When you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, looking good is probably the last thing on your mind. But for breast cancer survivor Caitlin M. Kiernan, the outward physical changes she experienced had a devastating psychological impact.
“For me, it was that cancer not only turned my life upside down, but it took away everything that allowed me to represent myself as an individual woman — my style, my personality,” recalls the journalist. “The health crisis, I had people helping me manage; but when it came to helping me manage my own body, I was really lost.”
Lucky for Kiernan, years as a reporter in the fashion and beauty space had gained her a rolodex of beauty experts, such as celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson and dermatologist Dr. Heidi Waldorf, who she sought out for advice on how to navigate the side effects she was dealing with.
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“Cancer is one of those diseases that once you begin treatment it goes from a private experience to a very public experience,” says Kiernan. With their tips, she not only felt better, but she noticed that people were less likely to tell she was suffering from cancer.
The 46-year-old, who is now three years cancer-free, wanted to share her knowledge with other women, too, so she wrote ”Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women With Cancer," out this month from Grand Central Life & Style. She shares advice for combating key trouble areas, from hair loss to sexual dysfunction.
Hair and nails
Chemotherapy can cause your hair to fall out and your nails to become brittle and fall off. To treat both issues, Kiernan recommends cold cap therapy, which helps protect hair follicles and nail beds.
When it comes to picking out a wig, Kiernan says go with synthetic over real-hair. The latter is too expensive (starts at $500) and requires too much upkeep — you have to wash it and blow-dry it. A synthetic wig is much more affordable (starts at $35) and easy to manage, and if you want to try a different style or color, you won’t break the bank switching one out.
As for nails, she recommends making a habit of applying hand cream and cuticle oil on a daily basis. “It won’t keep your nails from falling out, but it will help allow them to grow in stronger and healthier,” she says.
Another side-effect of chemo: Skin becomes dry, irritated and discolored, often skewing yellowing — for women of all races. To cover up problem skin, she suggests a thick foundation — one that’s “wax-based and gives you a more opaque coverage” — with a subtle yellow undertone, if possible.
As for treating scars, Kiernan recommends compression therapy: Apply silicone-based treatments, such as Scar Away patches, 7-10 days after surgery to help you heal.
“Any problem that you have in your mouth is going to get ten times worse the minute you start chemotherapy,” says Kiernan. Whether you need to get a tooth pulled or have a root canal, make your appointment before you begin cancer treatment, if possible. If you ignore the problem, you’re more susceptible to developing a bacterial infection that could cause you to stop your chemotherapy.
“90 percent of women who go through treatment for cancer experience some kind of sexual dysfunction,” says Kiernan. Whether that’s dry vagina or difficulty achieving orgasm, Kiernan advises talking to your gynecologist about the changes you’re experiencing. There are things you can do — from pelvic floor exercises, to vaginal moisturizers, to laser treatments, such as those offered by former Real Housewife of New York Cindy Barshop at her spa VSPOT — to help restore your vaginal health.