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  • Writer's pictureTanya Louise

Health: Why Cancer Treatment Can Make You Feel Old

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

When people get older, they can often become weak or frail, the older we get, the more it is expected.

It’s not really a medical diagnosis. Instead, it describes a way of being, characterised by extreme physical vulnerability according to Frail people can often struggle with daily tasks around the home, they may lose their strength and can sometimes require around-the-clock care.  

Cancer, in many ways, is a taste of what frailty is like ahead of time. It introduces you to extreme vulnerability. You suddenly discover what it is like to have to depend entirely on other people. And you find out how much you rely on your body being fit to do simple, basic tasks. 

Prior to starting chemotherapy that I was told that there would be days when I may not have the strength to lift a kettle. I remember thinking, 'Nah, that won't happen to me, I'm too young'. Fast forward a couple of months and I remember laying in bed, wishing I had the energy to get out and make myself a drink! I admit, I struggled.

Support Networks

You never think you're going to feel that way when you're young, OK, relatively young. Older people have a lot of support available to them when they reach a state of frailty later on in their lives. As points out, they have a lot of options, including nursing home care, community living, and assisted care. One way or another, people rally around to offer their support because they know how vulnerable people can become as they enter old age. 

But what happens when you feel that way if you're going through Cancer treatment? Similar systems are in place. Hospitals, doctors, charities and care workers can all provide support, depending on the condition of the patient and the severity of the disease. 

Having a support network in place is vital when you have cancer. The disease itself can leave the you feeling weak and vulnerable, unable to get on with their regular tasks. Add the treatment and regular hospital visits to that, and it becomes even more challenging to live an ordinary life.

Cancer treatment can be hard because of how it affects the body. Chemotherapy drugs and radiation are quite non-specific, meaning that they target all the cells in the body, not just those that are cancerous. The treatment damages them, forcing an immune response that can lead to things like hair falling out and a severe lack of energy. 

The treatment has to be harsh to ensure that it kills the cancer. But it also takes its toll on the body and the immune system. I've lost count of the times I've said 'I feel like an old woman!' This is because patients often experience loss of muscle mass and vitality - both incredibly similar to what happens during the ageing process! 

Weight loss can be a factor. Shear worry and anxiety may cause a lack of appetite. The body also uses energy to fight cancer and get back to health. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may well be given steroids to help combat unwanted side effects of the treatment such as sickness. These may also increase your appetite and lead to comfort eating which can pile on the pounds. It's important during treatment to maintain weight through good nutrition.

Cancer most definitely makes you feel old before your time during treatment and you can empathise with the struggles of the elderly. You suddenly see what it is like to feel weak and dependent on others. The fatigue doesn't just end with the treatment either, it can take months or years for your body to recover.

Love T x


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