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Hospice Information Service

Side effects

With many forms of chemotherapy you will be told that some patients experience some side-effects, and that these can be of varying seriousness.  If you are not told, then I suggest looking at the data sheets for the relevant medicine that are available on the excellent  Cancerbackup web site.  (Our consultant oncologist usually gave us a print out from that site).

Keep an eye open for the start of side-effects.  For example, one chemotherapy we had caused very sore soles of the feet.  Don’t wait for the side-effects to get serious - start treating them (e.g. creams, cushioned innersoles) at the start.  You may find that nurses and therapists can give better advice than doctors on creams, etc.

We husbands may need to use our initiative in making or finding aids that will help with living with side effects.  For example, I made some foam inner soles that fitted into Abigail’s sandals when her feet were painful, as we could not find the right thing in the shops. At one  stage she needed some wedges to use to keep her jaw opening sufficiently to be able to eat (this is unlikely to apply to your case, as it was a result of radiotherapy to a secondary tumour in her jaw).  The consultant advised her to use a series of wooden spatulas each evening.  We soon found that was painful on the lips.  I found a plastic kitchen implement at Robert Dyas, which had a handle that could be cut into wedges of different sizes.  These were more comfortable to use than the spatulas.

Sometimes you may be issued with things that don’t seem to be quite right.  Have a look for alternatives on the internet.  We found a wider range of lymphoma sleeves than the local physiotherapist seemed to have available.

The most well-known side effect, and perhaps the most worrying for women, is hair loss.  This only seems to occur with some forms of chemo, and even then not everyone is affected.  When it happened to Abigail with one of her later treatments we found an excellent wig supplier in the south of England. 

I was surprised at the variations of wig quality.  She was very keen that I come to the selection session, as I was in a better position to judge how things looked than she was.  We decided to look for a design that was the same as the way she had always worn her hair.  The suppliers were good in offering a range of wigs, and trimming the selected one to suit Abigail.  Many friends did not realise she was wearing a wig - some just thought she had had her hair done nicely this week!

Good wigs are not cheap, but we decided it is money well spent, as it is so crucial to the patient’s confidence.  The day after getting her wig, Abigail wore it to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, on a breezy day!  Her hat (which was now a bit too small) blew off a couple of times, but there was no problem with the wig.  I liked the natural way individual ‘hairs’ moved in the breeze when we had given up on wearing the hat.

Abigail was worried that the grandchildren would think something looked odd, so she made a point of letting them play with the spare one, and so they were let into the secret of wigs!

These are just examples of things that helped my wife.  There often seems to be little that we husbands can do to help, so I found it very satisfying when I could contribute something, and it was also a tangible expression of care and being in the ‘team’.

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