Chemotherapy’s “most feared” side effect

A new treatment might spare cancer patients “one of the most feared side effects of chemo.”

That was the tease used by a local TV station at the beginning of tonight’s newscast. Naturally it got my attention. So I waited for the story with great curiosity. And what was the “most feared side effect”? Hair loss.

Seriously, who writes this stuff? Nobody likes losing their hair, but it’s far from being the most feared side effect. Hair grows back. Big deal. What about permanent heart, lung, liver, or kidney damage? Blood or nervous system disorders? Infection?

Nor was the treatment they mentioned “new.” Cold caps, worn during chemo to chill the scalp and reduce the chance of hair loss, are not new. The only thing new was that this particular cap, the DigniCap, is the first to be approved by the FDA. You may have an interest in such a product. I did not. I was concerned about far more serious side effects than hair loss. And as it turned out, it was the least of my problems.


10 thoughts on “Chemotherapy’s “most feared” side effect

  1. disperser Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 12:10 am MDT

    Although, to be fair, at the very start of the process you were concerned about it.

    I think the reason it may rank up there is because it is a known and easily understood side effect. The other stuff is difficult to understand and relate to unless one has gone through it.

    On the other hand, hair loss quickly becomes the least of one’s concerns.

    • PiedType Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 9:08 am MDT

      Oh I know I worried and fussed about how I’d deal with it. But I didn’t “fear” it like something that would be permanent or cripple me or cause great pain. What I feared most was nausea/vomiting, which turned out to be not a problem at all because of all the new drugs introduced since I’d heard all those old stories. Not that all the other GI problems weren’t pretty horrendous.

  2. Jim Wheeler Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 8:16 am MDT

    Sad to say, I guessed the answer before I read it. People tend to be scared of all the wrong things, no doubt about it. Prime example, domestic terrorism. If psychology books don’t have a chapter on this, they ought to. 😉

    • PiedType Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 9:23 am MDT

      As with domestic terrorism, the greatest fear is probably fear of the unknown. You’ve heard all the awful stories and awful things that can happen and you’ve absolutely no way of knowing which of those things you’ll experience or how bad they’ll be. But I still think temporary hair loss is probably the least of them. A career woman might have felt far differently about it, although I still think “fear” is too strong a word for it.

  3. philosophermouseofthehedge Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 11:08 am MDT

    I could have guessed the answer from the person on the street invterviews, but who writes this stuff? And don’t they ask reporters to actually go and talk with actual people who have been through this?
    I guess the “Most feared” topic allows them to only ask to people they ran into – not those actually dealing with cancer.
    They could have actually developed a story and gone into the real issues…but that wouldn’t be cheery for holiday broadcasts.
    My first thought would be all the throwing up (hate stuff forced up through the nose…leaves lasting impression..) then would be the damage to the rest of the body the treatment is doing. Quality of life during.
    Hair? That would be pretty much a non issue for me (I know easy to talk, but all the rest is so much more grim)

    • PiedType Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 11:42 am MDT

      I doubt they interviewed anyone for this story. It was about the new cold cap, and somebody just arbitrarily called hair loss the “most feared” when they were writing the teaser. Probably based on whatever they thought they knew about chemo. (I resisted the temptation to say they just wrote off the top of their head.)

      I feared the nausea and vomiting too, but that was based on old stories I’d heard. They have drugs now that make it a non-issue. Boy was I relieved!

  4. Margie Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 3:43 pm MDT

    I think hair loss was my daughter’s biggest concern – but she was only 16 when she lost her hair! It did grow back after the chemo, but didn’t after the cranial radiation and bone marrow transplant. She understands how much she has to be grateful for, but I know that her almost bald head has been both a badge of honour, and a magnet for cruel comments and stares.

    She eventually became a nurse, and when she first started to work, one of her ‘bosses’ took her aside and suggested she should wear a wig – because she might scare the patients who were going to be getting chemo. My daughter said no, she was not going to wear a wig. A bald head on a nurse would tell patients that people survived cancer.

    • PiedType Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 4:39 pm MDT

      Oh that must have been so difficult for a 16 year old. Everything is an earthshaking event at that age. I am sorry to hear that she eventually lost her hair permanently. I certainly didn’t mean to minimize its importance to other people. It depends so much on the individual case. She certainly has a good attitude about being an example and inspiration to her patients. If she were my nurse, I’d be bringing her my granddaughter’s “magic cupcakes” every day (she makes them special just for my oncology nurses).

      I’ve reached the point where, if I only had a little more confidence, I’d dump the little knit chemo caps I’ve been wearing. I’m sick of them, and they’re no less conspicuous than my nearly bald head would be. (Bandanas look better but need constant adjusting.) I’ve got maybe a 1/2″ to 3/4″ GI Jane look right now. Not all gray, as I’d hoped. Still salt and pepper. That will probably change as the drugs strip every vestige of estrogen from my system.

  5. Margie Wednesday, December 09, 2015 / 6:12 pm MDT

    I’m sorry if you thought you needed to say sorry!

    My daughter gave up wearing wigs because they were so uncomfortable. She wears lots of cute caps and hats, but mostly because her head gets cold!

    Her wedding pictures – bald head. After the wedding ceremony, about a dozen of the people in the wedding party all shaved their heads for charity.

    Her acceptance of her natural looks – maybe that is one small thing she learned from me. She says she appreciates that I have grey/white hair, unfashionably long ‘for my age’, and don’t wear make-up!

    • PiedType Saturday, December 12, 2015 / 12:03 pm MDT

      Bald head at her wedding! Wow, what a fantastic attitude. You must be so proud of her.

"You don’t have to say everything to say something." ~Beth Moore

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