Coping with Chemo; In association with the NHS Chemotherapy is used to rapidly kill cancer cells. Health Reporter HELEN RAE takes a look at the life-saving treatment and how to cope with the side-effects.
CHEMOTHERAPY is hailed as a life-saving treatment, but the thought of the sideeffects it brings - including nausea and hair loss - strikes fear into most cancer sufferers.
In the past decade though, vast improvements mean many of those effects have been minimised.
There are more than 200 types of cancer and 50 chemotherapy drugs are used to treat the disease.
They work by rapidly destroying cancer cells.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The fight against this form of the disease has benefited hugely from chemotherapy.
As with any form of cancer, treatment depends on the individual and not everyone diagnosed with breast cancer will receive chemotherapy.
It is most often used after surgery to stop cancerous cells from reproducing and spreading.
Around 44,600 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and just over a quarter of those will die.
Survival rates are improving thanks, in part, to advances in the treatments which are now available.
Helen Simms, 35, of Gosforth, Newcastle, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.
The senior administrator at Northumbria University found a lump in her breast when having a shower.
After two operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she is now back at work and her prognosis is good as the cancer was caught early.
Helen had six sessions of chemotherapy.
She said: "I remember when I got the letter about having to go for chemotherapy.
"I got upset because I knew this was the next part of the journey in treating the cancer and I was aware it could be one of the hardest parts. I'd already had my long ginger hair cut to about my jaw line so I could get used to it being shorter in preparation.
"But in order to take back some control, I had my hair cut very short thinking it would be easier to deal with the hair loss. Two weeks after my first chemo, my scalp started to have strange tingling pains and it was quite uncomfortable.
"A couple of days later I was in the shower and my hair started coming out.
"I knew this was going to happen, but I was shocked that it happened so quickly. I thought it would be after my second or third treatment, not two weeks after my first one.
"I did get a wig, but I looked in the mirror and felt it wasn't me. I chose to wear a little black hat and customised it with funky hair bands and accessories.
"During the treatment I was sick a few times, felt really tired and started to pick up viral-type infections. I also had really stiff joints and no energy.
"I tried throughout the treatment to lead as normal a life as possible. My hair started to return towards the end of my chemo and it was like very fine baby hair or fluff."
Helen has advice for other people going through similar experiences.
She said: "To get through chemo, I would say you really need to keep a sense of humour, if possible.
"There will be days when you will have to stay in bed and you should listen to your body because rest is very important.
"However, I also pushed myself at times and felt a bit rebellious through the treatment as I was determined not to let it get the better of me.
"Of course, how you react also depends on what form of chemo you have.
"You need to do something funny or something which challenges you a little each day to keep yourself going.
"Don't be afraid to go out to a restaurant or the cinema. If you feel up to it, you should do it.
"You should also talk to other patients going through the same as you. It is important to talk about how you are feeling as there will be times when you are frustrated.
"When you finish your treatment, celebrate it as you have passed a major milestone."
Oncology nurse Maria Leadbetter has been helping breast cancer sufferers since the early 1980s and has seen many changes over the years in the way chemotherapy is given.
She said: "One of the biggest changes is the different combinations in drugs we now have for breast cancer, which has impacted on the survival of patients.
"And with the advances in antinausea drugs, there's now a lot more that can be done to reduce the symptoms chemotherapy produces.
"If you had chemotherapy back in the 80s, the chances were you'd have had to stay in hospital over several days.
"But now people will have the treatment as an outpatient, which is better as people prefer to be at home around their family and get some normality in their lives.
"Most people get through chemotherapy reasonably well, but it's still quite a serious treatment.
"Because of the side-effects, I think chemotherapy will always strike a degree of fear into people, but it's amazing how many people can cope with the treatment and the sideeffects."
HEALTH BATTLE - Helen Simms was supported in her breast cancer fight by partner Keith Anderson
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|Publication:||Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Oct 6, 2008|
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