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When Cancer's Side Effects Return

An injured cancer survivor reluctantly but gratefully copes with neuropathy, osteopenia and stiff-joint cancer side effects after recently breaking her foot and getting surgery.
PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 14, 2017
I don’t like being hobbled by my broken foot. What I really don’t like is being reminded of the side effects from my cancer treatment years ago—seven years, to be exact. I don’t like dwelling on my neuropathy, but now it comes into play with my foot. Other than trying to eat healthfully and taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, I don’t navel gaze at my osteopenia. But, now I worry about whether or not my fifth metatarsal will heal since the pieces are too small for the surgeon to repair. I have tried not to complain about the stiffness in my feet, but now I am going to need therapy to make a long recovery so I can walk again.

This is all part whining and part cautionary tale. Maybe I would have been taking that last step down the stairs more carefully if I had been dwelling on my cancer-related side effects of neuropathy (numbness in the toes on that same foot) and osteopenia (weakness in the bones). Do I get points for trying not to dwell and to move my life forward “normally” or do I get points deducted for not being more careful? I don’t know. I am grateful to be here—still.

During and since chemotherapy for breast cancer, a few of the toes on my right foot go numb, and sometimes a few fingers on either hand—usually for a very short period of time. This is peripheral neuropathy. It really isn’t a big deal. It hasn’t really affected my walking or the use of my hands. I have been fortunate.

When I fly, I have a compression vest and compression arm sleeve to wear, because of my lymphedema. They are hot and uncomfortable, and I usually have to struggle to get them on after I am screened by TSA because sometimes they still don’t seem to know about this for breast cancer survivors. No one likes reminders of being different because of an illness, past or current.

I continue to remain vigilant about my lymphedema because it is the healthy thing to do. I see a vascular doctor yearly who monitors my neuropathy and lymphedema. I am fortunate to be closely monitored by my doctor, but I don’t think about it until the annual appointment.

No one wants me to donate blood after melanoma. I can’t donate a kidney because of chemotherapy. Dwelling on those things would be foolish. I am what I am. Most of the fear-of-recurrence reminders are internal, but now it is harder to forget for a few months as I scooter, use crutches and stare down at my leg boot when I try to roll over during the night.

I am a donor on my driver’s license, but I wonder what other body parts are no good to anyone else. Be careful. Be prepared. The broken foot treatment may be the first of other cancer side effect concerns as I age. It makes no sense to spend time worrying about it, but I now I feel forced to at least wonder.

I am grateful. I try to pull my thoughts back into the moment. I use my emotional coping tools, and I am grateful for each and every day—every moment and everyone in my life. Gratitude is a terrific emotion. I try to use it to counteract grumpiness about lingering side effects impacting my currently broken foot. I am here and I try to remember that is more than enough.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
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