bubble keeps the area clean while the new skin grows back underneath. If the blister opens, the exposed raw area can be painful and weepy. Keep the area relatively dry and wash it with warm water only. Blot the area dry and then apply a NON–ADHERENT dressing, such as Xeroform dressings (laden with soothing petroleum jelly) or “second skin” dressings made by several companies. To relieve discomfort from blistering or peeling, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, or ask your doctor for a prescription if you need it.

What about sun exposure during radiation therapy?

  • During radiation, it’s best to keep the treated area completely out of the sun.
  • Wear a bathing suit with a high neckline.
  • Wear a cover-up when you’re not in the water.
  • Wear an oversized cotton shirt to cover the treated area and allow it to breathe.
  • Avoid chlorine. Chlorine is very drying and can make your skin reaction worse.
  • If you do swim in a pool, you might want to spread petroleum jelly (a product like Vaseline) on the treated area to keep chlorinated water away from your skin.

After your radiation treatment is done, the skin that has been exposed to radiation may be more sensitive to the sun than it was in the past. You can go out in the sun and have fun, but continue to protect your skin:

  • Use a sunblock that is rated SPF 30 or higher on the area that was treated. (A strong sunblock is a very good policy for every inch of your body.)
  • Apply the sunblock 30 minutes before you go out in the sun.
  • Reapply the sunblock every few hours, as well as when you get out of the water.

Questions to Ask My Doctor About Breast Cancer

Extracted from www.cancer.org

Being told you have breast cancer can be scary and stressful. You probably have many questions and concerns. Learning about the disease, how it is treated, and how this information might apply to you is a lot to do on your own. You might need some help.  American Cancer Society can give you general information about this disease and its treatment, but your doctor is the best source of information about your situation.

It is important for you to be able to talk frankly and openly with your cancer care team.  They want to answer all of your questions, no matter how minor they might seem to you.  But it helps if you know what to ask. Here are some questions that you can use to help you better understand this cancer and your options. Don’t be afraid to take notes and tell the doctors or nurses when you don’t understand what they’re saying.  The questions are grouped by how far along you are in the cancer experience. Not all of these questions will apply to you, but they should help get you started.

For more information on breast cancer please contact the American Cancer Society toll free at 1-800-227-2345 or online at www.cancer.org.

When you’re told you have breast cancer

1. Exactly what type of breast cancer do I have?

2. How do I get a copy of my pathology report?

3. Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or other organs?

4. What is the cancer’s stage? What does that mean?

5. How does this affect my treatment options and long-term outcome (prognosis)?

6. What are my chances of survival, based on my cancer as you see it?

7. How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?

8. Will I need other tests before we can decide on treatment?

9. What are my treatment choices?

10. What treatment do you recommend and why?

11. What is the goal of my treatment?

12. Should I think about genetic testing?

13. Should I get a second opinion? How do I do that?

14. Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial?

 When deciding on a treatment plan

1. What are the chances the cancer will come back after this treatment?

2. What would we do if the treatment doesn’t work or if the cancer comes back?

3. Will I go through menopause as a result of the treatment?

4. Will I be able to have children after treatment? How about breast feeding?

5. How much will I have to pay for treatment? Will my insurance cover any of it?

6. How long will treatment last? What will it involve? Where will it be done?

7. What risks and side effects should I expect?

8. What can I do to reduce the side effects of the treatment?

9. How will treatment affect my daily activities?

10. Will I lose my hair? If so, what can I do about it?

11. If treatment includes surgery:

  • · Tell me about breast reconstruction. Is breast reconstruction surgery an option if I want it?  What would it involve in my case?
  • · Can I have reconstruction at the same time as the surgery to remove the cancer? What are the pros and cons of having it done right away or waiting until later?
  • · Will you have to take out lymph nodes?

12. What will my breasts look and feel like after my treatment? Will I have normal feeling in them?

13. Will the treatment hurt? Will I have any scars?

 Before treatment

1. Will I need a breast form (prosthesis), and if so, where can I get one?

2. What should I do to get ready for treatment?

3. Will I need blood transfusions?

4. Should I change what I eat or make other lifestyle changes?

 During treatment

Once you have decided on treatment, you will need to know what to expect and what to look for. All of these questions may not apply to you, but asking the ones that do may be helpful.

1. How will we know if the treatment is working?

2. Is there anything I can do to manage side effects?

3. What symptoms or side effects should I tell you about right away?

4. How can I reach you on nights, holidays, or weekends?

5. Do I need to change what I eat during treatment?

6. Are there any limits on what I can do? Will I be able to work during treatment?

7. What kind of exercise should I do, and how often?

8. Can you suggest a mental health professional I can see if I start to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or distressed?

9. Will I need special tests, such as imaging scans or blood tests, and how often?

 After treatment

1. Do I need a special diet after treatment?

2. Are there any limits on what I can do?

3. What kind of exercise should I do now?

4. What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?

5. How often will I need to have follow-up exams and imaging tests?

6. What blood tests will I need?

7. How will I know if the cancer has come back? What should I watch for?

8. What are my options if the cancer comes back?


Find Financial Help When You have Cancer

Extracted from CancerCare.org

Cancer is an expensive illness. Many of the people who contact cancer agencies  each year cite financial need as a major source of difficulty. Some have no health insurance, some are insured but don’t have coverage for parts of their treatment such as prescription drug co-pays, and many do not have extra income to meet new costs such as child care or transportation to treatment. People with cancer and their caregivers often have to cut back on time spent at work, which means their income decreases at the same time that their bills pile up.

Financial stress often causes emotional stress. For example, when a family is under new financial pressures, it can create feelings of worry, sadness, and anxiety. Because cancer treatment often means years of medical care, financial concerns can influence major life decisions about work, housing, and school. There is assistance available, and CancerCare can help you navigate the maze of government, nonprofit, and pharmaceutical programs, as well as other sources of financial help. Here are some of the things you can do:

Talk to your insurance company. Many companies will assign a case manager to help you work through insurance concerns, clarify benefits, and suggest ways to get other health services.

Talk to your health care providers about your needs. Many treatment centers have social workers who help you sort through financial concerns. CancerCare social workers can also help you.

Find out which government programs (entitlements) you are eligible for, and apply promptly. To contact the Social Security Administration, call 1-800-772-1213 or visit www.ssa.gov. To contact the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, call 1-800-633-4227 or visit www.cms.gov. For Medicaid information, contact local listings for a Medicaid office in your state.

Learn how private organizations can help you. There are nonprofit programs for co-pay relief, as well as pharmaceutical patient assistance programs to help those who do not qualify for other aid. See our listing of financial assistance resources.

Memory Loss After Treatment

Extracted from Breastcancer.org

My dear friend, Sandy, struggled with this and many of you may too;  Thank God she had an awesome sense of humor!  She would be telling me something that happend and then look at me with a blank look and start laughing because she couldn’t remeber what she wanted to tell me, she would say “Damn chemo brain”, and we would both shake our heads and continue laughing…..

Memory is your mind’s ability to keep and remember information. Everyone has mild memory loss from time to time. You go to another room to get something, only you forget what you needed when you get there. Maybe you can’t find your car keys one day and your glasses the next. These occasional memory lapses are normal signs that your brain is a little overworked.

But memory loss also can be part of a bigger problem that’s more serious than just misplaced car keys. Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer “yes” to them, ask your doctor to evaluate your memory loss.

  • Does the memory loss cause difficulties in your daily living? If you’re unable to do things that you used to do with ease, such as balancing your checkbook or remembering how to drive to a friend’s house, consider contacting your doctor.
  • Do the memory lapses occur on a frequent basis?
  • Are you constantly repeating yourself in conversations or unable to recall conversations?
  • Are you forgetting names or faces of people you should know, like family or close friends?
  • Do you often feel confused?
  • Is the memory loss getting worse over time?

Some types of breast cancer treatment can affect your memory:

There are other treatment side effects that can affect your memory, including trouble sleeping and fatigue.

Memory loss also can be a side effect of other medicines, such as steroids, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and pain medications. Talk to your doctor if you think a medication may be contributing to your memory loss.

Managing memory loss

If your memory loss is a side effect of breast cancer treatment, try the following tips to help stimulate your memory:

  • Exercise your brain by keeping mentally active with word puzzles, reading, and any other activity that makes you think.
  • Keep a note pad nearby to jot down things you have to do and ideas you have.
  • Use a calendar to keep track of upcoming events and appointments.
  • Take a buddy with you to doctor appointments. Another set of ears can help you remember as much information as possible.
  • Build a routine and stick to it so you have a familiar plan of action to do things in a step-by-step manner. Tell your family and friends about your routine for additional support.
  • Admit you’re forgetful if you can’t remember someone’s name; there’s no need to be embarrassed.

Treatment Side Effects

Abdominal Pain

complements of Breast Cancer.org

Page last modified on 09/17/2012 10:59 PM

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Abdominal pain can happen along with other treatment side effects:

Abdominal pain can be caused by the following breast cancer treatments:

Bisphosphonates, medicines that strengthen bones and treat osteoporosis, can also cause abdominal pain.

A number of pain medications, including aspirin and other nonsteroid anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as Aleve and Celebrex, may cause ulcers, bleeding or holes in the stomach, which leads to abdominal pain.

Managing abdominal pain

If your abdominal pain lasts longer than 24 hours, or gets worse as time passes, call your doctor right away. Your doctor may want you to stop or switch medications to see if that helps ease your pain.

Abdominal pain from diarrhea can be treated with an anti-diarrhea medicine such as Pepto-Bismol (chemical name: bismuth subsalicylate), Imodium A-D (chemical name: loperamide hydrochloride), or Lomotil (chemical name: diphenoxylate and atropine) and/or Bentyl (chemical name: dicyclomine) may help you. If you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 24 hours, or if you have pain and cramping, call your doctor. Changing your diet can help ease diarrhea. Drink plenty of fluids that contain key chemicals and minerals so you don’t become dehydrated. Beverages rich in potassium, such as fruit juice and sports drinks, are especially good for you.

Abdominal pain from nausea or vomiting can be treated with anti-nausea medication. Other tips for managing nausea include:

  • wearing a “sea band,” a wristband that uses pressure to relieve nausea
  • acupuncture
  • meditation
  • Eating small meals frequently. If you feel sick to your stomach between meals, try to eat 6-8 small meals during the day and a snack at bedtime.
  • Eating food cold or at room temperature, not hot, to reduce its smell and taste.
  • Not eating in a warm room. The air may seem stuffy and stale and may make your stomach feel worse.
  • Rinsing your mouth before and after meals. This helps get rid of any bad tastes in your mouth.
  • Sitting up or lying back with your head raised for at least an hour after eating if you need to rest. Keeping your head up helps reduce nausea.

Abdominal pain from constipation can be treated with stool softeners and gentle laxatives. Changing your diet can help ease constipation:

  • Avoid foods that may lead to constipation. Some common ones are bananas, cheese, and eggs. Different foods affect people differently.
  • Drink more fluids to prevent dehydration — about 8 to 12 glasses each day (unless your doctor has advised something else). Consider water, prune juice, and warm fluids in the morning such as herbal tea or hot lemonade.
  • Eat more high-fiber foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, fresh raw vegetables, fresh raw fruits or cooked fruits with the peel on, dried fruits, dates, apricots, prunes, popcorn, seeds, and nuts. Fiber isn’t digested by the body, so it moves through and is excreted. Fiber also absorbs a lot of water in the bowels, which makes stools softer and easier to pass. Make sure you drink more fluids if you eat more fiber, or your constipation might become worse.
  • Make sure your breakfast includes high-fiber foods and a hot drink. Warm beverages are calming and may help stimulate bowel movement.
  • Drink caffeine in moderation. It has been shown to help constipation. Make sure that you drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages, too, so you don’t become dehydrated.

Sandy’s Story Part II…

The doctor was right.  All the side effects that he said would happen, happened.  She was four weeks into the chemo treatments and she said, “Holy crap Bren, my hair is falling out.” She planned to see Gena today to shave her head and start wearing the little shorty wig she got at the Cancer Support Group the other day.  She had been fitted for a wig and prosthesis at the Cancer Support Group prior to her treatments starting to prepare for the inevitable.  She donned her new hair and put a big smile on her face and thanked God that she was still here to take care of her children and watch them grow up. “How do I look?” she asked. “Pretty sassy huh?” She laughed her big hearty laugh and strutted around the house fluffing her new hair. Kayla and Kori and I were laughing so hard tears were rolling down our cheeks and our stomachs hurt.  Sandy’s sense of humor never stopped through all her trials and her fight with cancer.  She never let it get the best of her.  Was she scared? Absolutely, but she faced it with the strength of a lioness.

Sandy continued to work and take care of her two young daughters through her final chemo treatments.  “Let’s all go celebrate with some margaritas at Los Compadres, I had my final treatment two days ago and I feel great” she said. She had her favorite meal of chicken enchiladas and a picture of blended lime margaritas with salt.  She was a survivor: “I beat that damn cancer” she would say.  She became an avid participant in the Susan G. Komen race for the cure.  “Hey the race is coming up and we need to get a group together.”  She was the initiator of gathering the group together and organizing the event for the Safeway team that participated every year.  She remained clean up until the fifth year after her mastectomy.

Sandy began to have pain in her right hip in the fall of 2003.  “I need to get an appointment with the doctor.  I can’t seem to shake this pain in my hip,” Sandy told Lynda.    Lynda was the appointment scheduler at the VA hospital.  Lynda said, “I want to get you in to see Dr. Romberg.  He is the best and he will get to the bottom of your pain.”  As Lynda said, he was true to form.  He had gotten down to the bottom and had found that her cancer was back in her hip and various other places.  “I have to really kick it this time, give me the strongest and the best drugs on the market.  My girls are still not old enough and I want to be a grandma someday.  Let’s get started already,” Sandy said.  Sandy endured more chemo as well as radiation this time.  Her cancer was also found at the base of her brain this time.  “Looks like I will have to have the low dose chemo for the rest of my life.  I will do whatever it takes as long as I am can be here for my girls and am able to watch them grow up, I’m good,” she said.