We'd like to say a big thank you to Catherine aka mytriplenegativelife for sharing the results of her chemo nail routine. Catherine set up her mytriplenegativelife blog to support other people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
I love nail polish. The brighter the colour the better. I remember when I was six years old and saw my favourite Aunt wearing nail polish for the first time and thinking she was quite posh! Ever since then when I see beautifully manicured nails I am six years old again and I just covet them. Perfectly manicured hands and feet remind me of Hollywood film stars from the 1960's and special glamorous occasions. I’m sure I’ve got strange looks over the years as I surreptitiously glanced at someone’s nail polish!
I underwent chemotherapy during the summer months and during the first couple of months I wore nail polish most days. My body image had changed drastically, what with surgery and then hair loss, and the only constant was being able to wear nice nail polish and admire my nails. Unfortunately that didn’t last too long. I’m sure most of you have guessed who is the culprit is for my nail demise, yes indeed the Taxol Tyrant! I was quite happily getting through chemotherapy, managed Adriamycin and Cyclophosamide (AC) reasonably OK and was lulled into a false sense of security when I was due to start Taxol (T) thinking that I had successfully tolerated the hardest aspect. Looking back it was probably a combination of both the cumulative effects of the AC as well as the addition of Taxol, a known drug that causes problems for nails.
Fast forward three years and the current state of my own nails has prompted me to write about nail care now. For the past month or so they have become brittle, flaky and sometimes tender when the layers are stripped away, like before. I’m getting pretty desperate to have nice nails again especially as summer is only a few months away.
Nail problems were the the least of my worries when I was recovering from treatment, which I probably neglected until now. I have since lost one big toe nail, which thankfully has regrown, but I think even at this stage I may lose the other one shortly. Another summer with yucky nails, ho hum! Anyway I’m on a mission to try and salvage them again. For the first time I decided that I would do a bit of research and see if there is any information out there that may help. I have started taking calcium supplements for the past week in a bid to strengthen my nails.
Here are a few tips that may help:
Trim regularly…I do trim because they break as soon as any regrowth appears.
File after trimming to remove any snags. Glass nail files are a gentler alternative to harsh emery boards or metal nail files.
Avoid using your nails as tools…Guilty!
Gently buff nails to keep surfaces smooth.
Don’t cut cuticles, use cuticle remover or cuticle oil and gently push them back with a cotton bud.
Avoid harsh nail polish removers. Many oncology nurses recommend Benecos Natural Nail Polish Remover.
I wear nail strengthener most days and use it as a base coat when applying nail polish. If I think my nails are a bit flaky, I use the nail strengthener as a top coat too.
If you do fancy having a manicure, it has been suggested that you bring your own sterilised equipment to protect from any potential infection, when in treatment.
Bring your own nail polish too so that you can touch up any chipped bits. I’ve learned the hard way and had a chipped nail after an hour!
Ensure shoes are not tight fitting as that may cause friction on your feet. I ended up wearing UGG boots for a time as they were the only shoes that I found comfortable.
Avoid hot water and keep the temperature tepid at most.
There is some evidence that the use of frozen gloves and frozen socks may help prevent oncholysis (painless separation of the nail from the nail bed) and skin toxicity while Taxol is being administered.
There also seems to be some evidence that suggests that when on Taxol, one should avoid exposure to sunlight as it may precipitate oncholysis.
Be vigilant for small cuts to fingernails on the affected side as there is always a potential for lymphoedema to occur.
During treatment avoid getting false nails or acrylic nails as they may trap bacteria / fungi causing infection.
Avoid precipitating factors; dehydrating soaps, solvents and disinfectants, scrubbing of skin and nail biting. Some suggest using bath oil instead of soap.
Use thin cotton gloves as well as rubber gloves when working.
Lubricate nails several times a day and after each exposure to water with cream.
For foot care, soak feet for about ten minutes and dry thoroughly afterwards with a clean towel. Apply moisturising lotion liberally to feet but avoid the toes as it may promote fungal infections.
A word of caution, especially if you are in the midst of chemotherapy at the moment, be very careful to avoid any fungal infections because you may be immuno-suppressed. Report any changes to your nails, hands or feet immediately.
The only evidence of vitamin supplementation that I could find that seemed to work was Biotin 2.5mg a day with a Dermatologist’s supervision. It is worth considering if the above doesn’t help. The Biotin also needs to be taken for a period of 6 months. Remember fingernails only grow about 3mm a month so it may take a few months before any effects are seen. So much for the calcium supplements that I am taking, however I will finish the course and see if there is any improvement.
I know it may seem a bit frivolous to be talking about nails but sometimes it is nice to escape and feel good about ourselves! I will try and apply all of the above and see if there is any improvement after a month.
Summer here I come!..
The picture above is obviously what I aspire to but reality is displayed below! It is around a month since I posted the first section. This time I am going to review my efforts at caring for my nails and see if there is any improvement in their condition.
I took the calcium tablets as planned and my nails do seem a bit stronger but they still continue to flake at the tips. A month ago I certainly wouldn’t have been able to keep them at the length shown below but I know an hour in the garden will still have them in flitters! Ho hum. I’m not ready to go to the beautician for a shellac treatment yet as I know from previous experience it will only weaken my nails further. It is over a year since I last had a shellac treatment but I hope by the summer my nails will be much improved.
Below is a picture demonstration of how I apply nail polish to enhance the appearance of my hands and nails.
This is the current state of my nails without any product on them. Below I have inserted a picture with the cuticle remover, nail strengthen and nail polish that I used on the next few pictures.
This is the cuticle remover, nail strengthener and nail polish that I used.
This picture was taken after applying cuticle remover and nail strengthener. I applied the cuticle remover first and then waited a couple of minutes. Once softened I gently pushed back the cuticles. If you are still on chemo be careful here and be extra gentle. There is no point in creating unnecessary cuts which may become a pathway for infection! I then filed my nails and applied nail strengthener to them. Nail strengthener, for me anyway, acts similar to “Polyfilla” by filling in any ridges and smoothing the surface of my nails thus creating a base for the nail polish. It is not entirely smooth but as you can see, it is a big improvement on my bare nails!
And finally after three coats of nail polish. I know, not perfect but infinitely better than leaving them bare! The reason I went for the pale shade was simply because I find when the condition of my nails isn’t great, the paler colours are more forgiving and any indentations seem to disappear. An added bonus, of course, I’m sure you are aware of, is that it allows for shaky hands when applying!
I am still striving for perfectly manicured nails. Hopefully I am a step closer!
If you're looking for products to help care for your nails during chemotherapy treatment, we sell a range of products to help you care for your nails, hand and feet including many of the products that Catherine mentions, in the CancerPal MarketPlace.