Chemo Side Effects: Nails, Hair, and Chemo Brain
Last updated: August 2023
My husband describes cancer as "cells gone wild." Normal, healthy cells take one for the team and terminate themselves when they've reached their end.
But cancerous cells are not team players, and when they should call it quits, they refuse and keep multiplying out of control. Cancer cells are fast-growing cells without brakes.
Let's talk about some more side effects of chemotherapy-related nail thinning, hair loss, and confusion caused by chemo brain.
The impact of chemo on nails and hair
Chemotherapy works by targeting and killing ALL fast-growing cells in our bodies. The problem is that cancer cells are not the only fast-growing cells in our bodies. Hair, nail, and stomach cells grow quickly.
Thus, cancer patients struggle with hair loss, nail weakening, and ever-lovely stomach issues.
Hair follicles are susceptible to some chemotherapies because those cells multiply rapidly, just like the cancer cells. Hair loss is one of the most challenging chemo side effects for people, especially women. But not all chemo causes hair loss.
I lost my hair (and shaved the rest) during stage 1 cancer. But thankfully, as for most people, my hair grew back.
But when stage 4 cancer hit, I underwent 15 rounds of full brain radiation. This seemed to have permanently killed my hair follicles. I've been rocking a bald head for the last 8 years.
I used to have beautiful, long, curly hair. As a woman, losing my hair has been painful. I saw an old picture of myself the other day on Facebook, and I started crying. Most days, I'm okay with it now, but it still hurts.
I've tried wigs, but they're too hot and scratchy for me, so I either wear cute beanie hats or go "nude."
Thin and brittle nails
My nails have also taken a real beating because of chemotherapy. They're now thin and break easily. They have odd bumps and rolls in some of the bigger ones, and they've gotten yellow and unhealthy looking.
How I cope with hair and nail loss
I remind myself that I'm still alive. I'll trade my hair for life any day. When I was first re-diagnosed, an oncologist predicted I had only 4-6 months to live. Yesterday, I just passed the 8-year mark!
- During stage 1 cancer, when I noticed my hair falling out, I got a cute short haircut.
- Eventually, I shaved it off and chose to stand proud rather than hide. Over the years, God has used my bald head to open conversations and help many people.
- I have a collection of cute hats, beanies, and scarves.
- I use therapeutic lotions and sunscreen on my head.
- I apply a nail strengthening polish to my nails regularly.
- I take daily vitamins to support nail health and try to stay hydrated. Many doctors and nutritionists recommend Biotin.
What are the side effects of chemo brain?
Chemo can cause confusion, cognitive problems, memory problems and memory loss, seizures, balance and movement issues.1
I remember experiencing chemo brain from the time I started chemo during stage 1 cancer. It's a foggy-minded feeling. But I also had memory lapses and forgetfulness.
Memory loss and forgetfulness have led to some stressful situations in my marriage, like several times when I've lost the car keys, ATM cards, medications, and phone. I would simply forget where I put things, even just 15 minutes before.
How I cope with chemo brain
- I put things back where they're supposed to go, like hanging the car keys on the hook on the wall or in my purse.
- I write important notes on sticky notes and in my cell phone.
- I ask my husband Joel to help me remember things.
- I set alarms on my phone to remind me to take medications.
- I hang a wall calendar in my bathroom with important appointments, events, and medication reminders.
Thankfully, Joel has a great memory and is the king of sticky notes. He helps me manage my forgetfulness. So, do you have any tricks or home remedies to help with hair and nails or chemo brain? Please share in the comments.
What side effects have you experienced as a result of chemotherapy? (check all that apply)
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.