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I Was Never Into Meditating—But This Easy Practice Worked For Me Instead

The ob-gyn’s hands came to a screeching halt as she examined my abdomen. She declared she felt a mass on one ovary, something I had been completely oblivious to, despite the fact that it was, as she said, the size of an orange. The doctor quickly corrected herself: actually, it was the size of a grapefruit. Frankly, I was less concerned about the precise type of citrus than the mere fact of its existence.

I had walked into this doctor’s office for my routine annual gynecologist exam on a beautiful April day, a single, 44-year-old mother to a 7-year-old daughter. I walked out convinced I was a woman who was about to die and never see my girl grow up. The only women I’d heard of with ovarian cancer were Saturday Night Live’s Gilda Radner and Nancy on the TV show thirtysomething.

After extensive surgery, the pathology report declared I had not just one, but two cancers, ovarian and endometrial (that’s the lining of the uterus). To rid me of what I called my “two-for-one deal from hell,” I’d need both chemo and radiation. I spent the summer being pumped full of drugs that killed the remaining cancer cells, along with my hair follicles, appetite, and energy. 

My body felt like it was no longer owned by me. What, I wondered, could help bring me back to myself?

I kept coming back to a local botanical garden. Filled with a profusion of tulips in the spring and bountiful rose bushes in the summer, it was the most beautiful, peaceful place I could imagine within five miles of my home, about as far I was able to travel in those days. In the early mornings on days I wasn’t working, after dropping my daughter off at day camp, I would drive to the gardens and begin my slow amble through its winding paths. Earlier, a friend had mentioned that visualization might help, envisioning myself healthy and whole again. I didn’t put much credence into that at the time—it was just the kind of New Age-y mumbo jumbo I despised.

And yet, as I walked, I’d find myself focusing on breathing in the colors around me and breathing out a blackness that symbolized the cancer. I listened to the chickadees trilling their “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” song, and watched the bees peacefully collect their pollen. It was a walking meditation of sorts, and kept me going through that long cancer year. 

On a paved oval loop around the gardens, I passed turtles sunning themselves on rocks in the pond. Fish flashed beneath the water, while ducks skimmed across its surface. The humid summer melted into fall, and the Japanese maples and dogwoods turned crimson. My arduous slog through chemo finally came to an end. It was time for radiation. The daily schedule of being bombarded with radiation made it hard to get to the gardens often. I had little energy to do more than work, order pizza for dinner, and flop into bed.

But I missed my walks.

I finished radiation on December 31, which couldn’t be more symbolic. Once the weather warmed and the weeping willows were tinged with the first green of spring, I was back at the gardens. After so long submitting to whatever difficult treatment would rid me of cancer, suddenly there was a void: I was told there was nothing I could do to actively keep the cancer at bay. So I just tried to breathe in the essence of the gentle pink cherry blossom petals, and I kept walking.

In 2020, I again found solace in the botanic gardens, first from the chaos and fear of the early days of the pandemic, and then in the summer when the doctors informed me that I have another kind of deal from hell: I have a genetic mutation called Lynch syndrome, which greatly raises the risk of a number of cancers. This means that while I survived often-fatal ovarian cancer, there could be more cancer in my future.

This spring at the botanic gardens, strands of crystals were draped from the wisteria arbor. Each strand symbolizes a person in my county who died of COVID-19. By mid-April, 1,500 strings of crystal dangled from above, reflecting and refracting the warm spring sunlight. The installation is called Facets of Hope.

For those who have lived through both cancer and the pandemic year, the crystals’ dancing light offers a symbolic path out of darkness. They cast rainbows onto nearby walkways and benches. They, like the gardens I’ve visited so many times in times of darkness, are a reminder that even during the most difficult days there can be color, beauty, and peace.

Barbara Ruben is a freelance journalist who has written for The Washington Post and served as managing editor of a group of newspapers for older adults.

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I Knit My Way Through Chemo (And To A Sense of Calm)

In November 2018, I was 37 years old and was just getting back to work after the birth of my second kid when I was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. The year following my diagnosis, I underwent two surgeries, nine rounds of chemotherapy, and countless pokes and prods. I also knitted three sweaters, eight hats, and at least a half dozen mittens. 

Knitting provided a needed escape and brought me a sense of equilibrium and comfort while waiting for a scan. On days that I needed to feel like I could “do something” but couldn’t get out of bed, I’d knit a row, then close my eyes. During that time, balancing the demands of parenting, working, and being a cancer patient often felt like too much, but when I’d pull out my yarn and find my rhythm, I’d quickly find myself breathing more deeply, and lose myself in the knit and purl.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was frankly overwhelmed.

I was worried about the diagnosis itself, and I was scared of surgery and the side effects of chemotherapy, but most of all, I was terrified for my family and my two very young kids. In those first few months, I spent a lot of time simply waiting. Waiting for doctors’ appointments, waiting to get my blood drawn, waiting in the chemo chair. But no matter where I went, no matter how nervous or tired I might be, my knitting was there with me, giving me something to do with my hands and a place to go when I couldn’t be with my cancer.

My mom taught me how to knit back when I was in high school, and I’d taken it up again at various points over the next 20 years: I’d finished a scarf that my mom started before she died, crafted a pair of warm mittens for my boyfriend (now husband), and made myself a hat to survive a Midwest winter. Each time, knitting provided a comforting place to tune out the noise, be with myself, and focus my energy. 

When I carve out time to knit, it always feels like more than a simple distraction—it’s a way that I have learned to be with myself.

Knitting might not be the first thing that people think about when they hear the term self-care. For me, though, running yarn through my fingers and picking a stitch is a way to find ease. When I was diagnosed and undergoing treatment, I knit mostly for my kids. It was a way I could feel close to them when I was scared, and it felt good to make things that I hoped would give them a small sense of how much I loved them. I wanted to pass something on to them that they could hold in their hands and feel the labor and the love that went into each stitch. Knitting was a way to show myself care, just as I was caring for those most vulnerable in my circle.

It also simply felt good to make things—which isn’t to say that it was always easy. Some days, I was able to surrender to the knit and purl. Other days, my hands felt like they barely worked. I suffered from painful neuropathy as well as an immobility that made it nearly impossible to tie my shoelaces and difficult to write anything by hand. I could only clumsily hold a knitting needle. Still, I found the act and process of knitting, albeit sometimes slow, was grounding when I wasn’t feeling well physically or mentally.

A little over a year has passed since I’ve completed my cancer treatment, and knitting has continued to be my go-to activity. My kids are bigger and my projects are a little bigger, too. I still feel like I am always waiting at the doctors’ office, getting blood drawn, or getting scanned, and my knitting continues to come along to each appointment. Sometimes my anxiety from scans is overwhelming, but the knitting provides a welcome meditative hum. I never expected knitting to be the important daily companion it has become in my life, but I’m grateful for its company.

Haley Pollack lives in Oakland, California with her husband, two kids (Mona, 6 and Amira, 3), and dog. Haley is the co-founder and Executive Director of Bright Spot Network, an organization dedicated to supporting families with young children, where a parent faces a cancer diagnosis.

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My Favorite Answer To “What Can I Do”

Cancer introduces challenges to many aspects of our lives. Emotional well-being, of course. Finances, career. And then there’s the mail.

Yes, for someone in cancer treatment, the mailbox can be flat-out scary—a physical representation of new circumstances that are almost certainly frightening. Inside, there are often test results, insurance statements, and, naturally, bills. Making sense of the incoming paperwork can be daunting, and acting on that paperwork is harder still. 

When I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, my mail took an abrupt turn. On many days, not one thing arrived that I was happy to see, while about ten envelopes came that I seriously wished I could ignore.

Enter generous loved ones and the ever-present question: “How can I help?” 

The answer to this question is different for everybody. Many would-be helpers think first of assisting with meals. However, when I was in treatment, my partner was able to do most of the cooking and grocery shopping, for which of course I’m grateful. I live in a major city, so I could take public transit to my scans and my chemo appointments, rather than needing rides. I remember being behind on laundry, but the truth is, I’m often behind on laundry when I’m not in cancer treatment. As in normal times, I caught up on the laundry when I could and tried to accept that I was doing my best. But better mail was something I really wanted help with.

So when loved ones asked what they could do, I told them I’d love for them to mail me cards. And they did not disappoint. I received cards from all over the country and beyond: funny greeting cards, beautiful postcards, cards made by hand. My Aunt Gloria sent me greeting cards from Florida several times a week for months, until my treatment was done. Once in a while, I’d get a package—“little things” chosen to brighten the day. And that was lovely and appreciated, too. Who doesn’t like presents? 

But the cards did so much to ease my heart.

They began to rival even the steady stream of health insurance notifications in frequency, and the sheer volume of them felt so good in comparison. Also, here’s the thing about cards instead of other forms of communication: I couldn’t always answer the phone. I fell behind on responding to emails, and on replying to voicemails, too. But with cards, there was no “falling behind.” I could open them and enjoy them whenever I was able, and then I could reread them. I stored them in a vintage box I found, and sometimes, I reread them still. 

Self-care can take so many forms. The exercise class you make time for, or the one you let yourself miss if you’re just not up for it. Getting the rest you need; making sure to have nourishing and fulfilling meals on hand. I knew that people wanted to hear how I was doing during treatment, and I emailed, texted, and spoke on the phone as often as I could. But I also knew that support I could access on my own schedule—and sometimes, thanks to the steroids I got with chemo, that was in the middle of the night—would bolster me greatly.

Self-care can be identifying help that you need and letting loved ones know what it is, and it can be something as seemingly small as giving your mail an upgrade. To this day, I still hugely appreciate cards in the mail; and knowing how much they can mean, I make sure to send them to others in my life who could use a boost. Sometimes I add in little extras—a snack, a cute accessory; it’s amazing how many enjoyable and affordable possibilities are out there when we have our eyes open for them. But it’s the notes themselves that are the heart of this effort. Funny or flowery, homemade or Hallmark, they send a critical message: You have my support. Whatever you’re facing, you are not facing it alone. 

Writer/editor Pamela Rafalow Grossman focuses mainly on issues related to women’s health, the environment, lost/found communities, and “lesser-known heroes.” Follow her on Twitter at @brooklynpam.

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Swimming As Self-Care: Getting Moving Again After Breast Cancer

Self-care is so important when you have had cancer. It’s a critical time not just to love and pamper your body, which has been through a lot, but to create a new normal for yourself. For me, self-care took the form of finally moving again. 

In my pre-cancer life, I used to take rigorous, twice-a-week bootcamp classes, and during the rest of the week, I’d work out in the gym on machines, run, and swim laps in the local pool. But I have to admit, exercise was sometimes more of a chore than something I truly enjoyed. It was something I knew I “should” do to stay in shape, but I wouldn’t say I really loved it. 

After cancer, exercise took on new meaning for me. 

Working out became something life-affirming that I knew would help me stay healthy, and as I healed, I marveled that my body—which at times I felt had let me down—could be capable of so much.

Initially, I didn’t know if I’d ever move the same way again after my surgery. I wanted to return to my usual routine, but I was afraid of hurting myself. I didn’t want to make any sudden movements for fear that I would burst my stitches, and I was worried about developing lymphedema, a swelling of the arm that’s common after lymph node removal. 

But I also wasn’t used to sitting around being sedentary, so I decided to slowly regain control of my body through exercise. I knew that if I did it right, it would not only be safe, but beneficial to my recovery, long-term survival odds, and sound mind. Many people don’t exercise after diagnosis, even though studies show it can help those recovering from breast cancer especially. I didn’t want that to be me.

So, I headed to my local JCC for a free Moving For Life dance/exercise class, where gentle movement aimed at survivors got me back on the proverbial horse. Then I went back into the water—not to do laps as usual, but into a therapeutic pool where the warm water welcomed my healing body. 

I began looking forward to the weekly water Ai Chi classes.

These classes focused on easy movements designed for folks like me, who were recovering post-surgery. I had never heard of it, but Ai Chi is an aquatic therapy, total body relaxation, and strengthening technique developed in Japan. It uses slow, graceful movements coordinated with deep breathing, similar to Tai Chi. It creates improved range of motion and mobility, and involves the process of learning to let go of tension and worries. Perfect for a cancer survivor.

With the practice of Ai Chi, you can reach a state of relaxation, similar to that of deep meditation. Moving while half-submerged in water also improves blood circulation and corrects posture, lessening the impact on muscles, joints, and sore spots. I know I kind of sound like an ad for Ai Chi right now, and frankly, that’s fine by me—it was that transformative.

There, in the soothing water, I opened my arms, my mind, and my heart. I felt the pressures, concerns, and daily decisions that were bearing down on me release into the water as I glided along. Restorative energy flooded my senses. Each class left me feeling calm, relaxed, and in control. 

Before long, I was back in the swing of things. As I healed, I returned to lap swimming and weight lifting. But I kept going back to those water classes, mostly for the support and camaraderie, as essential to recovery as the movements themselves. It was great to be surrounded by others who had been there and done that—community is also so important for mental health.

Before and after class, we compared notes on doctors, medications, side effects, and what swimsuits worked best for breast cancer patients. We shared our fears and celebrated our milestones. One weekend, some of us even attended a touching memorial for a classmate who didn’t make it. We became more than water buddies or classmates. These were my BFFs (Breast Friends Forever).

There are many lessons I learned on my cancer journey, but chief among them is how important it is to show yourself some love, to find support, and most of all, to just keep moving forward.

Bethany Kandel is a New York city journalist and almost 14-year breast cancer survivor. She created breastcancerfreebies.com to help those diagnosed with breast cancer find free wigs, hats, retreats, make-overs, support groups, and much more. 

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Best Skincare Products For Radiation Therapy

As surreal as they may seem, all those changes you experience in skin color, texture, and feel during radiation therapy are pretty standard. In fact, as many as 90 percent of cancer patients who undergo radiation will experience radiation dermatitis. Those symptoms can range from mild irritation to itchy redness—and even sometimes result in painful sores. 

Because of these changes, it is incredibly important to switch to skincare products that are safe to use during radiation. Bubble baths, exfoliators, scented lotions, perfumes, and even some antiperspirants need to be swapped for gentler, physician-approved products, at least for a little while. However, finding the best radiation skincare products doesn’t have to be a total bummer. There’s still some room for safe pampering even during radiation, as long as the products you’re using are doctor-approved. The most important part of choosing a new radiation-safe skincare routine is to make sure to take any skincare product you’re using to your cancer team and have a doctor review the ingredients before they ever touch radiation-sensitive skin. 

At Happy 2nd Birthday, many of our products are specifically crafted for those undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. But we believe in sharing the love and promoting other brands that also do a great job in this arena—we just want everyone undergoing chemo and radiation therapy to find a product that works for them, and is safe to use. So for those who are wondering what radiation-safe ingredients to look for, here’s a handy guide to choosing the best skincare products for radiation therapy.  

Best soaps for patients undergoing radiation therapy 

During radiation therapy, skin can become red, dry, itchy, and even painful, and it’s pretty understandable that many patients might not be super keen on having the area pelted with shower water while washing with soap. But doctors agree that skin affected by radiation needs to be cleaned every day with a fragrance-free, mild soap in order to reduce the risk of infection. 

When choosing an effective-yet-gentle cleanser for skin during radiation, you’ll want to opt for a formula with a low pH level. The pH indicates how acidic or basic a formula is, and many brands list the pH (which should be somewhere between 4.5-6) right on the label. But even if those numbers aren’t listed, keep in mind that low pH formulas tend to be gel, milky, or creamy, while foaming formulas generally have a higher pH. While it might feel luxurious to treat skin sensitive from radiation to a sudsy lather, it’s probably best to skip the bubbles until after treatment.  

Some great brands that make safe products include Basis and Cetaphil, which are fairly easy to find at most grocery or drug stores, but there are ways to pamper sensitive areas with radiation skincare products that aren’t typical drug store fare, according to Dr. Adam Friedman, dermatologist and professor of medicine at The George Washington University, as long as patients do their homework, consult with their doctors, and use products as directed.

Happy 2nd Birthday’s Calming Creamy Cleanser is another safe radiation skincare product, formulated especially for cancer patients, and deeply hydrating and soothing thanks
to mango seed butter and kukui oil.

“It’s important to use whatever product someone selects
on damp skin and with greater frequency,” says Dr. Friedman.

Best moisturizers for radiation patients

When it comes to effectively moisturizing during the radiation process, skin dryness pretty much comes with the territory. When choosing a moisturizer to soothe inflamed skin, Dr. Friedman says there are three key ingredients to look for:

  • Emollient (e.g. glycol/glyceryl stearate, soy sterols) to lubricate and soften skin
  • Occlusive (e.g. petrolatum, dimethicone, mineral oil) to ‘seal’ and prevent evaporation of water. Silicone derivatives like dimethicone or cyclomethicone are recommended.
  • Humectant (e.g. glycerol, lactic acid, urea, hyaluronic acid) to attract and hold water  

At different stages of the radiation process, skin needs different levels of moisture, according to breastcancer.org. In the first stages of treatment, when skin is normal or perhaps slightly pink, moisturizing with fragrance-free formulas like Eucerin, Aquaphor, Biafine, or Radiacare following treatment can help soothe irritation.

Happy 2nd Birthday’s Oil-Free Daily Moisturizer is also a safe radiation skincare product with added benefits from the soothing properties of jojoba and smoothing properties of apple extract. 

As the radiation process continues, skin may begin to itch and burn. Aloe vera or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help. And as skin becomes more irritated as part of the radiation process and over-the-counter solutions are no longer effective, consult your doctor about stronger radiation skincare products like prescription steroid creams, which can reduce symptoms. 

Best sunblocks for protecting skin post-radiation therapy 

One incredibly important part of keeping skin safe and healthy before, during, and after radiation therapy is keeping skin safe from the sun. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, anyone who has had radiation treatments has a higher risk of developing skin cancer in that area. Because skin cancer can show up any time—even years later—this makes sun protection essential for life. Of course, the best way to keep skin safe from sun damage is to avoid the sun entirely, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and also by covering up with hats, sunglasses, long sleeves, and pants. However, simply staying indoors covered from head to toe is not exactly a long-term solution. 

Most experts recommended covering unhealed scars, sores, or rashes completely to avoid sun damage. But for those whose symptoms are mild, choosing a fragrance-free sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher, letting it dry for 30 minutes before sun exposure, and reapplying every half hour or so can mean enjoying worry-free fun in the sun. But because skin is ultra-sensitive during radiation, doctors may have more specific sunscreen recommendations, so as with any other product, it’s important to ask, bring the product you’re considering using, and make a plan. 

Radiation therapy is certainly no spa day (in fact, patients often can’t even have those until treatment ends, because there’s no end to the ways in which radiation is unfair). But while a day at a literal spa may not be in the cards, a skincare plan approved by a doctor full of soothing, moisture-rich radiation skincare products can help give patients a little peace of mind during an incredibly stressful time.   

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The Creative Process That Made Cancer (Slightly) Less Terrible

Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. It can be a great characteristic that sets you apart in your work, especially in a field like mine—I’m a makeup artist by trade. My sharp eye for detail and drive to create pristinely symmetrical looks is one of the reasons I’ve been successful in my business. But when a basal cell carcinoma had to be removed from my forehead a few years ago, I had to reimagine my relationship with this trait completely.

The surgery was lengthy, and my doctors had to go in three times to remove all of the cancer cells, a process that left a hole in my forehead the size of a nickel. Afterwards, I experienced a lot of bruising and swelling that traveled all the way to my jawline. My left eyebrow was pushed down by the swelling, so I looked like I had a permanently sad expression on my face.

For a while there, my face looked like one of those Greek theater masks—the muse of Tragedy, not Comedy.

It was frankly unsettling to see myself like that, so while all of this was going on, I knew I needed something to distract myself. I created a new blog, which I called I Dream Of Italy, and started writing articles and editing photographs for it. The blog featured short essays and photographs documenting previous trips to Venice and Rome, recounting anecdotes of the people I met and quirky interactions I had. I’ve always loved photography, and I discovered I really enjoyed sharing my photographs online, even if my audience was quite small. Instead of striving for perfection, my goal for my blog was humble: I wasn’t trying to become a famous travel writer or get a series on the Travel Channel, I just wanted to develop a creative outlet where I could make something positive in a time when looking in the mirror felt hard.

I discovered that a life-altering experience like cancer—even when it isn’t life-threatening—is a time to look inward and discover what you really want to do with your time. So often, those true desires are drowned out by the loud demands of daily life. So in some ways, it’s the perfect time to reinvent yourself, or at least try something you’ve always wanted to try.

Cancer makes you listen to yourself.

I’m so glad that I developed my blog during my recovery. As soon as I started working on it, I knew I had discovered a form of respite: whenever I’m immersed in writing and photo editing, the creative impulse takes over, and I’m pulled entirely into my work. I stop worrying about being perfect, and I even forget what I look like.

After the bruising and swelling healed, I was left with a scar and some small indentations where the stitches had been. The surgery permanently altered my left eyebrow, raising the edge that is closest to the bridge of the nose; the result was exactly the opposite of what you’d ask for if you had a brow lift. I learned to fill in my brows in a way to create more symmetry, but not before going back to the plastic surgeon to ask what could be done about my uneven brows. His proposed solution was to make the scar even wider and raise the brow over the right eye, too. That did not seem like an actual solution to me, and I declined.

The scar that I have still runs from brow to brow, but I Dream of Italy became something much bigger and more important than I’d ever imagined. I changed the name to Adventures of a Carry-On; I wanted to explore more and travel further afield than Italy, so I reinvented my blog as a place where I could do that. Now I travel to and write about new destinations all the time, and I’m gaining new readership. Following a creative pursuit was so important to help my healing, but it also led me in a new life direction, one I’m endlessly grateful for.

Penny Sadler is a Texas-based makeup artist, travel, wine writer, and photographer. Find her on Instagram at @adventuresofacarryon and check out her stories on adventuresofacarryon.com 

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Are Those Dark Nails Cause for Concern? Dermatologists Weigh in on Why Nails Turn Black During Chemo

For all the questions and concerns most cancer patients bring to their doctors before chemotherapy treatment, “Does chemo make your nails black?” is generally not at the top of the list. But perhaps the unexpectedness of the change is part of the reason dark, blackish nails during chemotherapy are so concerning.

And though the dark nails look a little frightening, the mystery of exactly why nails turn black during chemo actually has a rather harmless, if not exactly pretty, explanation. Here are some tips from two top dermatologists on what to do if chemo makes your nails black.

Why do nails turn black during chemo?

According to Dr. Jonathan Leventhal, director of the Onco-Dermatology Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale, chemotherapy, especially those involving taxanes, can mean many types of changes to nails, including brittleness, infections, a lifting of the nail plate from the nail bed—which is called onycholysis—and even thinning or loss of the nail itself. If you’re experiencing darkened nails, it’s probably a result of bleeding under lifted nail plates.

“Many patients experience hemorrhage or bleeding under the lifting nail plate with taxanes, which can make nails look dark purple or black in color,” Dr. Leventhal says. “Pigmentation that is dark brown may also occur horizontally or vertically on nails likely due to inflammation of the proximal nail unit, which results in pigmentary activation.”

Is there anything to be done about those dark nails?

While there’s no simple cream or ointment that can be applied to nails that will make them magically clear again, there are a few options for patients experiencing darkened nails as a result of chemotherapy.

Dr. Nicole LeBoeuf, director of The Program in Skin Toxicities from Anticancer Therapies at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, says that using ice packs during chemotherapy could actually reduce a patient’s chances of seeing these changes to nails in the first place. She recommends placing bags of ice wrapped in a towel on both fingernails and toenails for 15 minutes before a chemotherapy infusion, and again for 15 minutes after. Amazon actually sells “chemo mitts” to help simplify this process, though they aren’t necessary. And if the ice is too much to take for a full 15 minutes, Dr. LeBoeuf says that “any cooling is better than no cooling,” so if you can get a few minutes in, that’s great.

Dr. Leventhal also recommends vinegar soaks for hands and feet. Mix one cup white vinegar with one to two cups of water and soak hands and feet after treatment both to treat infections before they become a problem and to deal with the unfortunate smell that is sometimes a byproduct of these infections.

Usually, when it comes to problems during chemotherapy, such as hair loss or itchy, flaky skin, the doctor-approved solution is not to touch it, or if you do, use some sort of boring, colorless cream. But the good news about darkened nails, at least for those who enjoy getting glam, is that it’s perfectly okay to hide them underneath a few coats of nail polish.

Making an appointment to have fingernails professionally painted (or doing so at home) is definitely an option available to those experiencing dark or black nails during chemo, should that be of interest. Just to be clear, we’re absolutely not suggesting that anyone should feel the need to cover up nails that have turned black due to chemo—but if it makes you feel good to be taken care of this way, it’s an option that you can safely enjoy. While Dr. LeBoeuf notes that those undergoing chemotherapy should skip having manicurists push back or clip cuticles or use harsh pumice stones (basically anything that could open skin up to infection), it is perfectly okay to paint over those dark nails until they grow out again.

There are so many parts of chemotherapy that are sucky and unfair, and unfortunately, the ultimate answer to the question “why do nails turn black during chemo” is simply that, at its core, chemotherapy is sucky and unfair. (As previously mentioned, it’s also that there’s often some bleeding under the nails after chemo, but, you know, the cosmic answer is the one that really deals with the suckiness and unfairness of it all.) The good news is that following treatment, nails should absolutely grow back good (and clear) as new, though that good news is wrapped up in a bit of bad—the growing-out process could take as long as a year.

And as always, if nails are so painful that they’re interfering with your quality of life or even if you’re looking for a few more insights into why your nails turn black during chemo, along with advice about what to do about it, have your oncologist recommend a dermatologist who will be happy to both listen and offer personalized solutions.

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Hormone Swings Giving You Acne During Pregnancy? These 6 Derm-Approved Ways Can Make Your Skin Healthier

Pregnancy is a time of both immense joy and, let’s be honest, some extreme discomfort. Growing a human inside your body is absolutely one of life’s great miracles, but it’s also often weird, disconcerting, and frankly gross. The road to meeting your baby can be long and winding, with exciting new obstacles that pop up, and nobody’s experience is identical to another: some women have to deal with daily bouts of morning sickness, while others happily indulge in cravings; some spend their lunch hour napping at their desk, while others are happy to wake up early for prenatal yoga. Take a peek at any pregnant woman’s google search history, and you’ll find a plethora of questions, including “Do you get acne while pregnant?” The answer for many women, unfortunately, is a resounding yes.

Clear, glowing skin is one of the pregnancy perks you hear about most often, but it isn’t always a given, as some women experience acne during pregnancy. “It is thought that acne develops during pregnancy largely due to hormonal changes,” says Dr. S. Tyler Hollmig, the Director of Dermatologic Surgery and Director of Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology at Ascension Texas. “This is especially true during the first and second trimester when progesterone levels increase, which may cause excess oil production by glands in the skin. This oil production may clog pores and lead to buildup of bacteria and inflammation.”

Acne after IVF meds is another hurdle some women can experience. “This typically occurs due to varying hormone levels from IVF treatments,” Dr. Hollmig says. “And it should be co-managed with a dermatologist and reproductive endocrinologist, as hormone levels are so critical to a successful pregnancy in these scenarios.”

There’s a lot to think about while pregnant, and bad skin should be the least of your worries. Here are six dermatologist-approved tips to avoid acne while pregnant and maintain that pregnancy glow you hear about so often. 

1. To Beat Acne During Pregnancy, Simplify Your Skincare Routine

Pregnancy is not the time to test out that elaborate ten-step beauty regime you keep reading about. When it comes to taking care of your skin, uncomplicated is best. According to Dr. Hollmig, it’s smart to steer clear of harsher products in favor of those made with gentler ingredients. “Pregnant women should avoid treatments for acne that are unsafe. These include prescription products such as isotretinoin (a powerful, Vitamin A-based acne treatment known to cause severe birth defects), topical retinoids, spironolactone, and tetracycline antibiotics.”

If you’re thinking, “But that rules out some of the most effective acne-fighting ingredients out there!” then unfortunately, you’re correct. Avoiding harsh-but-effective ingredients is just one of those extra-not-fun side effects of having acne while pregnant. However, all hope is not lost—there are still some ways to get your skin back on track while keeping your kiddo safe.

2. Opt For Pregnancy-Safe, Acne-Busting Products

There are still answers to your acne-filled prayers, however. “Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as azelaic acid, may be safely used during pregnancy—but as with everything, they’re best used under the guidance of a physician,” Dr. Hollmig says, noting that skincare products like gentle cleansers are helpful, as well.

Mostly, you want to treat your skin kindly when you’re pregnant. “Limit washing to twice daily, and avoid aggressive scrubbing and exfoliation—this can help reduce skin irritation,” Dr. Hollmig says. And if you are wondering about acne treatment while nursing, it isn’t much different. “Most meds that are contraindicated during pregnancy should not be used during breastfeeding, or should be used cautiously under a dermatologist’s guidance,” he says.

3. One Great Way To Avoid Acne While Pregnant: Stay Hydrated

Given that alcohol is (temporarily!) off the table, staying hydrated is a lot easier—but the truth is, upping your water intake is probably one of the first pieces of advice you’ll receive from any doctor while you’re pregnant. “Drinking plenty of water is helpful during pregnancy, as there is a large expansion in blood volume required to carry a healthy pregnancy,” says Dr. Hollmig. “Drinking too little water may adversely affect the skin.” Most women experience an elevated level of thirst while pregnant, but if you find yourself needing reminders to hydrate, try investing in a sleek water bottle you actively enjoy drinking out of—or logging your intake with a phone app. A couple slices of lemon, cucumber, or strawberry floating in your water lend some serious, healthy flavor, and can make you feel extra fancy, to boot.

4. Eat Smart (…At Least When You’re Not Having Serious Cravings)

Look, we’re not going to tell any pregnant person to put down the chips and ice cream—we’re neither cruel, nor are we gluttons for punishment in the form of hate mail. But the truth is, fueling your body and the growth of your baby with the best nutrients is also super important, and the food you eat can also affect your skin. “Certain studies show a high sugar and high dairy diet may worsen acne, so avoiding overconsumption of these items may be helpful,” Dr. Hollmig says. So, if your cravings have died down and you’re just finishing up the ice cream not because you really want it anymore, but just because it’s taking up room in the freezer, it may be worth handing it off to a partner to finish instead (that powerful combo of sugar and dairy may exacerbate having acne while pregnant, after all).

5. Log Those Zzzzs

“Healthy sleep habits are important for skin health in and out of pregnancy,” Dr. Hollmig says. To feel your best while pregnant, pay attention to your body and prioritize sleep whenever possible. Not only does the pregnancy hormone progesterone cause acne, it’s also the culprit for the extreme bouts of fatigue that some women experience during their first trimester. This is the time to indulge in a midday nap or early bedtime without feeling guilty. You’re growing a human being, for crying out loud! Once you hit your third trimester, a pregnancy pillow is key for finding a comfortable and safe position for sleep.

6. Clean Up Anything That Touches Your Face

Personal hygiene is always a good idea, and can help keep your skin in tip-top shape both in and out of pregnancy. “Bacterial overgrowth is a potential cause of acne. Maintaining clean linens, clean hair, and even cleaning your cell phone all may help reduce acne,” says Dr. Hollmig. This one’s honestly a great tip for beating acne while pregnant and after—of course your phone can cause acne, but that hadn’t occurred to us at all before!