Cancer induced losses

8 unexpected losses I experienced due to breast cancer…

After hearing that “you’ve got cancer” diagnosis, your mind spirals immediately to the potential loss of your life.  Of course no one likes to talk about that or even THINK about it, but anyone whose heard those fateful words knows that it’s something we all have to consider then figure out how to overcome.

But there were numerous other unexpected losses that no one prepared me for.  If you are a newly diagnosed patient it may be helpful to know what potentially lies ahead so you can be ready and even take measures to avoid if possible.  This is by no means an all inclusive list.  I encourage my cancer sisters to post their own losses in the comments.

Loss of sleep…

Of course after you hear the news that you have cancer, there is usually an immediate loss of sleep as your mind goes into overdrive trying to digest it all, learn about treatments, find doctors, inform loved ones…etc.  This will eventually die down as your diagnosis becomes your “new normal”.  What I wasn’t expecting was how chemo would disrupt my sleep cycle, how radiation would make me tired and nap during the day -thus making sleep at night harder to find, or how chemo-induced menopause would give me night sweats so badly that I would wake several times a night drenched and kicking off my covers in the dead of winter.

Loss of hair…

Everyone is well aware that most ladies lose their hair during chemo.  I was prepared for that.  What I wasn’t anticipating was losing ALL the hair on my body!  I mean ALL.  The upside to this was time saved not having to shave my legs or pits and that I now know what having a Brazilian is like without suffering the mind blowing pain of GETTING that wax job.  The downside was losing my eyelashes and brows.  I never realized that your eye lids tend to stick together when you blink without lashes or that lashes aren’t there to look pretty but to keep dust and stuff out of your eyes -which happens WAY more often than you think.  Thankfully, all this hair does come back so don’t throw out all your razors just yet.  And learning to strategically apply makeup can cover up the facial hair losses.

Loss of self esteem…

As a result of the above loss, many women experience a serious loss of self esteem as well.  There were days during chemo that I couldn’t even bear to look at myself in the mirror.  Sure, everyone will tell you that you shouldn’t be so down on yourself and that the hair loss is temporary but I think the majority of my cancer sisters will agree that knowing this and feeling this are two different things.  Even months later, as my hair grows out and I am dealing with that “yucky growing out stage” I don’t feel very attractive.  Losing one’s breasts is also a major deal for many of us too.  They are a huge part of our femininity and most women’s clothes are designed to accentuate our bosoms.  Its hard to lose those curves.  It’s hard to look at ugly scars.  Many of us lose our confidence as well since our looks are simply a big part of who we are.  Right or wrong -it is what it is.

Loss of appetite/ taste buds…

Having no previous experience with chemo, the loss of taste buds was something that was completely unexpected for me.  Sure, most people have heard horror stories about how chemo patients spend hours vomiting after treatment.  This never once happened to me.  The meds that go along with chemo today are very good at controlling potential side effects.  Some people do experience nausea nonetheless.  But the chemo itself will destroy some of your taste buds making food seem unappealing and taste differently.  Take heart!  They DO come back and sucking on ice chips during chemo will help to protect them.

Loss of modesty…

I used to be called a prude back in the day.  Now I don’t think twice before whipping my shirt off in front of people -males included.  After having numerous male doctors stare at, draw on and cut into my chest, I lost any sense of modesty I had about my upper body.  losing my breasts made my chest look like a mangled mess of skin – no longer something feminine at all.  Even after the reconstruction, the loss of sensation in the new boobs gives me a surreal feeling -like they aren’t even mine.  And since they are the work of a physician and not my God-given sweater puppies, I usually don’t have a problem showing them to people -as long as there is a medical reason anyway.  No Girls Gone Wild for me!

Loss of memory…

Anyone who has gone through chemo will tell you that chemo brain is a real thing… if they can remember what it was like.  Chemo’s job is to kill off fast growing cells.  This is why things like hair, nails and taste buds are affected.  Brain cells are also affected -especially the short term memory ones.  I was in a meeting at a cancer support group once where we went around the room introducing ourselves.  By the time it was my turn -I had already forgotten the first 4 ladies’ names.  When I said so, they all laughed in solidarity and we decided that name tags were in order from then on.  I have forgotten about food on the stove, conversations I had with people the day before and the reason I walked in to a room.  It’s harder for me to pull up memories from the past or even words I used to know to describe things.  Granted some of this is just indicative of getting older, but it became more pronounced during and after chemo.  It’s gotten a little better months later, but some ladies tell me they STILL suffer this side effect years later.

Loss of money…

Medical bills.  Need I say more?  In addition to that obvious pocketbook drain, I wasn’t prepared for the other expenses incurred after my diagnosis.  Things like gas to drive the myriad of doctor appointments and treatments, wigs and other head coverings, supplements and other alternative treatments are extra expenses that insurance doesn’t cover.  For many, a change in diet also puts a strain on the budget.  Eating clean isn’t cheap!  You may need to buy new clothes due to weight loss or gain (depending on treatments and diet changes) or as a result of your changing chest size.  Thankfully, I have a wonderful support group that helped me with these unexpected expenses.  Try not to stress out about the money thing.  Like becoming a new parent, you find a way to work it out as you go.

Loss of time…

Of course the first thing a newly diagnosed cancer patient thinks about is the potentially shortened lifespan.  But once you deal with that and realize that many cancers are very beatable these days, you will find that you now have to deal with the reality that you will still lose time out of your life.  Hours lost due to treatments, doctor appointments, travel time, time in surgery, recovery time, extra naps and even time standing in a room trying to remember what brought you there.  I’ve lost time that I could’ve spent vacationing or visiting family out of town.  They say that time lost is something you can never recover but before this post starts to get you down, let’s think about the things you can GAIN after diagnosis…

Many of us never realized just how many people care about us until you “get sick.”  I was astounded at the outpouring of love, support and prayers from people as my cancer news spread.  Some from people I would never have expected.

I also gained many new friends.  The solidarity from my cancer sisters is precious.  They have helped me get through these tough times, given me advice and hope for my future.  Be sure to join support groups -you will be glad you did!

I gained all sorts of new knowledge as a result of this diagnosis and a new appreciation for life.  I gained a stronger faith and the realization that I can use this disease to help others in numerous different ways.

But most importantly, I gained the realization and acceptance that all the above losses were lessons to me.  They were (are) things to get though that made me a stronger person.  That taught me how precious each day was.  Things that gave me perspective and grew me as a person.  Not all losses are bad.  We will ALL lose our lives some day.  It’s inevitable.  But not all of us are given the opportunity to gain an appreciation of each morning we wake up or the time to go repair torn relationships or make peace with God.

Life is what you make of it.  Pay attention to your own losses and gains.  You might find a way to make peace with your diagnosis too.

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3 Responses to Cancer induced losses

  1. wipe44out55 says:

    Wow, I so totally relate to this article. I had one breast removed & I don’t think any of us gets enough information on what it’s like to have chemotherapy & radiation.
    You can’t tell me that the professionals don’t know this stuff. I know not all people like to be told head on, but I do.
    I even knew I had breast cancer when I got the call to see my Dr & his response was that things are different today. I told him I was having the breast removed & he asked my husband if he was OK with that 😳, HELLO, it’s me not my husband & I really couldn’t give a rats ass what my husband thought, although the did tell the Dr “her body, her decision”.
    Five years later, I still have after effects from the treatments. Living in Canada, I didn’t have the medical bills that some countries have.
    Five years later, I have come to terms with the cancer but not with the lack of support & it being a topic no one wants to talk about. Everyone & I mean everyone, talks circles around that dirty word “cancer”.
    Five years later, after some test I’m faced with spots on my right lung & something on my spine. I honestly say I try not to dwell on this & live my life but in the back of my brain, it’s hard to shut out the “what if it’s back” 😖


  2. Some of those I thankfully didn’t experience because through a lucky early detection and the relatively simple treatment for testicular cancer – radical orchiectomy (of both testicles, unlucky me) which is pretty much done in the afternoon with one night’s observation followed by a few rounds of minor radiation. I can empathize on the loss of modesty one. Leading up to the op, I don’t think my balls had had so much attention – doctors, radiologists, radiographers, nurses, etc. My surgeon is a woman – an idea I had to wrap my head around. That said, the worst of it was the surgeon and a nurse prodding my recently emptied scrotum for signs of swelling. I really do respect your ability to keep your chin up in the face of what you’re going through.


  3. Ruby Merten says:

    Yuk! See? There is always someone with a worse story to help me appreciate. Thank you for posting! I hope all is well now!


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