The Leukemia Diaries, Part 8 - The Little Marks That Cancer Leaves
“Hey, if it means anything, you don’t look sick.” I heard that line a good number of times from folks who visited me during my first round of chemotherapy, and even when they encountered me outside the hospital. I believe everybody meant this as a positive thing, that I didn’t look emaciated or dead inside. There are marks on my body, however, that do give away that I’m not quite at 100%.
I think that most, if not all cancers can be pretty discreet, aside from the hair loss part. The skin recovers pretty quickly from multiple needle pricks. I’d like to think that cancer patients can be pretty good at hiding the other marks that the treatment process leaves on their bodies. Here are some of my own marks, so you can become familiar with what could show up on a cancer patient’s skin. This is from my own experience, and is by no means an exhaustive list.
These scars are from my first round of chemotherapy, when I had an internal jugular (IJ) catheter inserted in my neck. Not sure how long these will take to lighten/disappear, but these are tiny marks considering the big role they played in my treatment.
These are still pretty fresh, less than a month old. It’s that scab just beneath my collarbone in the picture, which came from the cut they made to insert my portacath. I believe these sutures are absorbable, so they should “disappear” eventually. I’ll have to get creative with covering this up, goodbye strapless tops. ; A ;
These happened when my platelet counts were particularly low. My doctor said this was an “expected” occurrence. Petechiae are small hemorrhages that occur when there is trauma (even mild trauma) introduced to the skin while the person doesn’t have enough platelets, from what I understand. I don’t recall bumping this portion of my leg, but low platelet counts made me super sensitive, so maybe I got these while scratching in my sleep. I like to call them bloody freckles. They disappeared after a few days, probably because my platelet counts went up. May last longer for other folks.
My doctors have told me often that I should be careful not to bump anything and get bruises, but all my bruises so far have been from damaged blood vessels due to blood extractions. In the first round, my wrists were sprinkled with marks and mini-bruises from the Arterial Blood Gas test blood extractions. The crooks of my elbows weren’t much prettier. Pictured is my left wrist, with a badly beat-up vein. It was a combination of a very small IV needle (that was not suitable for blood transfusion) and some particularly thick blood that the nurse had to keep flushing along. A 4-hour transfusion turned into a 6-hour session with me crying in pain for the last hour of it because my vein felt like it was going to burst. I lost use of my arm for roughly 24 hours because even small movements would hurt the vein and pretty much my entire forearm. I can move my arm and wrist normally now, but the bruise has remained. I’m wondering when it’ll heal completely.
I won’t include a photo of this, mostly because it’s difficult to photograph mine. XD There are times when my skin starts looking gray, and I scratch at it a bit, then suddenly my skin flakes. Some people may welcome this, since chemotherapy does a pretty good job at exfoliating your skin. The soles of my feet are smoother than they were before I got diagnosed, that’s for sure. Even the really thick skin gets shed. Now, this can get a little embarrassing if you’re fond of wearing black (like I am) because the flakes will get everywhere. They can and probably will get out of control and you’ll flake all over the place. Sounds kind of gross, but it’s part of the process.
All of these are, in MY experience, the little telltale signs of someone undergoing chemotherapy. Aside from the scars on my neck, my other marks have either disappeared (petechia) or aren’t as conspicuous. You may spot these marks on other people, and it’s best to keep in mind that they may not be as open to discussing their experiences. I know I don’t want to recall what caused the bruise on my wrist.
If you’ve been diagnosed with AML and are undergoing chemotherapy, these marks aren’t the end of the world. If your doctor tells you that it’s something “to be expected” over the course of treatment, it would be good to listen to them. I first freaked out when I saw these bloody freckles on my leg, but my doctor shrugged it off and said they were harmless. They didn’t hurt, and went away quickly. Assuming you’ve got a decent doctor, you can probably trust them when they say something isn’t worth worrying about. :)
Personally, I like to cover up my marks or draw as little attention to them as possible. Sometimes people will treat you like you’re a delicate flower that’ll snap in half when they find out you’re going through chemotherapy. I don’t really feel sick, and I’m actually pretty active, so I’d rather live normally instead of having people fuss over me. :D