Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie (and cancer): three healthy tips

baseball hotdog and applepieSummertime, especially around the 4th of July, means that people are out enjoying what many associate with being American. However, with that come risks for cancer and potentially side effects for those living with cancer. Here are three healthy tips for this holiday and the rest of the summer.

  • Stay out of the sun – this might be tough to do, so a good course of action is to limit your sun exposure, use sunscreen (30 SPF or higher) and wear a wide brim hat. Continue reading

How to Cope with Radiation Therapy Side Effects

Radiation therapy treats cancer by using high energy to kill tumor cells.  Many people who get radiation therapy have skin changes and some fatigue.  Side effects vary from person to person; depend on the radiation dose, and the part of the body being treated. Some patients have no side effects at all, while others have quite a few. There is no way to predict who will have side effects.

Skin changes may include dryness, itching, peeling, or blistering. These changes occur because radiation therapy damages healthy skin cells in the treatment area.

Fatigue is often described as feeling worn out or exhausted.

If you have bad side effects, the doctor may stop your treatments for a while, change the schedule, or change the type of treatment you are getting.

Depending on the part of your body being treated, you may also have:

  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss in the treatment area
  • Mouth changes such as soreness, dryness and difficulty swallowing (if radiation to head and  neck area)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sexual impact (tenderness and soreness of genital organs if radiation to this area)
  • Blood count changes

Most of these side effects go away within two months after radiation therapy is finished.

Late side effects may first occur six or more months after radiation therapy is over.  Late side effects may include infertility, joint problems, lymphedema, mouth problems, and secondary cancer. Everyone is different, so talk to your doctor or nurse about whether you might have late side effects and what signs to look for.

What can you do to take care of yourself during treatment?

  • Be sure to get plenty of rest. You may feel more tired than normal.
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Depending on the area of your body getting radiation (for example, the belly or pelvic area), your doctor or nurse may suggest changes in your diet.
  • Take care of the skin in the treatment area. If you get external radiation therapy, the skin in the treatment area may become more sensitive or look and feel sunburned. Ask your doctor or nurse before using any soap, lotions, deodorants, medicines, perfumes, cosmetics, talcum powder, or anything else on the treated area.
  • Do not wear tight clothes over the treatment area. This includes girdles, pantyhose, or close-fitting collars. Instead, wear loose, soft cotton clothing. Do not starch your clothes.
  • Do not rub, scrub, or use adhesive tape on treated skin. If your skin must be bandaged, use paper tape or other tape for sensitive skin.
  • Do not put heat or cold (such as a heating pad, heat lamp, or ice pack) on the treatment area.
  • Protect the treated area from the sun. Your skin may be extra sensitive to sunlight.   Ask your doctor if you should use a lotion that contains a sunscreen.

Did you experience any side effects from your radiation treatment?  What did you do to cope?  Please feel free to share any tips to help others.

Resources

U-M Department of Radiation Oncology

U-M Caring for Yourself after Radiation Therapy

National Cancer Institute, Radiation Therapy and You:  Support for People With Cancer

What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a set of symptoms caused from damage to the nerves further away from the brain and spinal cord. These distant nerves are called peripheral nerves. They carry sensations (feeling) to the brain and control the movement of our arms and legs. They also control the bladder and bowel, though these nerves are affected by CIPN less often.  Certain chemotherapy drugs are often linked to this side effect.

The symptoms or signs of CIPN depend mostly on which nerves are involved. This side effect can cause numbness, tingling, burning or weakness, particularly in the hands or feet.

Protection and Safety Tips:

  • Protect areas where sensation is decreased. For example, do not walk around without foot wear. Wear thick socks and soft-soled shoes.
  • Wear warm clothing in cold weather.  Protect feet and hands from extreme cold.
  • Use potholders when cooking.
  • Use gloves when washing dishes – or gardening.
  • Inspect skin for cuts, abrasions – and burns daily – especially arms, legs, toes and fingers.
  • Use your pain medicines if you have them.
  • Be sure that you have ways to support yourself if you have problems with stumbling and walking. Hand rails in hallways and bathrooms may help you keep your balance. A walker or cane may give you extra support.
  • Use night lights or flashlights when getting up in the dark.
  • Protect yourself from heat injuries. Set hot water heaters between 105° – 120° degrees to reduce scalding risk while washing your hands.  When taking a bath or shower, do not let the water get too hot.
  • Give yourself extra time to do things. Ask friends for help with tasks you find hard to do.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. It can cause nerve damage on its own, and may make CIPN worse.
  •  If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar. High blood sugar levels can damage nerves.
  • If your neuropathy is permanent, ask your doctor to refer you to an occupational therapist. They are experts who help people lead more normal lives despite physical limits.
  • Report any unusual feeling you may have to your doctor.

Take the Next Step:

 

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie (and cancer)

Summertime, especially around the 4th of July, means that people are out enjoying what many associate with being American. However, with that come risks for cancer and potentially side effects for those living with cancer.

Here are 3 tips to stay healthy this holiday and the rest of the summer.

  • Stay out of the sun – this might be tough to do, so a good course of action is to limit your sun exposure, use sunscreen (30 SPF or higher) and wear a wide brim hat.
  • Stay hydrated – drinking plenty of water is the best way to fight dehydration. Other ways include eating foods that have a high water concentration such as watermelon, lettuce and yogurt.
  • Stay cool – make sure you wear clothing that is breathable, take cool showers at bedtime and consider jumping into a pool for a swim.

More information on beating the heat and enjoying your summer are available through the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

Please share with us what you do to manage during the hot summer months.

When cancer changes your looks, the makeover starts inside

A cancer center patient who lost her hair due to chemotherapy treatment

Kate Muir opted not to wear a wig.

As if confronting a life-threatening illness isn’t challenging enough for cancer patients, treating that illness often means coming face-to-face with changes in physical appearance, too. Baldness. Scarring. The loss of a breast. The loss of a limb.

When one’s health — or life — is at stake, do appearances really matter? According to Claire Weiner, L.M.S.W., a social worker in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s PsychOncology Program, that’s one of the first questions many patients — male and female — wrestle with. Weiner and the other members of the PsychOncology team are quick to remind patients that it’s normal — not vain — to be concerned about how we look.

When it comes to coping with that new face in the mirror, a strong sense of self-worth and a solid support system are invaluable.

Kate Muir (pictured above), who is currently in treatment for breast cancer, remembers looking in the mirror at one point and seeing “an alien, not someone I knew.” Eventually, she says, she was able to deal with the changes.

“In my family today, who you are is based on what you do, what you speak, what you feel — not on how you look,” she says. From the very start, Muir’s family encouraged her to go out just as she was. Her son, who lives in Ann Arbor, told her, “Who cares? No one cares how they look in Ann Arbor!”  Continue reading “Keeping Up Appearances: When cancer changes your looks, the makeover starts inside”.

We’ve also got a list of resources to help support you and provide products to help:  “Keeping Up Appearances:  Resources”.

If you have questions or would just like to talk to someone, contact Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125 and one of our cancer nurses will help.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share?  Please let us know by posting in our comments section.

When to ask for help: Talking about symptoms is first step in treating them

Larry Stone asked for help with symptoms related to his cancer treatment.

Larry Stone asked for help with symptoms related to his cancer treatment.

Larry Stone joined a clinical trial in fall 2009 to test a medication that offered the possibility of prolonging the effectiveness of the hormone therapy he was taking to stave off prostate cancer. When he started to experience mild numbness in his hands and feet later that spring, he didn’t think too much about it. But by June, pain and swelling sent him to the hospital overnight.

His hospital stay relieved his pain somewhat, but it prompted him to ask his oncology team a question: “Is there a specialist I can see?”

That simple question triggered a referral to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic. Stone met with Susan Urba, M.D. — the clinic’s leader — as well as pharmacist Emily Mackler, Pharm.D. Together, the team mapped out a program to reduce Stone’s discomfort.

“That was the start of a great relationship,” Stone said.

Read more about symptom management in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, Thrive. Or, if you are a U-M patient, call 1-877-907-0859 to make an appointment with the U-M Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic.