Your Comprehensive Guide to Aesthetic
Issues During Cancer Treatment

Frequently Asked Questions: Topics

Breast Reconstruction

Q. I know that I need a mastectomy but I really do not want to have a huge scar across my chest. Is there anything that can be done to minimise the scar?

Luckily the days when mastectomy meant that breasts, lymph nodes and underlying chest muscle were removed are behind us! A woman and her surgeon have many options. Improved mastectomy procedures allow for faster healing and many surgeons today perform popular skin sparing mastectomies. A skin-sparing mastectomy is a way to treat cancer, and save the breast skin. In so doing it causes much less scarring than a traditional mastectomy. The skin-sparing procedure removes cancerous breast tissue through a small incision usually around the areola area of the nipple. The breast tissue on the affected side is removed through a small hole near the nipple. The skin is not marred by large horizontal scars!

It is very important to tell your doctors of your concerns about how your body will look and involve a plastic surgeon in your decision-making. One-third of 700 primary care physicians who were surveyed said they did not refer breast cancer patients to plastic surgeons because they did not know enough about reconstruction. “Making plans for breast reconstruction at the same time as cancer surgery can speed a women on the path of psychological, as well as physical, recovery.”—“ Rhonda L. Rundle, Health Reporter, Wall Street Journal.

For more information about breast reconstruction, see our forthcoming book!

Dental Health

Q. Chemotherapy has made my mouth so dry and uncomfortable! Is there anything I can do?

A. Yes, there are many remedies to this very common problem. Here are just a few:

Try sucking on ice chips or cubes during the day. Sounds simplistic but it’s scientifically proven! The coldness of the ice decreases the blood flow to the mouth and can reduce the mouth’s exposure to chemotherapy drugs and therefore dryness and mouth sores. In addition to sucking on ice chips, consider using them about 5 minutes before your chemotherapy treatment and during the first 30 minutes, according to a 2009 article in Journal of Implant & Advanced Clinical Dentistry.
Try a toothpaste made for dry mouth like those by Biotene.
Try a high-fluoride toothpaste. Your dentist can recommend one.
Speak to your dentist if the dryness is really painful: s/he may prescribe a spray like Optimoist Mouth Spray or Pilocarpine HCI, a drug that increases salivary flow.
For a natural remedy, you might try Borage Oil. Check in with your oncology team, of course.

For more information about dental health, see our forthcoming book!

Emotional Support

Q. I was recently diagnosed. I feel that I will NEVER be normal again.

A. When we began Surviving Beautifully, we were not sure whether to include “emotional support” category into a project designed to mostly deal with body, beauty and aesthetic issues faced by cancer fighters.  Yet, the question of “Will I ever feel normal again?” was the first question we heard from those recently diagnosed! There is no denying the fact that cancer diagnosis is a terrible and life-changing shock. And this stress can affect your emotional health, looks and healing.

The fight against cancer is gruelling and often a lonely road. Yet, remind yourself that you have choices in the way to prepare for your journey and in the way you present yourself to the rest of the world. Having control over the way you look and having answers to your aesthetic challenges will allow you to transcend and not just cope with this stage of your life. Surviving Beautifully is created to introduce you to many of these options. There is no doubt that your experience will change you, but it does not mean it will change you for the worse. Just the opposite. You feel normal to yourself again…maybe even better, the New Normal.


Q. My cancer treatment leaves me tired and I’m starting to feel out of shape. What can I do?

A. If you’ve never exercised this is probably not the time to start doing anything vigorous. However, you can definitely begin to walk. Even 15 minutes a day can make a big difference in your fitness level, as well as give you important “me” time. Other options for all fitness levels are yoga and tai-chi, which can increase flexibility and self-esteem.
If you worked out regularly before cancer treatment, continue your workout but take the intensity down. And remember, this is a period to listen to your body! Stay active but do not overexert yourself. Treatment will end and you will feel like yourself today.


Q. Can wearing a wig make the little hair I have left fall out? And will it stunt or slow down hair regrowth?

A. Wearing a wig will not damage existing hair, make hair fall out or slow down new hair growth. Modern wigs are state of the art and come in three types of ready to wear wigs: natural hair, synthetic fiber and blends of real hair and synthetic fiber. There are also custom made wigs that are individually created and fitted. Based on the quality and customisation, the price of wigs varies. However, all the wigs are created to allow the skin of the head to breathe. Wearing a wig may actually reduce the stress of worrying about your appearance and thus, help you in healing and producing healthier hair!

For more information about wigs and hair care, see our forthcoming book!


Q. I look pale from chemotherapy but am concerned that ingredients in cosmetics like self-tanners are not good for me. What can I do?

A. The consensus from the medical community is that self-tanners are OK to use during chemotherapy. However, you still feel uncomfortable with them, you can go for a sheer bronzing fluid mixed with moisturiser to bring some color to your face. Don’t shy from blush, either! A neutral cream blush can add lots of life to your face without that fake pink look.

For more makeup tips from experts, see our forthcoming book!

Nail Care

Q. Chemotherapy has made my nails ridged and dry. I know they will grow out, but what can I do in the meantime?

A. Hide and heal: a dark nail polish can really help hide ridges. Avoid shimmery shades that can actually make them more visible. Seek out natural, formaldehyde-free nail polishes. Use a rich moisturiser with cotton gloves at night. And boost nail health with Biotin, found in the supplements aisle of every drugstore!

For more information about nail care, see our forthcoming book!

Skin Care

Q. Prior to my diagnosis, I used Botox to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.  However, I heard that I will not be able to use Botox during my chemotherapy treatments.  Does that mean that Botox is dangerous or cancer causing?  If I can go back to using Botox in the future, what do I do meanwhile?

A. Many studies of Botox have not shown it to be carcinogenic or cancer causing.  The reason you are told to stop using Botox during cancer treatments is due to the delivery system, namely the needle. Because your immune system is compromised during cancer treatments, chances of getting an infection through a needle are increased.

Instead, while undergoing your treatments, you can keep skin in good condition by getting gentle moisturising facials, using a heavier face moisturiser and applying nourishing masks. Also check out products containing Gaba complex, which can give a temporary tightening effect. The skin chapter of our forthcoming book provides many recipes for masks and discusses in detail skin care during treatments. Stay tuned!


Q. I chose to keep my battle with cancer private. I carefully prepared for my journey and chose a wig before losing my hair to chemotherapy. However, now my hair has grown back enough to take off my wig. I am scared because I do not know how to do it without revealing that I was wearing a wig all this time!

A. Everyone loves those with bravado and fearlessness to change their style. Models and fashionistas do it all the time.  They change hair color and style constantly….and you can “spin” your new look the same way. Find a good salon in your area that specializes in pixie cuts or knows how to handle short hair.  Go for a consultation with a stylist and explain your situation. Get a fabulous short cut, and ask the stylist for tips to care for and style your hair at home if your hair texture is different from chemotherapy. Then emerge with a new look and a new attitude. You may be surprised as to how much you love the new you, and how others do too!

For more information about style, see our forthcoming book!


Q. I feel so depleted from my treatment. Are there any foods that can help boost my energy?

A. Yes! There are wonderful recipes that can help you body and soul. Here is Cashew Kale, a quick-and-easy dish courtesy of Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen authors and breast cancer surTHRIVERS Annette Ramke & Kendall Scott.

Cashews add sweet and nutty flavor and up the protein, mineral and antioxidant content! These nuts are a particularly great source of magnesium, important for healthy bones and for muscle relaxation. You can easily substitute collards, Swiss chard or your favorite green for the kale in this recipe.

Q. Cashew Kale

Yield: makes 2 1/2 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large carrot, thinly sliced into rounds (about 1/2 cup)
2 bunches kale, thick stems removed, thinly sliced (about 8 cups)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 to 3 tablespoons tamari
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup raisins
Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the carrot for five minutes. Add the, kale, garlic, tamari, cashews and raisins and sauté a few minutes until cashews begin to soften.
Annette’s Tasty Tip: Double this recipe and serve on the side at breakfast to start your day with those important-cancer kicking greens!
(Recipe reprinted with permission from KICKING CANCER IN THE KITCHEN © 2012 by Annette Ramke & Kendall Scott, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.)