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Cancer survivor: The chemo makes you sicker than the disease but it’s a lifesaver

While the well known side-effects like hair loss and exhaustion are the biggest fears for patients, some others like a loss of libido are often not addressed and can be just as traumatic.
Feb 4th 2014, 7:30 AM 9,132 34

TODAY IS WORLD CANCER DAY and thousands of people across Ireland at the moment are coping with the disease, the effects of the various treatments and the impact it has on their lives and the people around them.

New research published yesterday found chemotherapy brought about major changes in the lives of men battling prostate cancer in this country with one third of family members saying their loved one is afraid that the chemotherapy might not work, and have been mentally or emotionally drained by it.

On average, most family members would rate the patient’s quality of life while undergoing chemotherapy as 5 out of 10, mainly because of the side effects like hair loss, nauseau/vomiting and loss of appetite.

Nicola Elmer, diagnosed with breast cancer over ten years ago had a full mastechtomy and also went through chemotherapy, said these were the physical effects of the treatment that she found particularly challenging.

“I always found that day three of the chemotheraphy was always the worst so I always had it on a Friday and Saturday and Sunday would be awful and then Monday hit you really badly and then as soon as you start to feel better they hit you with the next dose.”

That’s the strange thing about a cancer diagnosis, especially breast cancer because I was feeling really well, in the prime of physical health and fitness and then they started giving me a drug to make me feel sick.

The treatment makes you sicker than the actual disease at the time but you’re always grateful for it because it’s a lifesaver.

Support

In the study published yesterday, one in five families admitted chemotherapy has often left their loved one sad and depressed or finding it difficult to cope with their family’s emotion.

Naomi Fitzgibon, Cancer Information Service Manager at the Irish Cancer Society said offering patients the support they need at the times they need it is vital.

“Not everyone has a huge support system and everyone is different,” she said.

Some people just want to go in and get on with it and after the treatment it hits them and they need the support then. Other people are very active and they’re onto the cancer information service, talking to nurses, speaking to other people who’ve had cancer and going to support groups.

Loss of libido

Fitzgibbon said that while side-effects like hair loss and exhaustion are the ones most feared by people who have just been diagnosed with cancer, many of the psychological impacts of chemotherapy are not addressed.

Something that is nearly never mentioned is that somebody’s libido can go out the window and their relationship is affected and that for some people is the most upsetting – that their intimate relationship with their partner is changed. For people who don’t have a partner at the moment that can also be devastating because they think they can’t have one now.

Elmer, who had just been married when she got her diagnosis, said it was “really tough” on her husband because he knew that there was nothing he could physically do to make her better.

“It was really challenging for him and it was at the beginning of a new life for us at the start of the marriage but I was so lucky to have a really supportive husband and he’s still here eleven years later,” she said.

While chemotherapy – and other cancer treatments – can have extreme side effects, Fitzgibbon stressed that as research progresses, different treatments are being developed for each different cancer and with this, these side effects are also being addressed.

For more information, you can contact the Irish Cancer Society on 1800 200 700 or through its website.

Read: Chemotherapy rooms for patients at new Mater Hospital building ‘overcrowded’>

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Michelle Hennessy

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