The Live Better With Guide to Feeling Confident with Cancer

Why having cancer can cause problems with confidence – and tips to help you feel and live better

Having cancer can bring with it big physical and emotional changes. Dealing with cancer, surgery and the side effects of treatment can impact on your self-confidence and the way you feel about your body.

The experience and the uncertainty of going through cancer may also make you feel anxious and affect your self-esteem.

This guide looks at things you can do to feel more confident and live better, including tips and advice from the Live Better With community who have been through the experience of dealing with cancer.

In this guide:

How cancer may affect your confidenceDealing with hair lossSkin and nail issues Helping with your body image |  Boosting your self-esteem

Browse our Feeling Confident range →


How cancer may affect your confidence

Having treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy can cause changes to your body, which may make you feel less confident.

Going through the experience of cancer may also make you feel anxious or low and affect your confidence and motivation. Dealing with pain, side effects, and fatigue can impact on your mood and your ability to do day-to-day activities.

It may feel like your life has changed significantly, and you may not feel like doing the things you normally would, like seeing friends or keeping up with your hobbies.

The good news is that you are not alone, and there are lots of things you can do to help take control, minimise the stress, and feel more confident.


Dealing with hair loss

Treatments like chemotherapy can cause changes to the hair on your head, face and body. Your hair might get thinner, or it might fall out completely.

For some people, this is one of the more difficult things to deal with, and it can affect their self-esteem. Planning ahead can help to reduce the stress.

Taking control

Using shampoos and conditioners which are specially designed for people with hair loss can help to make your scalp less irritated, while giving your hair more volume and making it look more healthy.

When it comes to losing eyebrow and eyelash hair, there are a range of cosmetics that can help, including pencils, gels, brow stencils and strengthening mascaras. It’s worth practising ahead of time to find the right look for you.

Find recommended Live Better With products for making you feel more confident about hair loss here.

Choosing the right headwear

If losing your hair becomes inevitable, there are lots of different headwear options out there, including a wide range of attractive headscarves and turbans, hats and beanies, as well as wigs, all of which can help you to feel a bit less exposed and more confident.

“If you are going through strong hair loss, cut your hair. This reduces the pain later and makes you feel in control.” Caroline, Live Better With community member

It’s worth buying headwear that’s made from a natural, breathable material such as bamboo or cotton. If you’re wearing a wig, using a wig liner can help to reduce any sweating or itching and make things more comfortable.

“Get a wig before you need it. Wear it get used to it – let other people get used to it too. When your hair starts to thin/ drop it is far less traumatic and no big deal.” Carol, Live Better With community member

Find recommended Live Better With headwear here.

Browse our Hair loss range →

Some people find that they prefer to accept their baldness and go headwear-free –  bald can be beautiful! At the end of the day it’s all about what works for you. See our guide to Cancer and Hair Loss here.


Skin and nail issues

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause problems with your skin and nails, such as soreness and redness, rashes, itching or dryness. Your skin may feel flaky and your nails may become brittle and weak.

You can help to protect and boost your skin by avoiding harsh cosmetics or cleaning products containing harsh chemicals, and by moisturising your skin regularly.

Browse our Skin Things range →

Keeping hydrated

Using good quality intensive moisturising products, such as creams and body butters will help to keep your nails and skin hydrated and healthy, and feel smoother, helping you to feel more confident.

Natural oils are another excellent way of keeping your nails and skin supple and hydrated, and can boost your skin’s elasticity and strength. If you have had surgery, applying a scar gel or oil will create a waterproof barrier over the area and help with the healing process.

You might also consider taking a hair, skin and nail vitamin supplement. You should always talk to your treatment team first before taking any kind of supplement.

Using cosmetics

Using make-up and other cosmetic products can help you to cover up any areas that you may be worried about. If your complexion feels dull or tired, you can use make-up to highlight your favourite areas and make your skin look and feel brighter.

If you’re looking for make-up tips, there are lots of tutorials online, including some specifically for people with cancer, to help you find the look that’s right for you.

The Live Better With community recommend using cosmetics containing natural ingredients. You can view a range of skin-friendly cosmetics here.

And see our guide to skin issues here.


Helping with your body image

Having cancer can have a big impact on many areas of your life, and it can affect how you feel about yourself and your body image.

If you’ve had surgery for your cancer, such as breast tissue removal surgery (mastectomy) or testicular surgery (orchidectomy), or if you have a stoma, you may feel differently about your body.

You may be dealing with other bodily changes, such as weight loss or gain, or bowel and bladder issues, and this can also make you feel less confident.

Live Better With offers many products which can make you feel more comfortable and in control, including specially designed underwear which offers security and can help to boost your confidence.

Some people worry that their cancer treatment means they are not as attractive as they used to be, or that it changes their identity in some way. This can affect your self-esteem and also your sex life. Read our guide to cancer and sex here.

Talking about it

It’s important to remember that your feelings are natural. Talk to someone you trust, such as a partner or friend. It can also help to talk to a professional counsellor or to join a local or online support group, with other people who have had cancer. The Live Better With community can also provide support and advice.

“Talk with someone you trust and express your feelings. It’s hard to start talking, but so, so much better when you do.” Linda, Live Better With community member


Boosting your self-esteem

When you have cancer, you might feel like you are retreating from ‘normal’ life. Having cancer can make you more limited in what you can do day-to-day. You might feel less independent and like you’ve lost a sense of who you are.

The treatment itself can make you feel tired, stressed and emotional. Such feelings can affect your self-esteem and your social life. You might feel less like going out or meeting people, as a result of tiredness and a lack of self-confidence.

Keeping as active as possible

However, it’s important to maintain as normal a life as you can. Rather than dwelling on what has changed, try to remember how far you have come. Set yourself small, achievable goals like inviting a friend over for a chat or going out to a local coffee house.

Many people also find that being physically active can help with their self-confidence and body image after cancer treatment, for example by doing activities like yoga or dancing.

Read our guide to cancer and doing exercise here.

Using relaxation techniques

Having cancer can be a physical and emotional rollercoaster, and it’s common to feel stressed or anxious.  Many people find that using relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness can be very helpful in helping them to relax.

It’s also important to do the things you enjoy, such as listening to music, or treating yourself to a nice relaxing bath. Add some naturally soothing aromatherapy oils to help soak away your stress and anxiety.

There are many useful self-help books available, including I Am Here Now, which include mindfulness exercises and activities to help you to live more in the moment and focus on day-to-day positives.

“This book not only inspired me to pay attention to what has heart and meaning in my everyday life, but also to be ok with my experiences.” Live Better With community member

 

Browse our Feeling Confident range →


Share your stories and tips

Has cancer affected your confidence? What helped make you feel better? We’d love to hear about your stories and tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

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The Live Better With Guide to Special Occasions and Big Events

How special occasions can be challenging when you have cancer – and advice and tips to help you deal with big events

Getting together with family or friends for a special occasion or a big event can be more difficult when you have cancer.

You may be dealing with pain, tiredness, or the side effects of treatment – but at the same time you might feel under pressure to keep up appearances and look as if you’re having a good time.

This guide takes a look at some of the challenges people with cancer can face during special occasions, and some things you can do help make life easier and more enjoyable.

In this guide:

Why can special occasions be a challenge?Planning ahead  |  Eating and special occasionsDealing with fatigueKeeping up with your medicationDealing with your feelingsBeing in hospital during special occasions


Why can special occasions be a challenge?

When you have cancer, it’s very common to experience fatigue. This can make it difficult to ‘keep up’ with everyone else at a special occasion.

You may also be dealing with the side effects of treatment, such as sickness (nausea), stomach problems or mouth soreness, which may mean you don’t feel like eating much, and which can make it feel harder to join in.

Special occasions and big events can also make it more difficult to keep up with important routines, including resting, sleeping and taking your medication.

You might also be having challenging emotions and thoughts, and special occasions can sometimes make this feel worse.

The good news is, there are steps you can take to help take control, ease the pressure and make things a bit more enjoyable.


Planning ahead

It can be helpful to plan ahead by talking to family and friends before the event. Explain how you are feeling, and how you would like to celebrate the occasion.

Ease the pressure

Let them know you may need to take some time out or leave early. They can make any necessary arrangements and it will help to reduce any pressure you may feel on the day. You might want to make things simpler and more low-key for now.

Of course, it may be that you don’t want to think about your cancer, and you want to try and forget about it for a while. Remember, it’s all about what works best for you.


Eating and special occasions

Special occasions such as family parties and big seasonal events like Christmas often involve a lot of food and drink. If you’re suffering from symptoms such as nausea, issues with taste, or stomach problems, this can be a real challenge.

Take control

Buffet style meals are the easiest, as you can choose what you want to eat and control the amount.

If it’s a sit-down dinner such as a Christmas lunch, you could try talking to the host beforehand and either arranging to have a smaller portion, or asking for the meal to come out in separate serving dishes. That way you can help yourself to whatever you feel like.

If you really don’t feel able to join in, take some snacks with you so you can give yourself a boost when you do feel like something. The Live Better With community recommend high energy foods, such as energy bars.

Try something different

Don’t be afraid to break with normal traditions. Try talking to your friends or family about cooking a meal which suits your dietary needs. There are special recipe books designed for people with cancer, so you could try looking through one together and doing something new.

If you normally do the cooking but it feels like too much at the moment, or if cooking makes your nausea worse, ask somebody else to do it this time. Or suggest the whole family has a treat and goes out for dinner!

Drinking

When it comes to alcohol, it may be that you don’t feel like drinking at the moment. But if you do fancy a tipple, just make sure you check with your medical team first.


Dealing with fatigue

When you have cancer, it’s very common to suffer from fatigue (severe tiredness) This may mean you don’t feel like you have enough energy to join in with all of the festivities. Special occasions can be exhausting, and can also interfere with your normal resting and sleeping times.

Keep to a routine

Your body needs time to rest and recover, so you should try and stick to as much of a routine as possible. It can help to schedule in a regular rest break in the morning and the afternoon, and make sure you go to bed at a reasonable hour.

A 15-20 minute power nap has been shown to help restore alertness and improve physical performance, and can be a useful way to help combat the effects of sleep deprivation.

Talking to people ahead of time and letting them know your plans can take the pressure off.

Decide what’s most important to you

The important thing is to pace yourself, and be flexible. Listen to your body and rest when you need to.

If there are lots of activities planned as part of your special occasion, don’t feel like you have to do everything.

Choose the things that are most important to you and that you most enjoy, such as dinner with the family, and then have a rest break while they are doing something else.

You can see the full Live Better With guide to cancer fatigue here.

 


Keeping up with your medication

It’s important to make sure you keep track of your medication and any appointments, particularly during the holiday season.

Stock up on supplies

Make sure you have enough medication on hand to cover you during the holidays. Think about whether you’re likely to need any extra medicine. For example, if there’s going to be a lot of eating involved you may want to order some extra anti-nausea medication.

Be prepared

You should also make a note of when your nearest medical clinic is open over the holidays, and who will be available should you need any help.

If you have any treatments scheduled during a special occasion, you may be able to adjust the timings – talk to your medical team ahead of time.


Dealing with your feelings

Having cancer can be emotionally challenging, and special occasions can make it seem harder. They often come with a host of expectations. It can sometimes be difficult to be around people who are having a good time when you don’t feel much like celebrating.

The fact that you’re not feeling happy when you’re supposed to be, or that you can’t do what you did the same time last year, can make any feelings of guilt, sadness and anxiety feel worse.

Feeling differently about yourself

You may be dealing with bodily changes as a result of surgery or treatment, such as a hair loss, a change in weight, or bowel and bladder issues. These can also make you feel less confident in company.

If you’re worried about hair loss, there are a range of different headwear options you could try. Choosing a pretty headscarf or turban, a hat or a wig could make you feel more comfortable and give you a boost. If your complexion is feeling lacklustre, using natural cosmetics can help to boost the areas you feel more positive about.

Read the Live Better With guide to feeling confident with cancer here.

Taking some time out

All those festivities can take their toll, not just physically but also emotionally. If you’re finding being surrounded by party-goers a bit too much, take yourself off to a quiet place and have a break.

Taking some home comforts and things to keep you occupied at these moments can be helpful. A  tablet or iPad can be a great way of relaxing and helping to take your mind off things.

If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talk to someone you trust. Support groups,  online forums and the Live Better With community can also be a great source of advice.

“Talk with someone you trust and express your feelings. It’s hard to start talking, but so, so much better when you do.”  Linda, Live Better With community member


Being in hospital during special occasions

If you have to spend time in hospital during a special occasion, it can be particularly disappointing. However, there are some things you can do to help make your time there a little bit brighter.

Add a bit of sparkle

If you’re in hospital over a holiday period, such as Christmas or another seasonal celebration, you could try decorating the area around your bed with some tinsel and family photos, for a bit of festive cheer. You might try adding a mini faux Christmas tree, or an electric menorah or kinara. If it’s your birthday, ask family and friends to bring in your cards, and perhaps some board games, if you feel up to it.

You could also ask your medical team if friends and family can bring in some festive treats, to make you feel more at home.

Get connected

Taking your iPad, kindle, smartphone or tablet into hospital can also help you to keep yourself entertained by reading, watching movies or surfing the internet. The Live Better With community recommend using a tablet cushion to keep your device comfortably in place, so you can relax without having to hold on to it for long periods.

Another great thing about modern technology is that you can keep in touch with people more easily. Arrange a video chat with your loved ones to help you feel more connected.


Share your stories and tips

Have you had to deal with special occasions, celebrations or big events while having cancer treatment? What helped you to cope and made life better for you? We’d love to hear about your stories and tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

 

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The Live Better With Guide to Cancer Fatigue

Why having cancer causes extreme tiredness – and tips to help you manage fatigue and live better

When you’re being treated for cancer, it’s very common to suffer from extreme tiredness, known as cancer fatigue.

This guide looks at what you can do to help minimise the symptoms of cancer fatigue, including tips and advice from the Live Better With cancer community.

In this guide:

What causes cancer fatigue?Managing cancer fatigueEating wellDoing some gentle exerciseGetting into good sleeping habitsUsing relaxation techniquesWriting a diaryKeeping your brain exercised Asking for help

Browse our Cancer Fatigue range →


What causes cancer fatigue?

Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer and its treatment. In fact, up to 80% of people with cancer experience cancer fatigue.

Cancer fatigue can be caused by a number of things. The cancer itself can cause changes to your hormones and blood cells, which can make you very tired. Having cancer treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy can also cause fatigue.

Dealing with pain and the side effects of treatment can also make you extremely tired, as can the medications given as part of your treatment.

Finally, the stress and worry of having all those tests and treatments can make you feel physically and emotionally drained.

The good news is, for most people the symptoms will start to reduce once treatment has finished. In the meantime, there are some simple things you can do to help minimise your fatigue, boost your energy levels and improve your mood.


Managing cancer fatigue

When you have cancer fatigue, it can have a big impact on your life. You may not have enough energy to do the things you want to, or you may not feel like doing much at all. You might find that even when you’ve had a sleep, you don’t feel properly rested.

It’s important to manage your fatigue. Firstly, you should mention your symptoms to your medical team. They might want to test you for any physical problems such as a low blood cell count (anaemia). If your medications are making you feel sleepy, or keeping you awake, they may be able to adjust the time of day that you take them.

Once you have spoken to your medical team, there are lots of other steps you can take to help reduce the symptoms and help you to live better.

Setting small, achievable goals

Cancer fatigue can make you feel short on energy after doing quite minor tasks. However, it’s important to keep as active as possible.

Start by thinking about what you can do, and set yourself some small, easy goals. This could be anything from taking a short walk around the block, to inviting a friend over for a cup of coffee. Involving someone else can be helpful, as it will encourage you to carry on and will also stop you from feeling isolated.


Eating well

With cancer treatment, you may find that your appetite changes and you don’t feel like eating as often or as much. Some treatments, like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can cause side effects like sickness, changes to your sense of taste, and mouth soreness. Or you may just not have the energy to cook a meal.

It’s important that your body has everything it needs to repair and recover. Not eating properly can lead to weight loss and can make your cancer fatigue worse, so it’s important to keep your energy levels up.

If you don’t feel like making or eating a full meal, try eating little and often. Have a supply of tasty snacks to hand, such as energy bars, for an instant boost when you do feel like something.

Replacements and supplements

Our Live Better With community members recommend meal replacements as a quick and easy alternative to cooking. If you’re worried about getting enough nutrients, you could opt for a weekly delivery of fruit and vegetables.

You might also want to take a vitamin and mineral supplement. You should always talk to your medical team before taking any supplements.

See the Live Better With Guide to Eating Well here.


Doing some gentle exercise

When you’re suffering from cancer fatigue, doing exercise may seem more difficult. However, some light  activity will help you to maintain muscle mass, boost your mood and make your body more naturally tired, promoting better sleep.

A short walk in the fresh air can help to boost body and mind. Exercise releases ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain (known as endorphins), which can make you feel better.

Many Live Better With community members also recommend yoga as a gentle and relaxing form of exercise.

For indoor exercise, there is a range of low-impact equipment available, such as foot pedal exercisers.

You could also try following an exercise programme that’s specially developed for cancer patients, such as Cancer Fitness by Anna Schwartz.

“Easy to follow and after a few weeks I am so much less tired than I used to be, it’s great to be able to do more with the kids.” Live Better With community member

See the Live Better With Guide to Doing Exercise here.


Getting into good sleeping habits

If you have cancer fatigue, you might feel like just pulling the duvet over your head and sleeping. Remember, it’s not the amount of sleep, but the quality of your sleep that’s most important. In fact, having too much sleep (oversleeping) can actually make your fatigue worse.

To get the best, most refreshing sleep you should try and stick to a routine by going to bed and getting up at a regular time.

Cancer treatment can make you feel more sleepy than normal during the day. Napping can offer a quick boost, but it isn’t long enough to go into a deep sleep, which is when your body heals itself and restores blood and hormone levels. Having a nap may also make you feel groggy afterwards, and can interfere with your sleep patterns.

To help, you should try limiting your naps to no more than an hour. Resting is very important, but instead of sleeping try doing relaxing things like listening to some music or a mindfulness CD, or having a nice soak in the bath.

See the Live Better With Guide to Having Difficulty Sleeping here.


Using relaxation techniques

Being treated for cancer can cause stress to both body and mind, and stress is known to contribute to cancer fatigue. Relaxation techniques, such as yoga and breathing exercises, can help with this.

“I used yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to help counter my stress and anxiety.” Live Better With community member

Mindfulness is another useful relaxation technique which can help you to de-stress and focus on the small things. The little book of mindfulness contains a range of helpful tips and advice.

Aromatherapy can also offer a natural way of relaxing, using calming essential oils. The Live Better With community recommends Badger Cheerful Mind balm to help ease your mind and lift your spirits.


Writing a diary

It can be useful to keep a diary to help manage your fatigue. You can record any activities you’ve done, how you felt before and after doing them, what you have eaten and when, and how long you have spent sleeping or resting.

Keeping a diary can help to identify how your energy levels change throughout the day or after certain activities, and what works best for you. It can also help to relieve anxiety, by offering a outlet for your thoughts and feelings.

“I write down my feelings, doodle, sketch and color. This all helps me keep my mind clear.” David, Live Better With community member

Sharing your diary with friends, family or healthcare professionals could help them to understand your symptoms and offer any additional support.


Keeping your brain exercised

During cancer treatment, it can be all too easy to neglect your brain, especially if you are feeling fatigued. Cancer fatigue can make it more difficult to concentrate on things.

It’s important to keep your brain active with some gentle activities. Reading, using adult colouring books,  brain training and crossword puzzles, can help to invigorate your mind.

Inviting a friend over for a chat can also help to keep you interested in other things and take your mind off your illness for a while.


Asking for help

Cancer fatigue can interfere significantly with normal life, and can be difficult to deal with. You may find that you can’t do the things you normally would, and your personal and social life have changed as a result. You may feel sad, down or irritable because of this, or because of the fatigue itself.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends and family members can offer help with practical things like doing the shopping or housework, or just being there for you.

If you don’t want to talk to a friend or family member, try speaking to your doctor or a professional counsellor. Support groups can also a good source of help and advice, from people who are going through a similar experience.


Share your tips

Have you experienced cancer fatigue? What made life better for you? We’d love to hear about your tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

 

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The Live Better With Guide to Mastectomy

What to expect if you have a mastectomy and tips for living better

If you have been diagnosed with some form of breast cancer, you may be advised to have a type of surgery called mastectomy. In the UK, just over four in every 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer will have a mastectomy.

In this guide:
What is a mastectomy? | What are the side effects of mastectomy? | Restoring your confidence | Help with scars and pain | Getting comfortable after surgery | Help with bathing and showering | Help with lymphoedema | Specialist organisations

Browse our Mastectomy range →

 

What is a mastectomy?

Mastectomy surgery

A mastectomy is surgery to remove all of your breast tissue. There are several different types of mastectomy and your surgeon will tell you which is best for you.

You have a general anaesthetic and a diagonal or horizontal incision or cut across your breast so that your surgeon can remove all the breast tissue and the cancer itself. You may have your nipple and areola (the darkish area around the nipple) removed and some or all of the lymph nodes under your arm.

Most people cope well with the surgery and only have to stay in hospital overnight.

Your surgeon may offer you breast reconstruction at the same time as your mastectomy – to restore the breast tissue you have lost – using implants or tissue from other parts of your body. The aim is to give you a breast similar in size and shape to your original breast. Your surgeon will discuss this with you and explain what is going to happen during surgery.

After surgery

There is no doubt that having a mastectomy will have a physical and emotional impact on your life and that can be hard. There are various side effects and you may have some or even all of them.

The good news is that there is plenty of information, advice and support available, and products and aids to help you feel more comfortable – and more like yourself.

If you are a having a mastectomy in the UK, you will almost certainly have your own specialist breast care nurse, who can tell you what to expect, answer any questions you have, and support you at every stage, from diagnosis, during your treatment and beyond. Many other countries also have breast care nurses with similar expert knowledge.

What are the side effects of mastectomy?

  • Losing your confidence. It’s quite natural to feel anxious or self-conscious about having a mastectomy, as you would about any sudden changes in your appearance. So, it is reassuring to know that there are ways of making things easier and more comfortable to help you get used to the way your body now looks and feels.
  • Pain. Scarring and nerve damage during surgery can leave you in pain. Most mastectomy patients have pain at some point. Reconstruction can make your breast feel more sensitive and you might feel a unusual sensation or tenderness around your ribs.
  • Scars. After surgery, the area around your incision may feel stiff, numb, lumpy or even painful. You might feel, later on, that you want to change or reduce the appearance of your scars.
  • Discomfort in bed. Everyone who has had a mastectomy needs to time to rest and recover – it’s important for your physical and psychological wellbeing. A good night’s sleep will help and getting as comfortable as possible while resting in bed will help you feel better.
  • Difficulty having a bath or shower. After surgery, having a bath or a shower will be more complicated. You’ll need to protect recent and healing scars and it can be harder to move your arm or shoulder on the side of your surgery.
  • Lymphoedema. If you have had some lymph nodes removed during surgery – to check if the cancer has spread – you might develop lymphoedema (also known as lymphedema or lymphatic oedema). This is a type of swelling that happens when your lymphatic system struggles to remove the fluid that collects in your arm, hand or chest. The swelling can be uncomfortable or even painful but there are steps you can take to help with this.

Here are some practical tips to help you live better with the side effects of mastectomy…


Restoring your confidence

“Talk to friends and relatives you trust who are outside your situation: simply speaking about your day or your worries with someone you trust can really help with some of your anxieties.” Barbara, member of the Living Better With community.

 

Breast forms

If you haven’t had breast reconstruction, you may find breast forms will help to restore the look and feel of your breast. Just attach them to your skin or put them in a special pocket in a mastectomy bra.

Find a range of recommended Live Better With breast form products here.

Mastectomy bras

These now come in flattering but comfortable styles; for example, a front-fastening design, which is much easier to manage than a back-fastening bra. They tend to be soft and non-wired, so that you can cover any scarring, without having to struggle with the discomfort of a normal bra.

The Amoena Lilly Non-Wired Bra

 

Find more recommended Live Better With mastectomy bras here.

Mindfulness books and CDs

Worrying about your changing body can be draining. Mindfulness exercises are a simple way to help clear your head and to feel calmer by training your mind to think more positively. There are some excellent books and CDs that will teach you how to practise mindfulness, which can help you in every area of your life.

Meditation

Meditation has been used around the world for centuries and there is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows how effective it can be in reducing stress or anxiety. It can give you the mental space you need to discover how best to cope with the physical and emotional effects of surgery. It is easy to learn, takes only minutes at a time, and you can meditate in a comfortable position. Just five minutes in the morning will help you to feel more ready for whatever the day may bring and, in the evening, refresh or calm you. And it’s easier than you might think to get started – with a wealth of apps, books and videos to help you.

Find a range of recommended Live Better With aids to mindfulness and meditation here.

Aromatherapy oils

Essential oils such as lavender, rose and sandalwood have been used for well-being for hundreds of years. They can help you in so many subtle but effective ways throughout the day and night, from making you feel more alert or calming anxious thoughts, to helping you to relax or get to sleep. Oil stimulate your sense of smell; you can use them in a diffuser to scent a room, for example, or with a rollerball to apply to your forehead or wrists. Live Better With have selected aromatherapy products here.

Browse our Feeling Confident range →

 


 

Help with scars and pain

“Put scraps of silk cloth on friction areas where clothing hurts your skin . . .” Hilary, member of the Living Better With community.

 

Scar gels, creams and oils

Some people feel self-conscious about scars and wish to reduce or hide them. There are several proven scar remedies that are very good at with preventing, softening or smoothing scars. They can also help reduce discoloration, redness, itching, pain and discomfort in any scar areas. And there are lotions, gels and creams that can encourage normal cells to grow – to replace your scar tissue.

Anti-itching creams and oils

Itchy scars can drive you mad, especially if you have always had sensitive skin – even though they are a sign that you are healing. But there are special creams and oils that can reduce itching, dryness and that taut feeling around your scar areas.

Cooling gels

These creams can reduce pain by distrcacting nerve endings with a cold sensation, which stops them from detecting pain. They can also reduce swelling, inflammation, and muscle spasms from nerve damage. Cold packs and cooling pillows have a similar effect.

Find a range of recommended Live Better With products to help with scars and pain after surgery here.


 

Getting comfortable after surgery

“This pillow gives me the relief and comfort I have craved recently as I can be as elevated as I need to be, especially when trying to rest and sleep. I use it whilst sleeping or just sitting when resting. It is very much worth every penny.” Eloise, Living Better With customer.

 

Overbed tables and cushioned lap trays

If you have to spend a lot of time in bed after surgery, an overbed table will make things like reading using your laptop and eating meals much easier. Cushion trays that rest on your lap have a beanbag or cushion underneath them for extra comfort.

Back-rests

You may find it difficult to sit up in bed after surgery and have to keep rearranging your pillows to stay propped up. Try using an adjustable back-rest, which will help you find and stay in a comfortable position.

Support cushions and pillows

Support pillows, including specially designed V-shaped pillows that support your back, can help you find a comfortable position in bed. Knee cushions will relieve pressure on your knees and hips and, if your legs are swollen, leg-raising cushions can help to ease fluid build-up and discomfort.

Find recommended Live Better With products to help you get comfortable in bed here.

Post-surgery bras

Compression bras safely help to put the pressure you need on your chest to help you heal. A belt will give you extra pressure, if you need it after breast reconstruction.

Find a range of recommended Live Better With post-surgery bras here.

Bamboo clothing and sheets

Wearing loose comfortable clothing and sleeping between bamboo sheets that absorb moisture can make you feel much more comfortable. Bamboo is a perfect material for tender or sensitive skin – it’s very soft, stretchy, and much more breathable than cotton. If you are struggling to get comfortable, bamboo products can make a big difference.

Browse our Being Comfortable range →


 

Help with bathing and showering

 

Bathing aids

You need to be pretty flexible to get yourself properly clean in the bath or shower, although you may not realise just how flexible until you have had surgery! You’ll find that your movement is restricted, and you’ll need to keep your healing scars comfortable. But there are simple bathroom helpers like back cleaners and sponges with handles to help you shower, when your arm is less flexible than normal.

Waterproof dressings

People come up with all sorts of solutions to keep healing wounds dry after surgery. But it’s best to stick to a hygienic approach rather than getting creative with a bin bag! Sterile waterproof dressings are easy to wrap over a bandage or healing scar and won’t cause too much irritation.

Browse our Help with Bathing range →

 


 

Help with lymphoedema

“When I was on holiday I found the hot weather made my lymphoedema much worse so I used to avoid the midday sun and stayed cool wearing long, loose fitting clothes.” Shirin, member of the Live Better With community.

Compression

When lymph builds up in your body after a mastectomy, it can lead to swelling in areas such as your arm. Keeping these areas compressed is one of the best ways to reduce that swelling. Compression sleeves, bras or socks can help, depending on which part of your body is affected.

Find a recommended Live Better With compression bra here.

Keep moving

Gentle but effective exercise such as yoga or Pilates can help to stimulate healthy lymph production. An experienced, qualified teacher should be able to tell you which exercises and postures will help best. Look out too for books, DVDs, or online tutorials designed specially for anyone who has had a mastectomy.

Before starting any exercise, it’s vital to check with your GP or breast care nurse to make sure that the type of exercise is right for you. Your GP can also refer you to a physiotherapist, who will give you expert advice and a tailor-made exercise programme that can make you feel much more comfortable.

Find a range of recommended Live Better With exercise products here.

Skin care

Lymphoedema can cause swelling, which could make your skin feel tight and sore. Keep your skin clean and moisturised if it’s swollen, as this will stop it from breaking and reduce the risk of infection. It’s worth taking the time to find a lotion or gel that works well for your skin, as this will protect it and relieve some of the tenderness and itching. A selection of Live Better With skin care products can be found here.

Find recommended Live Better With lymphoedema management products here.

 


 

Breast cancer and lymphoedema organisations

There are several organisations dedicated to helping people with all aspects of breast cancer and lymphoedema. Some offer expert information and advice; others provide practical help and support at local centres. There are campaigning organisations and others that fund research. They include:

Breast Cancer Care
Breast Cancer Haven
Breast Cancer UK
Breast Cancer Now

Lymphoedema Support Network

 


 

Share your mastectomy tips

Have you had a mastectomy? Are you about to have one or are you just recovering from one? We hope that you have found your own ways to get as comfortable as possible and to cope with the physical and psychological effects.

If so, we’d love to hear about your tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

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The Live Better With Guide to Cancer and Hair loss

Why cancer causes hair loss – and practical tips for making life better

Losing hair on your head, face and body is a common side effect of cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy.

This guide explains what you should to expect if you are going to have treatment that might cause hair loss. It also gives practical tips shared by members of the Live Better With cancer community – real people who have experienced hair loss and found ways to live better.

And remember: except in very rare cases, hair does grow back after the treatment is finished.

In this guide:

What causes hair loss? | Preparing for hair loss | Reducing hair loss with a cooling cap | Looking after your hair | Coping with itchy skin | Covering your head | Improving your eyebrows | When your hair grows back

Browse our Hair loss range →

 


What causes hair loss?

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy often causes hair thinning and hair loss. Chemotherapy attacks the cells in the body that divide the most rapidly – that’s how it destroys cancer cells. Unfortunately that means it also destroys hair follicles, because these hair-making cells also divide very rapidly.

Chemotherapy doesn’t always cause hair loss. Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause it than others. You can see lists of drugs in order of how likely they are to cause hair loss here.

You can ask your doctor or specialist nurse if your drugs are likely to make you lose your hair.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy, also known as radiation therapy,  can mean that you lose hair in the area being treated, such as your scalp or face. You may lose hair on the opposite side of the area being treated, where the radiotherapy beam passes through the ‘exit site’.

Your hair will usually grow back a few months after the treatment has finished. However, sometimes the new hair can be a little different, perhaps thinner or curlier. Read our full guide to radiotherapy and living better with its side effects here.

 


Preparing for hair loss

Your doctor or nurse will be able to tell you if your cancer treatment is likely to cause your hair to fall out. In any case, it is best to be ready for hair loss, so that if it does happen you are not taken by surprise.

Here are some things you can do before your treatment starts, to prepare for losing your hair:

  • Talk about it. Talk to family and friends about the possibility of losing your hair. They may be able to support you and offer suggestions for coping. In the Live Better With online community people who have been through your situation will be able to share their stories and tips.
  • Wear your hair shorter. If hair loss is likely, you may like to start wearing your hair shorter. You could plan several trips to a hairdresser to cut your hair shorter in gradual stages. This will make the change much less of a shock.
  • Buy wigs or headwear before treatment starts. If you wish to wear a wig during chemo treatment, it will be easier to match it to your hair style and colour if you buy it while you still have your hair. You could also choose hats, headscarves and other head coverings before treatment, so you don’t have any last-minute worries about finding something you like. You can find out more about wig suppliers and fitting here.
  • Plan for eyebrow and eyelash loss. Losing your eyebrows and lashes can be difficult as it changes your appearance. Why not take a look at pencils, stencils and gels before treatment, so you can find what works best for you?

Reducing hair loss with a cooling cap

Wearing a special cooling cap (also referred to as a hypothermia cap or cold cap) during a chemotherapy treatment session can reduce the amount of hair you lose. The cap ‘freezes’ your scalp, which means that less of the chemo drugs reaches your hair follicles.

The Live Better With community recommends the Elasto-Gel Cooling Cap.

“I have been on chemo for 11 months and have successfully kept my hair. My body hair and eyebrows are gone. The key is getting the caps cool the night before with dry ice. I start scalp cooling about 30-45 minutes before infusion, during infusion and about 3 hours or more after. I have Stage IV metastatic breast cancer and this allows me to have a little bit of normal in my life. Research this and try it if you are a candidate.” – Ann, Live Better With community member.

Scalp cooling is not recommended for everyone, so it’s important that you talk to your doctor about whether it is suitable for you before you buy a cooling cap.

 


Looking after your hair during treatment

There are plenty of things you can do to look after your hair in the period that you’re having cancer treatment. Here are tips from the Live Better With community:

  • Use gentle shampoo. Wash your hair at least every two days, but use gentle, organic, natural shampoos (that are free from chemicals, perfumes, sulphates and parabens).
  • Be gentle with your hair. When drying your hair don’t rub hard with a towel. Use wide brushes and combs instead of fine ones. Be careful not to overheat your hair with hair dryers and electric hair straighteners or rollers. Avoid colouring or perming your hair. And don’t tie your hair too tightly in hairbands.
  • Wear a sleep hat at night. Wearing a soft cap at night will make you more comfortable. It can also collect any hairs that fall out while you sleep. We recommend a cotton indoor sleep hat.

“The sleep hat  doesn’t suit me at all but hey! I only wear it at night, it’s comfortable and not hot, and does a great job of keeping fallen-out hair off the pillow. I suspect it will also be useful when I have no more hair and may feel a bit cold at night.”  Live Better With Community member Veronica Zundel

Find recommended Live Better With products for hair care during cancer treatment here.


Coping with itchy and irritated skin

The skin on your scalp and other areas of hair loss can become itchy and irritated. Here are some tips to help cope:

    • Use an exfoliating sponge. This helps to gently massage your scalp and remove dead skin.
    • Use unperfumed moisturiser on skin where you have lost hair.
    • Protect your head from the sun and also from the cold. (See tips on head coverings below.)
    • Use pillows with natural fibres.
    • Spray your head with a scalp spritz. A spray can help cool and soothe your scalp, especially on hot days. And an anti-bacterial scalp spray can help treat your scalp skin, which is prone to breakouts when you have lost your hair.

“My scalp was always very irritated during treatment. And when the short hair grew back it was worse. I found this scalp spritz and it has done wonders for me.” Live Better With Community member

Find recommended Live Better With products for scalp and skin care after hair loss here.


Covering your head

Good headwear can protect your scalp and also help with your appearance. Many head coverings are very stylish, and there are plenty of options for colours and materials.

Some people like to wear a wig – perhaps one that looks as close as possible to their natural hair. If you think a wig is right for you, it’s a good idea to get it before you have your treatment. That will make it easier to match your style and colour.

Here are other popular headwear options:

  • Scarves. These come in many materials and colours. The most popular are soft cotton jersey or silk.
  • Turbans. These usually require no tying – they fit on like a hat and often have a slot to allow you to thread in a scarf of your own, so you can personalize the edge of the turban with your own style
  • Beanies. These help keep your head warm indoors or outdoors. Beanies are often a good choice for men with chemo hair loss.
  • Bandanas. These are an easy and stylish way to cover your head, for both sexes.

A top Live Better With tip is to try a hat (or wig liner) made from bamboo. Bamboo is highly breathable in hot weather but keeps you warm when the weather turns chilly. It is three times more absorbent than cotton which helps with sweating. Bamboo also has antibacterial properties. See bamboo hats here.

“Love these bamboo hats and have 5 now and whenever I wear them I get compliments about them. I usually find a scarf with one of the colours of the hat in it and wind it round the hat while I am wearing it twice finishing with a tiny knot at the top. I find when you are out this helps secure the hat on. Makes you feel good during a difficult time.” Linda Kinahan, Live Better With Community member

Find recommended Live Better With headwear here.


Improving your eyebrows

Losing your eyebrows can be upsetting as it changes your appearance. Here are some good options until your eyebrows grow back:

  • Eyebrow stencils. These help to draw eyebrows in a realistic shape.
  • Eyeliner pencil.  Make sure you choose an organic pencil, as this will not irritate the skin.

“When I lost my hair I also lost my eyebrows and that really upset me. I bought a pack of brow stencils and an eyebrow pencil and drew them back. It looked quite ok and made me feel much better.” Live Better With Community member

  • Eyebrow gel. New gels such as the WUNDERBROW eyebrow gel allow you to easily recreate natural looking brows that last longer.

“The eyebrow gel is a brilliant idea –  this saves me loads of time loads of time in the morning when I am trying to look my best.” Live Better With Community member

Find recommended Live Better With products for improving your eyebrows here.


When your hair grows back

In all but very rare cases, hair grows back once the chemotherapy treatment is over. Here are some things you can do to help the process.

  • Avoid rubbing or massaging your scalp. Some people think this makes hair re-grow more quickly, but in fact it can damage new growth.
  • Try vitamin B7. Hair care products containing vitamin B7 have helped some people revitalize and thicken their hair. Some people also recommend taking vitamin B7 tablets. Find recommended products and supplements for hair thickening and growth here.
  • Talk to your hairdresser. Some people who used to have long hair before chemo now find that short hair suits them. Talk to your hairdresser about finding a style that works for you. The organisation My New Hair has a salon finder for UK hairdressers who specialise in hair for cancer patients.

Finally, if you no longer need it you may wish to donate your wig. The charity Wig Bank cleans wigs and sells them at affordable prices.

Browse our Hair loss range →

 


Share your hair loss tips

Have you experienced hair loss during cancer treatment? What made life better for you? We’d love to hear about your tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

 

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The Live Better With Guide to Scalp Cooling

What is scalp cooling and how can it help you to avoid losing your hair during chemotherapy treatment?

If your cancer treatment programme includes chemotherapy, you will probably be feeling anxious about the possibility of losing all or some of your hair, including body hair.

In fact, not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss – your oncologist (a doctor who is a cancer specialist) or oncology nurse can tell you whether this is something that is likely to happen to you. If the chemotherapy regime that you are going to have is likely to cause hair loss, scalp cooling during your treatment could help. It can be an effective way of keeping all or more of your hair during chemotherapy.

” I used the cooling caps and even though my hair got thinner I still got to keep it which made me very happy. I used a shampoo and a conditioner that are specially designed for use along with a cold cap.” Live Better With community member.

In this guide:

Why does chemotherapy cause hair to fall out and how does this make us feel? | How does scalp cooling work? | Is scalp cooling right for me?  | What can I do about hair loss if scalp cooling isn’t right for me?

Browse our Hair loss range →

 


Why does chemotherapy cause hair to fall out and how does this make us feel?

Chemotherapy works by attacking cells that divide quickly, such as cancer cells.  But as well as destroying cancer cells, it also attacks healthy cells that divide quickly – like hair cells, which are some of the fastest-growing cells in our bodies. So, when chemotherapy drugs affect our hair cells, we start to lose our hair. (But, remember, not all chemotherapy drugs do this.)

Even if we don’t give much thought to it, our hair is very much associated with the way we look and the way other people see us – or the way we think they see us. It’s part of our identity. A fine, thick head of hair has always been associated with strength and power, which explains why Delilah cut off Samson’s hair! And, like it or not, it is also associated with beauty. We spend a good deal of money on keeping our hair looking good; in the UK alone, the hairdressing, barbering and beauty industry is worth over £7 billion a year!

Being diagnosed with cancer is stressful, even if you are trying your best to stay calm. So, the prospect of losing your hair through chemotherapy can make you feel even more distressed. But, if scalp cooling is right for you, it could help to reduce both your hair loss and your anxiety.


How does scalp cooling work?

Scalp cooling, otherwise known as the cold cap, was pioneered in England, and has been used in hospitals since 1997.

This is how it works:

  • When chemotherapy is given through a vein, it goes through your bloodstream to every part of your body, including your scalp and hair follicles (the cells and tissue around your hair roots).
  • If less of the chemotherapy goes to your scalp, it can reduce the amount that affects your hair follicles – meaning less or no hair loss.
  • Cold caps are tightly fitted caps that cover your head. They have a chinstrap to ensure that the cap’s surface fits as closely as possible over your scalp.
  • Cold caps contain something called glycerin-based hydrogel, which lowers the temperature of your head. A lower temperature means that less blood goes to your scalp and hair follicles and that can mean less hair loss.

Scalp cooling can be a blessing if you are worried about losing your hair. But it doesn’t suit everyone.

  • Scalp cooling does not work for all chemotherapy treatments, nor for all types of cancer. Ask your oncologist or oncology nurse whether scalp cooling could help you.
  • Scalp cooling takes time. You need to wear the cold cap before and after your chemotherapy sessions, which could add time to your appointment.
  • Scalp cooling has to be used on wet hair. Many hospitals don’t have hair dryers for patients, so ask if there is somewhere to plug in a hairdryer – and bring your own hairdryer with you; otherwise you may have to leave the hospital with wet hair.
  • Scalp cooling can be uncomfortable. If you find scalp cooling difficult, speak to your chemotherapy nurse about pain relief before you start.
  • Scalp cooling results differ from person to person. Some people still have mild hair loss and, in some cases, it does not work. It is always good to have a standby hat or scarf, in case you have some areas of thinning.
  • Scalp cooling should be done at every chemotherapy session. If you have already started your treatment, you probably won’t benefit from scalp cooling.

“I have been on chemo for 11 months and have successfully kept my hair. . . The key is getting the caps cool the night before with dry ice. I start scalp cooling about 30-45 minutes before infusion, during infusion and about 3 hours or more after. I have Stage IV metastatic breast cancer and this allows me to have a little bit of normal in my life. Research this and try it if you are a candidate.” Ann, Live Better With community member.

Find recommended Live Better With scalp cooling products here.


What else can I do about hair loss if scalp cooling isn’t right for me?

Even if scalp cooling won’t work for you, there are some comfortable – and stylish – ways of living better with hair loss during and after your chemotherapy treatment.

Find out more in the Live Better With Guide to Hair Loss.

Browse our Hair loss range →

 


Share your hair loss tips

Have you experienced hair loss during cancer treatment? What made life better for you? We’d love to hear about your tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

 

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The Live Better With Guide to Cancer and Sex

cancer and sex guide

How cancer and cancer treatment can affect your sexuality and sex life

Having cancer – and cancer treatment – doesn’t just affect your health: it can touch every part of your life. One of the things that can change is your sex life. The physical effects of surgery, side effects from treatments, and the overwhelming emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis can alter how you feel about sex.

This guide will support you through what can be a difficult and possibly embarrassing time, with understanding and practical advice and information.

In this guide:

Cancer and your sex life |Body confidence | Getting in the mood | Fighting fatigue | Overcoming limited movement | Questions about cancer and cancer treatment and sex

Browse our Having Sex range →

Cancer and your sex life

Even if you have enjoyed a satisfying sex life before cancer, you may not feel like having sex – and that’s totally understandable. If you’re in a relationship, do let your partner know how you’re feeling, what you’re comfortable doing, and what you don’t want to do right now. Feeling safe, comfortable, and supported is the most important part of a relationship while you’re dealing with cancer. If sex is not a priority for you right now, it’s important to talk to each other about this. There are many other ways for you and your partner to be intimate and stay close, without having sex.

Sexuality – your feelings and preferences about sex – can be an important part of who you are, whether you’re in a relationship or not. It’s worth thinking about how to accept the changes that might be happening to your body and your emotions. This could help you find a way to feel comfortable with your sexuality and relationships while living with cancer and having treatment. There are plenty of things you can try that can help you deal with any worries you may have.

What kind of changes can cancer and cancer treatment make to your sexuality and sex life?

These are some of the physical and emotional changes you might experience during and after cancer treatment and while you are living with cancer:

Loss of body confidence

Living with cancer can have a significant effect on the way you feel about your body. You might be dealing with hair loss, scars, weight gain from steroids, weight loss, or surgery that has changed your appearance. A sudden change in the way you look can make you feel less confident, and this can affect your feelings about sex.

Not in the mood

There are plenty of reasons why it can be difficult to feel sexually aroused when you have cancer. Even if you want to have sex, the physical and emotional effects of treatment can make it difficult. Women can experience tense vaginal muscles, vaginal dryness, or difficulties reaching orgasm. Men might have problems getting or maintaining an erection, or ejaculating.

Fatigue (tiredness)

Cancer is exhausting, as is cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and so is all the extra travelling involved in hospital visits. Extreme fatigue could be a side effect of your treatment, and you might have aches and pains. It’s not surprising that many people living with cancer lose interest in sex!

Limited movement

Surgery might leave you with limited movement for some time, due to healing scars or muscle pain. You might also have pain from the cancer itself, or weakness that prevents you from moving as easily as you did before. If you want to have sex, tell your partner which positions are painful for you and which make you feel comfortable – or not.


Having to deal with all or some of these changes can be distressing but there are things you can do that could make a difference – to help you feel happier and more relaxed about your sexuality and sex life. Here are some tips.

Body confidence

If you are anxious about the way your body looks, here are some suggestions:

Being naked

It’s quite normal – and understandable – not to feel confident or comfortable about being naked. Having sex doesn’t mean you have to be naked;  try wearing a camisole, a set of pyjamas, or anything you feel comfortable in. Talking to your partner about it will help them to be sensitive to your feelings and to support you in feeling more confident.

Lingerie

Some pretty new lingerie can boost your confidence and help you to feel in the mood for sex. Even if you’ve had surgery or have sore skin and are spending more time in comfortable bras if, you could choose something a little more sexy – for example, bras designed with cancer side effects in mind. If you are feeling self-conscious about your stomach area or having a stoma, there is a range of flattering lingerie, including vintage-style high-waisted briefs that could make you feel more secure and at ease.

The Amoena Lilly Non-Wired Bra

“Very comfortable and soft, has pockets for prosthesis and it is also very pretty!” – Live Better With customer.

 

Cosmetics

Chemotherapy or radiation can cause hair loss, including your eyebrows and eyelashes. Losing these can have a big impact on how you feel about your face, and if your self-esteem has taken a blow, your sex drive might too. Finding the right products to help brighten up your eyes or skin can give you confidence and may make you feel more interested in sex. Try something to fill in your eyebrows or thicken your eyelashes.

“A wig disguises hair loss but lost eyebrows cannot be disguised. I felt very self conscious. So I was delighted and very relieved that this product gave me some of my confidence back.” Deb P, Live Better With customer.

Find recommended Live Better With cosmetics here.

Exercise

Going through tiring treatments and experiencing changes to your appearance can leave you feeling out of touch with your body. You might not feel like being intimate, or you could be worried about how your partner will react to your new appearance. Gentle exercise is an excellent way to rediscover your body. Some light stretches, yoga, walking, or simply dancing to music at home could help you to feel more in tune with your body and what makes it come alive.  And feeling good about your body again could have a positive effect on your sex life.

Find out more with the Live Better With Guide to Cancer and Exercise.

Feeling clean

Many people living with cancer and cancer treatment say they struggle with feeling less clean than they would like. This can happen when you’re recovering from surgery and dealing with scars or because you’re spending a lot of time in hospital. Or perhaps you are coming to terms with having a stoma or ostomy. These feelings are very common, and worth talking about with someone you trust. If you’re concerned about intimate cleanliness, there are some excellent cleansing products that maintain the natural balance of those intimate areas without irritating sensitive skin. If you have a stoma, an odour eliminating spray could give you peace of mind.

“I have a colostomy bag as a consequence of my bowel surgery. This odour eliminator is a blessing. It is extremely efficient not in disguising but actually eliminating the odour.” Live Better With customer.

Browse our Feeling Confident range →

 


Getting in the mood

If you are finding it difficult to get into the right mood for sex, here are some suggestions that could help:

Foreplay and communication

Feeling relaxed is the key to enjoyable sex. If you’re feeling tense about how you look or feel, or about anything else going on in your relationship, try to talk about it with your partner. This can help them to help you feel supported, comfortable, and reassured. Sex shouldn’t be all about penetration; touching, kissing, and just being physically close can all help you to feel less tense and emotionally closer to your partner.

Lubricants and moisturisers

If you have vaginal dryness or irritation, a sensitive, chemical-free moisturiser (ideal if you are menopausal or post-menopausal) or lubricant could be your new best friend. They won’t irritate your skin or vaginal tissues and are available as a gel, in a tube, or in small, single-use pipettes that you use to insert moisturiser or lubricant into the vagina before having sex – to give you a more natural feeling.

“Since my chemo started, I am suffering from vaginal dryness and I need extra lubrication to make intercourse comfortable. I have been using . . .water-based gel – it is a lovely product and the best of all I tried.”  Live Better With customer.

Find recommended Live Better With products to help with dryness here.

Aphrodisiacs

An aphrodisiac is anything that helps to get you in the mood for sex. Relaxing, scented candles or essential oils can have a calming, sensual effect, or try massages with your partner, using special oils that won’t irritate your skin.

Talking to the right person

Sexual difficulties are far more common than you might think – as is not talking about them because you are too embarrassed. If talking to each other hasn’t done the trick, or if you or your partner would like some advice on how to be intimate when you’ve been affected by cancer, discussing those feelings with a counsellor or a sex therapist could be less awkward than you think. Remember, they’ve heard it all before – and probably much more. They might also be able to help with the more physical aspects of sexual difficulties, such as erectile problems, by referring you to a doctor for medication or any other treatments that can help.

 


Fighting fatigue

If you want to try having sex, but just can’t find the energy, here are a few suggestions that could help:

Energy boosts

Sex can be a bit of a workout – even when you take things slowly! Make sure you feel ready by having an energy-boosting snack a little while beforehand. Something that might also help you feel sexy, like a delicious natural chocolate brownie, or some fresh, juicy fruit, is ideal.

“I love the Pulsin bars. They are such a healthy and tasty snack to have around.” Live Better With customer.

Find recommended Live Better With energy bars and foods here.

Shake up your schedule

It might sound obvious, but you can have sex at any time of day – not just at bedtime! If you’re taking medications that make you drowsy or very tired at night, try getting close to your partner in the morning. If you have children, maybe there’s a friend or family member who would welcome them for a weekend to give you some valuable uninterrupted time with your partner? Talking to your partner about how you’re feeling and about things that could help is the key. It might not feel as spontaneous, but finding a time when you feel well enough to be interested in and to enjoy sex could be good for both of you.

Feeling comfortable

It doesn’t matter how sexy you’re feeling – if your body is exhausted or in pain, you’re just too tired to actually have sex. Aches and pains are a common side effect of treatment and, if you need to rest, make sure that your partner understands and respects that. If you do feel like having sex, try to get as comfortable as you can before you start. If you have painkillers to help with your treatment, take one about an hour before you have sex; again, it may make having sex seem less spontaneous but, on the plus side, it could help you to feel less tense or achey. Try settling down for a cosy night together in bed, with plenty of comfy cushions, and use heat wraps and muscle rubs to relax sore muscles and soothe painful joints.

Browse our Being Comfortable range →

 


Overcoming limited movement

After surgery, healing scars or muscle pain could limit your movement. You could also have pain from the cancer itself, or weakness that stops you from moving as easily as you did before. But, if you want to have sex, tell your partner knows which positions are painful for you and what makes you feel comfortable – or not. Here are some suggestions for positions that might make things easier:

Breast surgery

If you’ve had a mastectomy, you might feel unsure about letting your partner see your scars, or it might be uncomfortable to have someone touch them. Facing away from your partner during sex can help avoid this. Try the ‘spoons’ position (lying on your side, with your partner behind you), kneeling (on all fours, with your partner behind you), or standing (perhaps leaning on a secure chair, for safety, or against something comfortable).

Hysterectomy

A hysterectomy can change your vaginal sensations and you may have scarring that makes things uncomfortable or painful. If you feel ready to have sex, you can reduce any discomfort by going slowly and gently, and avoiding positions that thrust towards the back of the vagina. Face-to-face positions could be more comfortable. If you have vaginal dryness due to menopause (whether a natural menopause or as a result of surgery), try using a skin-sensitive moisturiser to prevent any irritation and to enhance sensation – for you and your partner.

Ostomy

Having a stoma and pouch may make you feel self-conscious in bed. If you’d prefer your partner not to see your stoma during sex, try positions facing away from each other (spoons, kneeling or standing – see Breast surgery above.) You could also try wearing specially designed underwear and high-waisted lingerie that help to keep stomas and pouches in place.

Find a range of recommended Live Better With ostomy underwear and lingerie here.

Support cushions

This tip can help everyone, whether you have cancer or not! Use support pillows and cushions to get into a position that feels comfy for both of you. They take the pressure off your muscles, and you can find angles and positions that you’d never be able to reach without support – they can such a difference!

Find recommended Live Better With products to help make your sex life easier, more comfortable and more enjoyable here.

 


Questions about cancer and cancer treatment and sex

If you have concerns about cancer, cancer treatment and sex, there are several Live Better With blog posts that could help. They include this one, which covers the kind of questions that cancer patients and their partners have about sex but are sometimes too embarrassed to ask:

  • Can people with cancer still have sex?
  • My partner has cancer. What’s going to happen to our sex life?
  • Can chemo be sexually transmitted?
  • Can cancer be sexually transmitted?
  • How could cancer affect my vagina?
  • How do I have sex after prostate surgery?

Find other helpful Live Better With blogposts on cancer, cancer treatment and sex here.

 


Share your tips for sex and intimacy

Have you found helpful ways to enjoy sex and stay intimate while living with cancer and cancer treatment? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

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The Live Better With Guide to Holidays and Travel with Cancer

How to plan and prepare for a trip abroad when you have cancer or are having cancer treatment

There’s always plenty to think about before you go on holiday; having cancer means that you have a few extra things to consider – to make sure that you have an enjoyable and restful time. Cancer affects each person in a different way, so knowing what to expect and planning ahead can help. This handy guide includes tips from the Live Better With Cancer community and will help you make the most of your holiday.

In this guide:

What do you need to think about before you go abroad? | What should you do before you go abroad? | Travel insurance for people with cancer |  Help with getting around | Being comfortable when travelling | Keeping cool on holiday | Staying well when abroad

Browse our Going on Holiday range →


What do you need to think about before you go abroad?

People often worry about how they will cope away from home. You may be worried that travelling, especially during long journeys, will be too demanding, exhausting or difficult. And you might feel anxious about managing to keep up with your medication while you are away. If so, the Live Better With community has plenty of tips to help you plan for your journey and for your holiday.

  • During your journey. Long journeys can be a challenge for anyone but we have some suggestions to make your travel time more comfortable. People with lymphoedema need to take particular care when travelling because sitting for a long time can affect your lymph flow.
  • Keeping cool. If you’re heading somewhere hot, there are simple things that you can do to stay cool, and comfortable. Our tips can help you to have a better night’s sleep or a relaxing midday siesta, helping you to recharge your batteries and enjoy your time away.
  • Staying well abroad. Stomach upsets, insect bites, and taking medication – they’re a worry for many holidaymakers. When you are a holidaymaker with cancer, there are extra pointers to bear in mind. These can help you to stay well and to save your energy for the things that you enjoy – relaxing on the beach, exploring a new city, or catching up with friends.

What should you do before you go abroad?

“If you’re still on treatment but want to go on holiday then just check with your doctor or nurse when the best time to go is so you can avoid high risk periods, like when your cell counts are likely to be low.” Andrew, Live better With community member.

Here is a useful checklist of things to do before you go on holiday.

  • Doctor’s letter. Ask your doctor to give you a letter that explains your type of cancer, the treatment you’ve had, and the medications you need to carry with you. Always keep this with you when you are travelling and throughout your holiday, as it will be helpful at airport security, at your holiday accommodation, and if you need any medical treatment while you are abroad.
  • Medication.  Always carry spare medication in your handbag or hand luggage in case you lose some or your trip home is delayed. You must carry a doctor’s letter listing your medication in detail, so keep this somewhere safe but easy to reach.
  • Vaccines. Tell your doctor which country – or countries – you are planning to visit; she or he will tell you which vaccinations are recommended or required. Do this well before your travel date, as some vaccinations need to be given some time before travelling; for example, yellow fever vaccinations should be given 10 days before. However, during and after treatment your immune system is weakened, so some vaccines could put you at higher risk of infection. Your doctor will advise you which, if any, vaccinations to avoid and why.

Travel insurance for people with cancer

Healthcare can vary depending on your country of origin and the country you’re visiting.

“When I was planning a holiday overseas, I found the list of non-European countries offering free or low cost emergency care on the NHS website really useful.” Ian, live Better With community member.

If you are taking out travel insurance, make sure that your policy covers any routine or unexpected medical treatment.

Some travel insurance policy providers charge much higher premiums for people who have cancer or have been treated for cancer in the past – even if they have been successfully treated and are fully recovered. But there are specialist travel insurance companies who offer policies at affordable rates to people with, or who have had, cancer.

Find a recommended Live Better With travel insurance partner here →

 


Help with getting around

“Don’t forget all your pills need to be in their original packaging with the prescription stickers on them to get through customs.” Diane, Live Better With community member.

Special assistance

Most airlines and airports have special arrangements to help people who can’t walk or stand for long periods.

Contact your airport and airline a week or so before your journey (or when you book your ticket), as they may be able to give you a wheelchair, an assistant to accompany you through the airport, and help with your luggage. You may also be able to board your plane early.

Mobility aids

If you tend to tire more easily, or if your journey involves a lot of walking or standing, take a walking stick.

A folding design fits easily and discreetly into a bag; if you prefer to have a guaranteed seat even in the busiest airport, go for a lightweight stick with a combined fold-out seat. These are also ideal for trips to museums, galleries or walks along the beach and general sightseeing.

“This walking aid is a huge help for those who find it difficult to walk any distance or to stand for very long. The seat folds out in an instant and provides very stable seating . . . folds up very easily when no longer needed and then the aid can be used as a three- legged walking stick to aid balance. It is very light to carry.” Live Better With customer.

Find recommended Live Better With holiday mobility aids here.


Being comfortable while travelling

Comfort when sitting

Once you’re in your seat, an inflatable cushion can relieve any pain caused by pressure from prolonged sitting. They help by lifting you and spreading your weight to avoid pressure building up in a particular spot. They’re easy to deflate and pack in your bag while you’re on the move.

Find a recommended Live Better With inflatable ring cushion here.

“When I’m on a flight I make sure I get an aisle seat so I can get up and walk around frequently to help reduce my risks of getting a blood clot in my leg veins.” Nigel, Live Better With community member.

Lymphoedema and circulation

Cancer can make you more susceptible to deep vein thrombosis, known as DVTs (blood clots). This happens because your blood circulation slows down when you are not moving – and that makes it easier for your blood to clot.

The same thing happens to your lymph flow; so, if you have lymphoedema, it may get a little worse when you travel. But there are several ways to minimise these complications, whether you are travelling by rail, road, sea or air.

  • Loose clothing.  Always wear your most comfortable, loose-fitting travel outfit, as this helps to keep your skin comfortable and to regulate your body temperature while you are flying.
  • Compression stockings. Ideal for long periods of sitting, these help to reduce any blood stasis and improve your blood and lymph circulation. This reduces the risk of DVTs and helps to prevent lymphoedema from becoming worse. (Check the size you need by measuring around your calf; this will ensure that the stockings are as effective as possible.)
  • Swollen ankles. Many people find that their feet and ankles swell on long journeys, and cancer can make this more uncomfortable. Try wearing soft, seamless socks made from a comfortable material such as bamboo to reduce pinching and promote better fluid draining around your ankles.

Find recommended Live Better With bamboo socks for women here and for men here.

  • Staying hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids helps to prevent your blood and lymph fluid becoming too thick. If you have a strange taste when you drink water (a common side effect of chemotherapy), try taking some of your favourite teabags or squash with you.
  • Look after your skin. When lymphoedema is flaring up, your skin can become irritated or sensitive, so keep your skin clean and moisturised, and avoid exposing it to heat or sun.

Keeping cool on holiday

If you are staying in a much warmer climate than you are used to, here are some tips and recommendations to help you stay cool.

“My chemotherapy made my skin really sensitive to sunlight so I used to stay covered up and avoided sitting outside between 11am-3pm when the sun is at its strongest.” Leanne, Live Better With Community Member.

  • Cooling pillows. These foldable gel mats are fantastic for helping you to stay cool at night in hot weather. Chill them in the fridge while you’re out during the day; at night, put them on top of your pillow or on other hot spots to relieve hot flushes and improve your sleep.

Find a recommended Live Better With gel mat here.

  • Comfortable pyjamas. Mosquitoes come out at sunrise and sunset, so covering up during these periods will help protect you from bites. Full- length, loose-fitting pyjamas, made from a lightweight, breathable, natural fibre such as bamboo, will help you to keep covered and stay cool and comfortable.

Find recommended Live Better With bamboo pyjamas here.

  • Cooling sprays. These can keep you cool while you are out. They come in 100ml bottle sizes so you can also take them on board your flight to help you stay refreshed and cool when you are flying.

Find a recommended Live Better With cooling spray here.

  • Sun protection. Cancer can cause your skin to become more photosensitive (sensitive to sun and daylight), so stay in the shade whenever you can, use a sun cream that is at least SPF 30 – or higher, and reapply regularly throughout the day. If cancer treatment has irritated your skin or made it drier, a special sun cream for sensitive skin could bebetter for you.
  • Self-tanning. If you love having a tan but need to stay out of the sun, try a chemical-free self-tanning product to give you that holiday glow.

“Using this oil kept my tan for the next four months, I used it more like a beauty product than anything else, so nice to your skin!” Anick, Live Better With customer.

Find a recommended Live Better With self-tan preparation here.

  • Cover up.  Good advice for anyone visiting a hot, sunny country but, if you’ve had hair loss or are now more affected by hot weather, invest in a stylish sunhat, a parasol, or a lightweight headscarf to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.

Find recommended Liver Better With sun protection products here.

 


How to stay well when you’re abroad

“I got a nasty tummy bug when I was on holiday and I think it was because of the ice-lollies I used to eat from the street seller. I didn’t realise that they used tap water to make them so they are best avoided” Alice, Live Better With community member.

Insect repellent

As well as avoiding exposure to insects by covering up, use insect repellents as an extra deterrent to insect bites. This will reduce both the risk of infection from insect-carried bacteria and diseases and the risk of developing cellulitis and lymphangitis – any break in your skin increases the risk of infection.

“I made sure my hotel had mosquito nets in the rooms to avoid getting bitten while I was asleep.” Emma, Live Better With community member.

Eating abroad

As your immune system could be weaker than normal, be extra careful about what you eat. Now might not be the time to be adventurous about street food or a trendy sushi restaurant . . . If you do have a stomach upset, take some anti-diarrhoea medication, and make sure you drink plenty of fluids.

Mouth gels

If you suffer from mouth sores or ulcers, keep a soothing mouth gel in your travel bag and when you are out and about. This could help you drink and eat enough while you are away, so that you stay well hydrated and energised throughout your holiday.

Find a recommended Live Better With mouth gel here.

Pill boxes

Organise your tablets to make it easier to remember when to take your medicines, when you’re not in your usual routine. Pocket organisers will also keep your doses safe, secure and easy to take when you are out.

When you are travelling, you must keep all medicines in their original packaging, fully labelled with your details, to pass through customs.

“A great way to avoid having to carry around seven days worth of medication all the time. I have to take at least nine tablets a day, and they all fit comfortably inside. Quality is good for the price.” Live Better With customer.

Find recommended Live Better With medication storage and organisation products here.

Browse our Going on Holiday range →

 


Enjoy your holiday!

Everyone at Live Better With wishes you a wonderful holiday, whether it’s a long weekend in a new city, a week on the beach, or a visit to friends and family further afield. With a little planning and some help along the way, you’ll have the relaxing and enjoyable that break you’ve been hoping for.

Share your travel and holiday tips

Do you have special travel and holiday tips that can help when you have cancer or are coping with side effects of cancer treatment? If so we’d love to hear from you as your tips could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

 

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

 

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The Live Better With Guide to Caring for Children with Cancer

How to support children who have cancer, and tips and advice to help them live better

This guide looks at some of the things you can do to help make things better for a child with cancer, including tips and advice from the Live Better With cancer community – people who have been through a similar experience.

There are lots of ways you can help to make life a little bit easier, whether it’s by helping the child to deal with their treatment, making their time in hospital more comfortable, or talking to them about how they are feeling.

In this guide:

Dealing with treatment  | Spending time in hospital  | Keeping entertained | Dealing with emotions

Browse our Caring for Kids range →


Dealing with treatment

Some types of cancer are specific to children, teenagers or young adults. However, the treatment for the cancer is often the same as the treatment that is given to adults. This means that a child may have to deal with surgery, or the effects of treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Cancer treatments can have a range of different side effects, such as pain, sickness, hot flashes, or a sore mouth. A child may also be frightened when the time comes to have their treatment. However, there are a number of things you can do to help.

Having injections

If a child is afraid of needles, using a Buzzy gadget can help – this is a fun vibrating bee, which is placed on the child’s arm ahead of the injection. Its ice pack wings help to reduce the pain of the needle, while also distracting the child.

“Any parent who has to watch their child being injected knows how distressing it is to see them in pain. I am so glad we purchased a Buzzy to help improve this!” Live Better With community member

Feeling sick

If a child is suffering from nausea or sickness because of chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment, it can be difficult to encourage them to eat.

It can help to keep some snacks with you, such as boiled sweets or their favourite treat, for whenever they do feel like eating. The Live Better With community recommend using queasy pops, handy lollipops which are made from natural ingredients and can help to calm the stomach as well as getting rid of any nasty tastes.

The child’s medical team may be able to prescribe anti-sickness medication. There are also lots of other ways to help reduce sickness, such as ginger biscuits and anti-nausea wristbands.

“Ginger for nausea – you can try biscuits, sweets, tea, chews or even raw!” Jean, Live Better With community member.

Soothing a sore mouth

Treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can also lead to soreness, swelling or ulcers in the mouth (mucositis). There are lots of products which can help to soothe a sore mouth, from mouthwashes to specially designed toothbrushes – such as Dr Barman’s Superbrush for Kids, which cleans all three surfaces of the tooth at the same time.

Dealing with hot flashes

Some cancer treatments can cause night sweats or hot flashes. The effects can be reduced by giving the child loose, breathable nightwear made from a natural material, like cotton or bamboo.

Cooling gel pillows can also be useful – just pop them in the fridge and then place them inside the child’s   pillowcase to help soothe them.

You can read our Guide to Being Comfortable here.


Spending time in hospital

Being treated for cancer can be frightening and bewildering for a child. Staying in hospital can interrupt their normal routine, and they may feel anxious being surrounded by different people, strange lights and noises, and hospital equipment.

It can be difficult for younger children to understand what is happening around them. Sometimes children worry that when you leave the hospital you are not going to come back. It’s important to reassure them that you will see them again soon.

Home comforts

Bringing some special items from home, such as the child’s own slippers and dressing gown, some photos, and a favourite teddy or special blanket, can offer comfort and help the child to relax. Check with the child’s medical team about what you are allowed to bring in. They will be keen to help them feel as settled as possible.

Getting a good night’s sleep

Getting to sleep in hospital can be a challenge at the best of times. For a child, it can be even more difficult. The Live Better With Community recommend using a sleep mask and soft ear plugs, to screen out noise and lights and help the child to settle.

To offer extra comfort in the night, and to help relieve any aches and pains, many people recommend using a microwaveable soft toy, such as a Cozy Hottie, a cute cuddly animal which contains beads scented with lavender oil to help the little one relax and get off to sleep.

“Very soft cuddly bear loved by his little owner. Stayed warm until he was fast asleep. Good value and good quality.” Live Better With community member

Older children or teenagers might benefit from a microwaveable heat bag with lavender seeds, which can help to soothe any pain or discomfort.

Sleep balms and sprays containing essential oils can also help children to relax and settle for the night – the Live Better With community recommend Badger Night-Night balm which has lavender and chamomile, to help them to drift off more naturally.

You can view the Live Better With Guide to Sleeping here.


Keeping entertained

Having treatment for cancer often means that a child has to spend lots of time in bed resting, or waiting around during treatment. This can lead to a lot of spare hours to fill.

A tablet or iPad can be a good way to help keep them occupied. Children can listen to music, watch movies or surf the internet. A beany tablet cushion will help to keep their device in place, allowing them to rest and relax. If you need to keep the noise down, try using some fun headphones such as My Doodle On-Ear headphones from Cancer Research UK, which are specially designed for kids and have soft earcups, an adjustable headband and are volumed-limited to protect children’s hearing.

You should also make sure the child has a good stock of books, magazines, activities and games to help keep them busy. Children may enjoy doing something creative and relaxing, such as doing a puzzle or colouring. There are some specially designed colouring books, such as the Mindfulness Colouring Book for Children.

“Wonderful for relaxing the children, and the pages are thick enough so pens don’t bleed through.” Live Better With community member

Having cancer often brings a lot of disruption to a child’s normal routine, activities and social life. If the child is allowed visitors, arrange for friends and family to come and see them regularly. For teenagers, who love technology, video links and social media can be a good way to keep in touch.


Dealing with emotions

When a child has cancer, it is a very difficult time for the child and their loved ones. The situation is likely to be worrying, stressful and exhausting for everyone.

A child with cancer might experience a range of different feelings. Younger children might feel frightened and bewildered, while older children might feel fear, disbelief or anger. They may also worry about how the cancer might affect their appearance, or their relationships with their friends.

Explaining things to a child with cancer

The best way to help a child with cancer, and their siblings, is to be open with them, and talk to them in a way that’s appropriate for their age.

There are lots of books which are specially designed to help you explain cancer to a child, including a range of storybooks and picture books, which cover things like staying in hospital, chemotherapy, and hair loss.

To help prepare a child for hospital treatment, try The Famous Hat, which uses the story of of a boy called Harry to look at treatment, in a positive and reassuring way. Some books are designed to help the child and their family and friends to learn about cancer together, such as Chemo to the Rescue which deals with leukemia and its treatment.

You can view a range of children’s books designed to help you talk about cancer here.

Older children might find it helpful to keep a journal, in which they can write down how they are feeling. This can also be a useful way for them to share their feelings with someone else.

Helping a child to relax

Having treatment for cancer can be very disruptive and worrying for a child. Some simple meditations and mindfulness techniques can help. Try Enchanted Meditation for Kids, a CD with short, calming meditation exercises, or Sitting still like a frog, which contains mindfulness exercises for children and their parents.

“Highly recommended to any parent with a child with cancer, within the first two days there was a vast improvement in my son’s sleeping patterns. Amazing book.”  Live Better With community member

Other family members

When a child goes through cancer, it can also be very hard on the people around them, including siblings, friends and family members. At times it may feel overwhelming. It’s important to seek support and to talk about these feeings with a friend or family member, or a counsellor. Local and online support groups can also be very helpful.

You can view our complete Guide for Carers here

Browse our Caring for Kids range →

 


Share your stories and tips

Have you had to care for a child with cancer? What made life better for you? We’d love to hear about your tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

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The Live Better With Guide to Cancer and Skin Problems

Why cancer causes skin problems – and practical tips for making life better

People living with cancer often suffer from skin problems, like dryness, scaliness, itchiness and weak fingernails. These can be caused by the cancer itself, or they can be side effects of a treatment.

For some people these skin problems can be annoying – for others they can be severe and difficult to bear.

This guide explains what can happen to your skin if you have cancer or cancer treatment. It also gives practical tips shared by members of the Live Better With cancer community – real people who have experienced cancer-related skin problems, and found ways to live better.

(Please note, this guide is about skin problems caused by cancer. It is not about skin cancer or melanoma skin cancer.)

 

In this guide:

What causes skin problems? | Helping with dry and scaly skin | Coping with itchy skin | Sleeping better | Coping with a sensitive scalp| Looking after nails

Browse our Skin Things range →


What causes skin problems?

There are a number of possible causes of skin problems if you have cancer. These include:

  • The cancer itself. Some types of cancer cause itching. It is not fully known why this happens, but it may be because of the body’s reaction to the tumour or due to substances released by the tumour. Often the itching is all over the body and worst on the chest or legs. This itching usually eases when you have cancer treatment.
  • Cancer treatments. Sometimes treatments like chemotherapy have side effects that make your skin dry, scaly or itchy. Your fingernails can become brittle or weak. If you lose hair the areas left exposed, such as your scalp, can be sensitive. Radiotherapy exposes your skin to radiation, which can make it sore, dry or itchy. It might also become red or look darker than usual. Biological therapy and hormone therapy can cause skin rashes.
  • Allergic reactions. Some people feel itchy after starting a new cancer treatment. This may be a sign of an allergy to a drug or treatment. You should talk to your doctor or nurse if this happens to you.
  • Jaundice. Some kinds of cancer – such as cancer of the liver or pancreas – can cause jaundice. This is when a build-up of bile in your bloodstream and body tissues makes your skin yellow and itchy. You will need to see your doctor if you have jaundice.

Helping with dry and scaly skin

Here are some things you can do to help with dry and scaly skin:

  • Watch out for chemicals. Where possible, avoid products like cosmetics and household cleaning products that are full of chemicals. Instead buy organic or eco products.

“Avoid everything that is laden with chemicals. Find cosmetics, shampoo, soap and cleaning products that are free from particular nasties.” Hazel, Live Better With community member

  • Use moisturisers regularly throughout the day. This will help keep your skin hydrated. Avoid products that are heavily perfumed or contain lanolin. Instead choose colourless products or products developed especially for cancer patients.
  • Try urea-based lotions. Urea based body lotions and moisturisers are better for reducing dryness, scaling and itching than the usual glycerol-based creams. Products with 10% urea are a good choice.
  • Use hand creams. Your hands can become very dry and cracked, especially if you’re washing them very often. A good hand cream will help soothe your skin.

“I had very dry and flaking skin on the palms of my hands and insteps as an intense reaction to a new drug I was taking. This little pot of cream helped immensely. A very good buy.” Deirdre – reviewing Defiant Beauty Healing Hand Balm.

 

  • Use oil or lotion-based facial cleansers. Avoid using alcohol or water-based facial cleansers as these can make your skin even dryer.  Instead chose an oil or lotion based cleanser which will clean your skin and keep it moisturised too.
  • Try unscented lip balms. Some lip balms, like Badger Balm, contain no added scents, colours or sweeteners – which may be good when you have very dry and sensitive skin.
  • Take care in the sun. Use chemical-free sunscreens when going out. We recommend Caribbean Blue Sunscreen.

Find recommended Live Better With products for dry skin here.

 


Coping with itchy skin

Cancer and cancer treatments can cause very itchy skin. For some people this itching can be severe, making it hard to relax and to get to sleep. Here are some things you can do about it:

  • Speak to your doctor. Itching may be caused by a drug or treatment, perhaps because you have an allergy. There may be medications that can help you. Your doctor will be able to advise you on this.
  • Don’t scratch. This is easier said than done, but scratching can make skin worse and lead to more itching. One tip is to keep your fingernails short, so you can’t do too much damage.
  • Try itch relieving lotions. Special lotions like E45 Itch Relief Cream can help ease the need to scratch by soothing and cooling the skin. Calendula cream can be a very good natural help for itchy and irritated skin.

“The Lyonsleaf calendula cream is simply the best cream I managed to find for my skin. It really helped reduce and mostly eliminate the dryness, itchiness and general irritation. My skin became much softer within a week of use. Impressive!” Live Better With community member.

  • Stay cool. Itchiness can be worse if you get hot. Keep rooms at a cool temperature. Cooling sprays and spritzes can be a quick help.
  • Use alternative soaps, shower gels and bubble baths. If you notice your skin is itchier after you have a bath or shower, try using natural or alternative products, like calendula soap. Take shorter baths in lukewarm rather than hot water. Pat rather than rub your skin when drying yourself with a towel.
  • Wear cotton or bamboo. Man-made fabrics can make irritate your skin. Choose clothes made from lightweight fabrics made from natural fibres such as cotton for your clothes and bedding. Bamboo is a great fabric for people with sensitive and itchy skin.

Find recommended and specially selected Live Better With products for itchy skin here.

 


Sleeping better

Itching or sore skin can keep you awake at night. Here are some tips for getting a better night’s rest:

  • Sleep in bamboo. Bamboo is a very soft, silky, cool fabric that is perfect for bedding and  pyjamas. The gentle fabric is also hypoallergenic, so is less likely to irritate the skin.
  • Try sleep balms. Aromatherapy oils can help you drop off and get a deeper sleep. Why not spray some lavender on your pillow, or use a natural sleep balm? Try Badger Sleep Balm or Cotswold Lavender Slumber Spray.

“Just what I need after a long day. The scent isn’t too strong, just enough to gently lull me off to sleep. I put a bit under my nose, on my temples, and I rub some into my eyebrows which is making them strong and shiny. My new favourite bedtime ritual.” – Review by ‘P’ of Badger Sleep Balm.

Find recommended Live Better With products to help you sleep better here.


Coping with a sensitive scalp

If you have hair loss after chemotherapy, your scalp can be sensitive and itchy. Here are tips from the Live Better With community. You can also read our full guide to hair loss and cancer here.

  • Use an exfoliating sponge. This helps to gently massage your scalp and remove dead skin.
  • Use unperfumed moisturiser on skin where you have lost hair.
  • Use gentle shampoo. Use gentle, organic, natural shampoos, and avoid ones with chemicals.
  • Wear a sleep hat at night. Wearing a soft cap at night will make you more comfortable. It can also collect any hairs that fall out while you sleep. We recommend a cotton indoor sleep hat.
  • Use pillows with natural fibres.
  • Spray your head with a scalp spritz. A spray can help cool and soothe your scalp, especially on hot days.
  • Beware of sunburn. Make sure you protect areas where you have hair loss from sunburn, using chemical-free sunscreens. Try Caribbean Blue Sunscreen.

“My scalp was always very irritated during treatment. And when the short hair grew back it was worse. I found this scalp spritz and it has done wonders for me.” Live Better With Community member

Find recommended Live Better With products for scalp and skin care after hair loss here.

 


Looking after weak and brittle nails

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy can cause changes to your nails, both on your fingers and toes. They might become brittle, cracked, discoloured or weak. You might even lose your nails. After chemo they should grow back to normal. Here are some things you can do in the meantime:

  • Look after your cuticles. Prevent dryness and splitting by gently rubbing cuticle cream into the cuticle area daily. Don’t cut your cuticles if they’re not frayed. Instead, use cuticle remover cream or gels and push your nails back gently.
  • Try a nail repair solution. You can soothe brittle or tender nails and treat nails that split, ridged or discoloured with a specifically-designed solution. A top-rated product in the Live Better With community is Evaux EvoNail Nail Repair Solution. One user said it worked it even better than expected and that ‘even the doctor wanted to know more about it’.
  • Avoid acrylics and other nail wraps. Fake nails can trap bacteria that may cause infection.
  • Use moisturising nail drops. Putting moisturising nail drops on your nail bed will help keep your it healthy and improve nail strength and appearance.
  • Use water-based nail polishes in darker shades. You may want to try a darker shade of nail polish than usual, to help hide any discolouration.
  • Use a gentle nail polish remover. Avoid polish removers containing acetone, ethylacetate, or other harsh solvents. Our community recommends Evaux EvoNail Ultra-Gentle Nail Cleanser, a gentle remover designed specially for water-based nail polish.
  • Try vitamin supplements. During chemo you can help protect your nails as well as your skin and hair by taking a vitamin supplement. A one-a-day tablet  often recommended by the Live Better With community is Lindens Biotin. It is specially formulated to give a boost to your body’s natural keratin production, which helps both hair and nails.

“My nails look to be growing back well and the new nail looks healthy.” Review of Lindens Biotin supplement by community member Lorraine.

  • Wear cooling gloves or slippers during chemo treatment. These can reduce the amount of chemo drug reaching your nails and so helps stop them from falling out. You will need to speak to your doctor first to find out if they are suitable for you.

Find selected Live Better With products for looking after nails here.

 

Browse our Skin Things range →

 


Share your skin care tips

Have you suffered skin problems when having cancer treatment? Did you find ways to make life better?  If so, we’d love to hear about your tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.

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