Ten Common physical changes of people with cancer

07 Mar 2021

When you, a friend, or a family member gets diagnosed with cancer, you might experience some sudden physical changes. It's important to realize what these changes are and what is causing them.


There are some common physical changes shared by many people with cancer. The cancer itself causes some of these changes, and others result from side effects of cancer treatment. Keep in mind that each cancer journey is different. You may or may not experience any of the following:


  • Hair loss, including eyebrows and eyelashes
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Appetite loss or increase
  • Changes in how things taste or smell
  • Extreme tiredness called fatigue 
  • Pale skin and lips, or changes in skin color
  • Disfigurement (for example, the loss of a limb or a breast after cancer surgery)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems with sleep
  • Poor concentration (often referred to as a chemo brain)


For many people with cancer, the hardest side effect to deal with is fatigue. We've seen this all around us with people that go through cancer, and it is not limited to cancer patients themselves. Also, friends and relatives can be so overwhelmed by a cancer diagnosis and the changes it brings that this extreme tiredness often hits them too. 


Feeling fatigued can be overwhelming and surprisingly present even long after treatment ends. It can take a long time to heal after surgery, and the tiredness can stay for months after an operation. Chemotherapy can involve many weeks of strong medicines that worsen fatigue as the body heals. Radiation treatment can cause extreme fatigue as well, and some people even never get back to their original energy levels. The experience of stress and emotional concerns might also play a role in this, which adds to the exhaustion. 


So you're not alone in this exhausting journey. Be kind to yourself and to others when you feel fatigued or experience some of the other physical changes above. Don't beat yourself up to be the energized person you used to be soon after a diagnosis or treatment. It might take a long time, or it might stay forever. Either way, it's a journey, and everybody experiences it in their own way. But be kind, and take that nap if you need one. Or two. Whatever works best for you. It might even be three and a good bath, book, or hug. ;-) 

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