Although I haven’t had breast cancer, I’m in contact with many people who have it or are recovering from it. So I wanted to cover it for breast cancer awareness month. I own a day spa where we often care for women with breast cancer and those in recovery, so I hear first-hand how it affects them and their families.
I attended a CMBCP educational evening with a girlfriend earlier this year, both to support her and to learn more about the support available through the CMBCP and the Sunshine Coast Private Hospital Breast Clinic.
The more I know about breast cancer, the better I can support women who have breast cancer, both personal friends and guests at ikatan Day Spa.
This particular educational evening was about dealing with gynaecological and sexual issues, some of which are covered here.
Gynecologist Beverley Powell presented first, focusing on how breast cancer affects hormones and creates physical, mental and psychological changes. We’ll be focusing on physical changes here.
While I knew about and understood many of the problems associated with breast cancer, I wasn’t aware of all the issues or how extreme some of the problems can be. At the same time, I learnt there are some amazing professionals who specialise in assisting with the most intimate problems.
Here are five effects of breast cancer I learnt about:
1. Dry itchy skin is normal after breast cancer
Medication, coupled with lower estrogen levels, can reduce the body’s ability to retain moisture and cause the skin to produce fewer natural oils.
I deal with different skin types on a daily basis but didn’t realise how dry skin can impact on a person’s life and even feel like ants crawling under the skin.
Tip: Beverly suggested eating a healthy diet, including quality oils such as coconut and olive oil to reduce the symptoms of dry, irritable skin. Organic body lotions and creams can help but avoid products with petrochemical or phytoestrogen ingredients.
2. Vaginal dryness
Silicone lubricants are the best choice to combat vaginal dryness and are available at supermarkets and pharmacies. Beverly advised that products like Vaseline and pawpaw ointment (which contains Vaseline) should be avoided as they contain phytoestrogens and are petrochemicals.
Using a lubricant can relieve the painful symptoms of vaginal dryness, including painful sexual intercourse.
It’s best to avoid products containing parabens which are in many skin care products, but there are plenty of paraben-free lubricants available.
3. Hair loss down there
We all know chemotherapy can cause hair loss and many women lose all their body hair including underarm hair, eyebrows and pubic hair. It’s a normal side effect of chemo.
Despite the popularity of Brazilian waxes, pubic hair is there for protection and helps with maintaining healthy bacteria in the genital area. When women lose their pubic hair, from chemotherapy, Brazilian waxing or laser hair removal, it can create vaginal and genital problems associated with less protection from pubic hair.
Tip: Beverly advises against the use of soap on the genital area as it upsets the natural bacterial balance. Avoid antibacterial products too as they kill good bacteria as well as bad bacteria which can lead to imbalances in the body and cause issues like thrush.
4. Tight pelvic floor muscles
Medication and the treatment of breast cancer can affect hormones and cause the vaginal wall to become atrophied and dry. The pelvic floor muscles tighten or contract causing discomfort and painful sex.
While the physical problems of a dry vagina or tight pelvic floor muscles make sense when explained, it’s not something you may think of seeking help for. It’s such a personal problem and a lot of women think it’s just happening to them.
If you’ve got breast cancer and are feeling these effects, you’re not alone. This can be a normal side effect of breast cancer.
Fortunately, there are specialised physiotherapists around who focus on helping release tension through the vagina and pelvic floor. It’s an intimate area to have treated as the physiotherapist needs to work on releasing the sling of muscles through the pubic and hip area, but it’s such a relief to release the tension and pain it causes.
Physiotherapists who offer pelvic floor release have trained specifically to treat this area. As professionals, they understand and how uncomfortable this can be for the person being treated and will explain everything to make it as easy as possible.
5. Bone density loss
During and after breast cancer, bone density can drop significantly due to a drop in estrogen. However, you can improve your bone strength with weight-bearing exercise.
Beverly stressed the importance of regular weight-bearing exercises such as weight training, yoga, walking and non-buoyant aqua classes to increase and maintain bone density. Cycling and swimming are not weight-bearing exercises because your body weight is supported by a bike or water.
Although it wasn’t easy hearing about these issues I’m so glad I attended the event. The other women there spoke about how nice it was to feel informed and feel normal.
I came away feeling I’d learnt a lot of useful information that could help spa guests affected by breast cancer. I’ve used this information to educate my therapists and am so happy we offer organic products at ikatan Day Spa.
If you’ve got breast cancer or you know someone who has, I hope you found this information helpful.
For more information about support and educational events contact the Cindy Mackenzie Breast Cancer Program.To practice good self-care book a massage, facial or other treatment at your favourite day spa or drop hints about gift vouchers!
For self-care book a massage, facial or other treatment at your favourite day spa or drop hints about gift vouchers to friends and family!
If you’re on the Sunshine Coast or in Brisbane, all our therapists are trained in caring for women with breast cancer, including those who’ve had a mastectomy. We would always love to care for you at ikatan Day Spa near Noosa.