Living with Cervical Cancer Therapy
The experience of being diagnosed with cervical cancer and undergoing cancer treatment may change the way you feel about your body and will affect your life in many ways. You may experience many or relatively few side effects. Being aware of the possible treatment effects may help you anticipate them and plan ways to cope.
Regardless of the treatment prescribed, you are likely to experience fatigue, frequent medical appointments, and times when you do not feel well enough to take care of tasks at home. You will need to rely on family and friends to help with some of the things you usually do. You may want to consider hiring out for some chores until you feel well enough to manage again.
If you know that you will not have support at home, talk frankly with your healthcare team as early as possible so that alternatives can be explored. Since a nourishing diet is important, be sure to ask for help in maintaining healthy meal and snack choices in your home. Have your blood count checked to rule out anemia as a treatable cause of fatigue. There are also medications for the relief of fatigue.
You will probably need to be away from work quite a bit during the first month or two of your treatment. Talk with your supervisors at work and with your healthcare team to set up a realistic plan for work absences and return to work. Remember to tell your supervisor that any plan must be flexible because your needs change as treatment progresses. The Family Medical Leave Act offers certain protections for workers and family members who must be away from work for health reasons.
Don’t hesitate to plan activities that you enjoy.
Facing the World
The effects of cancer and your cancer treatment may alter your appearance. You may appear fatigued, pale, slow moving, and you may have to face temporary mild hair loss. You may feel self-conscious because of these changes. It might help to imagine how you might feel if you saw a friend or sister looking as you do. Remember that many people are loving you rather than judging you as they notice these changes.
Family, Friendships, and Fun
Cancer treatment is not fun. No matter what therapy is prescribed, cancer treatment and the usual side effects are no laughing matter. Still, you will have times when you feel well and ready to enjoy life. Talk to your healthcare team if special events are coming up, such as a wedding or graduation. The timing of your treatments may be able to be adjusted so that you feel as well as possible for these special days. Don’t hesitate to plan activities that you enjoy. You may have to cancel on occasion or leave a little early, but the good times will help you to find strength for the hard days.
Intimacy and Sexuality
During surgical recovery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy treatments, your desire for sexual intercourse may be very low. This is normal for a time, but after treatment, couples should work together to find ways to bring sex back into their lives. There is no need to avoid sex during radiation or chemotherapy, so let comfort be your guide. If you feel well enough to have sex, go ahead.
After hysterectomy or radical hysterectomy, most surgeons recommend avoiding vaginal intercourse for four to six weeks. You may safely start to have sex again as soon as your surgeon says it’s okay. Even when you don’t feel well enough for sex, keep the intimate feelings alive by holding hands, touching, cuddling, and kissing. Sexual response can be changed after cervical cancer treatment. Talk to your doctor or seek expert help if you, or your partner, are not happy with your progress toward intimacy after treatment.
During treatment, you may find that even the stairs to your bedroom are a challenge, even if you have worked hard during your adult life to keep fit. It’s discouraging, but normal, to have to reduce or interrupt your fitness routine. If you’ve had surgery, ask your doctor for specific guidelines about exercise. During chemotherapy or radiation, adjust your exercise according to how you feel. You should avoid overexerting or dehydrating yourself. Over the weeks and months after you finish cancer treatment, you can build back toward your previous level of fitness.
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Excerpted with permission from Understanding Cervical Cancer: A Woman’s Guide published by the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation. To order a copy of this brochure, visit www.thegcf.org.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2007.