Long-Term Side Effects of Cancer Treatments

If you have or ever had a friend or relative go through cancer treatment and survive, you might all too well understand why sometimes these patients are not so happy about the “alive” part when facing horrible side effects for years to come.

Unfortunately, I am that person with a dear friend who is that patient. She feels like cancer has taken everything. She can no longer provide financially for herself. She had ribs randomly break, her femur bone in her left leg broke while she was just standing, and many days of work were missed as a direct result of not sleeping for days on end.

She cannot perform her duties as a chef because she’s exhausted, has neuropathy in her feet, and cannot stand for more than a few minutes. And to add insult to injury, all the countless trips to the bathroom because of the digestive side effects.

Home health has come into her home on many occasions over the last few years. Thank goodness for them; they get it because they see it on a daily basis. They tried to educate and help her family understand her struggles better while inadvertently providing my friend with much-needed emotional support. You can’t put a price on that. She called those nurses her “superheroes” and she meant it.

But the hard part is witnessing how other friends and family have reacted to her agonizing journey. Instead of being supportive, a lot of people act as though she is ungrateful somehow. That she “should be happy to be alive.” But should she? Should anyone have to go through all of this for years and be told they should be happy about it? I don’t think so.

Cancer treatment does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how strong or healthy you were before the diagnosis. The treatments will ravage your body, inside and out. Some of the long-term side effects of cancer treatment include:

  • Sleeping disorders
  • Dental disorders
  • Generalized fatigue
  • Sexual side effects
  • Mental fogginess
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Neuropathy
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Osteoporosis

These are just some of the more common long-term side effects patients face. But each person is different and will experience different things.

Chemo, specifically, can also cause other more specific side effects, such as:

  1. Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
  2. Leukopenia (low white blood cell counts)
  3. Thrombocytopenia (low platelet counts)
  4. Fatigue
  5. Loss of appetite
  6. Mouth and throat soreness
  7. Skin and nail changes
  8. Early menopause

If you know someone who is a cancer survivor, please be understanding if they’re not as “happy” as you think they should be. They’ve been through a lot and are still fighting every day.

Why does chemo cause side effects?

According to the American Cancer Society, “cancer cells tend to grow fast, and chemo drugs kill fast-growing cells. But because these drugs travel throughout the body, they can affect normal, healthy cells that are fast-growing, too. Damage to healthy cells causes side effects.

The normal cells most likely to be damaged by chemo are:

  • Blood-forming cells in the bone marrow
  • Hair follicles
  • Cells in the mouth, digestive tract, and reproductive system

Some chemo drugs can damage cells in the heart, kidneys, bladder, lungs, and nervous system. Sometimes, you can take medicines with the chemo to help protect your body’s normal cells. There are also treatments to help relieve side effects.

The most common side effects from chemo happen because it lowers the levels of healthy blood cells in your body. These cells fight infection, help with blood clotting, and carry oxygen to all parts of your body,”. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy/chemotherapy-side-effects.html

Long-term psychological effects of cancer

A cancer diagnosis can affect the emotional health of patients, families, and caregivers. Common feelings during this life-changing experience include anxiety, distress, and depression. Roles at home, school, and work can be affected. It’s important to recognize these changes and get help when needed.

Counseling and support groups can be beneficial. There are also many online resources available. For example, the National Cancer Institute’s PDQ® Cancer Information Summaries for patients have more information on cancer-related emotional issues.

It is common for cancer survivors to experience anxiety and depression. These feelings may be caused by the cancer itself or by the treatment. Some late effects of cancer treatment can also lead to psychological problems. Survivors need help in finding ways to manage anxiety and depression. Some people find counseling, support groups, and online resources helpful.

Cancer survivors may worry about the cancer coming back (recurrence). They may also worry about other health problems related to the cancer or its treatment. For example, people who have had radiation therapy to the chest area may worry about heart disease.

Some may also have trouble sleeping, feel tired all the time (fatigue), or have physical problems that make it hard to do everyday activities. These problems can make it hard to cope with the emotional effects of cancer.

Some may have trouble with sexual side effects, both men and women. These problems can affect relationships, fertility, desire, and hopes for the future.

Psychological impact of cancer on the family

Cancer affects family and friends, not just the person with the disease. The people in your life may also feel worried, angry, or afraid. Family members may be very supportive, or they may start acting differently toward you.

Talking about your feelings with the people in your life is essential. You may want to join a support group for cancer survivors and their families.

Cancer can take a toll on relationships. The demands of treatment can cause stress and conflict. Some people find that some of their relationships get stronger while others get weaker. You learn who your ride-or-die folks are real quick.

It is common for people with cancer to feel sad, anxious, or depressed. Because of this, they may not be the same person they were before their diagnosis. Instead, they are confused, worried, and uncertain about who they are.

They need us just to sit and “be” with them. Let them feel their feelings, and don’t try to “make it better” just because you want it to be that way. Sure, it is normal to feel that way. Of course, I want my friend to feel better psychologically and spiritually. She’s been broken, had many surgeries, and many of the above-mentioned side effects, and still, things don’t seem to be moving in a better direction yet. Hopefully, it does. But it might not, and that sucks. You just have to be there for them as best you can.

If you are a caregiver of someone with cancer, it is vital to take care of yourself, too. Make sure to eat healthy foods, exercise, and get enough rest. You may also want to join a support group for caregivers of people with cancer.

Long-term side effects of cancer treatments

Long-term side effects of cancer treatments will have emotional, psychological, spiritual, and of course, physical effects, but if the people surrounding these people are truly empathetic, compassionate, informed and non-judgmental it will make this battle much more manageable. Resources are available to help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help when you need it.

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