What many people fear most about chemotherapy is not only how sick it will make them feel – it's how sick it will make them look. You may worry about losing your hair, getting bad skin, and losing or gaining weight. Skin and nails can change colour and you may worry about how others will react.
Not everyone experiences these side effects. But for those who do, there are ways of dealing with them.
Keeping up appearances
Here are some things to do to minimize the effects of changes to your appearance caused by chemo:
- If your clothes don't fit, have some of them altered, or buy a few new items. Check out some new colour choices as the tone of your skin may change – look for colours that brighten your face. Go with a friend and make it an enjoyable distraction.
- Accessorize. Add a trendy scarf, tie or pin – a small item can really add sparkle.
- Treat yourself. Have a spa day, a manicure, a massage. If there was ever a time you could justify it, it's now.
- Take care of your skin. Ask your doctor, dermatologist or pharmacist about skin creams and facial treatments to use. But be gentle. If you shave, you may want to use an electric razor to prevent breaks in the skin.
- Exercise. Ask your doctor to help you determine how much you can manage. Keeping active will keep you looking and feeling healthier.
If you're losing your hair, you may want to get a wig. If so, it is best to get one while you still have hair, so you can match the colour and style. Check with your health insurance about coverage for the cost of wigs. The Canadian Cancer Society also has a wig lending program that gives you access to free wigs. Not everyone gets a wig. Some people prefer caps, hats, or scarves instead.
There are many support groups and resources to help people undergoing chemotherapy to deal with appearance changes. One group that's focused on this is Look Good, Feel Better (www.lgfb.ca). They're dedicated to promoting a positive self-image for women with cancer. They have support from private companies as well as many volunteers who can help you with techniques and answer questions.
You can also turn to the Canadian Cancer Society (www.cancer.ca) for information and contacts. They have support groups for men and women dealing with cancer. They also have a wealth of resources on their website, as do the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org). Go for help and support – you'll be glad you did.
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