Teenagers and young adults have a variety of unique questions and concerns when it comes to dealing with cancer or a blood disorder.
Frequently asked questions include:
- Will I lose all of my hair during chemo?
Most patients will lose all of their hair during chemotherapy, including eyelashes, eyebrows, pubic hair, hair on arms and legs, armpit hair and chest and facial hair for boys. The good news is, no shaving!
Note of caution: When your hair is growing back in, be very careful shaving if you are neutropenic, as a small cut can cause a serious infection. Also, if your platelet count is low, be careful not to cut yourself. You might use a hair remover like "Nair" instead of a razor or wait until your counts return to normal to shave.
- Can I get a body piercing or tattoo while I'm getting chemo?
The thing to remember is that your immune system is not working very well while you are receiving chemotherapy. Even if you have good counts you are still immuno-compromised. You never know how sterile the procedure really is, even in places with a good reputation. We recommend waiting until after your therapy is over, and all central lines have been removed. If you have a prosthetic device, we recommend never having tattoos or piercings at all. If you feel this is something you really want to do, please speak with your physician before having it done.
- Can I drink or do drugs while I'm getting chemo?
Drugs and alcohol can interact with some chemotherapy agents or the medications you take to counteract some of the side effects of chemo. We ask that you stay away from these substances while you are on therapy.
- What if I smoke or my friends smoke?
We do know that cigarette smoke as well as second hand smoke causes cancer and ask that all of our patients stop smoking and decrease their exposure to second-hand smoke. If you need help stopping smoking please speak to your nurse or physician. They can give you information on how to quit. You may want to encourage your friends to stop smoking, too!
- What about sex?
If you are sexually active it is very important that you and your partner are aware of the risks associated with sexual intercourse while recovering from chemotherapy.
We recommend safe sex and the use of condoms. Girls can still get pregnant even if they've stopped menstruating due to chemotherapy. Guys should also use condoms to keep from impregnating someone with sperm that has been affected by chemotherapy. We also recommend that guys use a condom during oral sex to protect your partner from chemotherapy that might be excreted in the sperm.
We also recommend not having sex when your counts are low because you are more susceptible to infection and at greater risk for bleeding. Some patients ask about anal sex, and we tell them the risk of infection and bleeding is much higher than with vaginal intercourse.
- Can I still get pregnant if I don't get my period?
Yes, although it's unlikely. If you've stopped menstruating you've probably stopped ovulating, but it's unpredictable. We advise that you use condoms no only to prevent pregnancy, but to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Safe sex is important at all times, but especially when you are being treated for cancer.