Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chemo - it's not over until the last nail breaks

Have you ever had that dream where your teeth start to crumble and fall out? Little tooth shards are in your mouth, but no matter how many you spit out, your mouth is still full of little splintery pieces?

Even in a dream, there is something disturbing about a part of your body crumbling uncontrollably.

So, you can imagine my dismay as I tell you that this is exactly what has been happening to my fingernails for the past two weeks.

My nails began to weaken a couple of days after my final chemo, and now they are splintering half way down the nail bed, past the point where you can actually file or trim. When I do something extremely dangerous, like button a shirt, they disintegrate. What's left of these tissue-thin crescents tend to snag on everything, and when they snag, they crumble even more. I've been protecting what's left with band-aids, which is, of course, extraordinarily attractive, especially when I use the Dora the Explorer ones.

My nails are as soft and weak as Sacramento's real estate market.

During the entire four months of chemo, I kept my nails. I lost my breast, my hair, my eyelashes, my eyebrows, and my entire feminine way of putting myself together. I still can't dress in my regular clothes, I can't blow-dry my hair, I can't put on mascara, and I can't wear high heels. But, I could at least polish my nails.

And, now there is little to polish. Parts of my nail beds are showing that have never seen the light of day. Poor things, they are blushing pink at being exposed this way.

I should add that having nails this short is uncomfortable. Now I know why torturers stick bamboo underneath their victim's nails - it's a very sensitive area.

(Although, I never got the bamboo part. You'd think knives would be more effective.)

Because they are peeling and starting to resemble the color of an old man's fungal-infected toenails, I decided to polish my nail stubs black. Super short, black nails are kind of cute and punkish. Kara DioGuardi who, unlike Paula Abdul, never had to wear a cast after "getting her nails done" sports that look, so why can't I try?

I discovered something interesting. When your nails are this weak, thin, brittle, and ready to fall apart, the polish color sinks underneath to the skin below - and stays. I didn't know this at first. I removed my polish when it started to chip, like a normal person, and then I walked around for a whole week freaking out thinking my fingernails were actually turning black and about to fall off entirely, when it was really just OPI-dyed skin underneath.

Chemo: the gift that keeps on giving.

It's a dream come true.


  1. Three months after chemo my nails are doing funny things. They are still there ... just. They have ridges across them for each of the chemos ... and are coming away from the beds. Just yuck yuck ... might go out and that black varnish ... punk it!

    P x

    1. Nail polish obsession, Glowstick is a slime green with gold shimmer polish. perfect for halloween or for the summer months when you have a nice tan, this color just pops!.Loceryl 5

    2. The nails can become rough and crumbly, or can separate from the nail bed. I am not sure of this home remedy but topical and oral antifungals are needed which are available under prescription.Loceryl 5

  2. Cancer, the gift that keeps on giving. However, my nails were horrible after chemo. I lost both my big toe nails and the rest of my toe nails and fingernails were awful. About a month after I finished chemo, I went to the manicurist i have been going to for years. She wouldn't touch my toes for a while but did start working on my fingers. They ended up looking better relatively soon. Good luck! They will come back!

    1. I had a manicurist that I went to before my nails fell off tell me that she would need a doctors release before she would work on my nails. I had not heard this from other manicurists so don't know where she is coming from. Have you heard of this before?

  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your nails!! I hope this gives you a little hope that people are out there trying to find the PURE CAUSE of breast cancer to prevent others from having to go thru the misery of chemo etc.

    WE NEED TO FIND THE CAUSE in order to PREVENT it in the first place. Just a CURE is not ENOUGH. I don't want anyone to suffer at all.

    I have recently read up a lot about research from Dr. Ruddy. The organization is called Breast Health and Healing. She is a breast cancer surgeon who is researching about a virus that causes 40% of breast cancer in mice. It is thought that this could hold true in humans as well but needs more research to be for certain about it. The national cancer institute just got on board with helping publicize about the breast cancer virus. I recently just read about it on This would be incredible if that could be proven if a virus does cause breast cancer. Then a vaccine could be made to prevent it!!!

    I think this organization Breast Health and Healing is on to something very big! The founder, Dr. Ruddy met with National Cancer Institute in Washington last week and they are on board with her research as well.

    They are doing outstanding research. Just read today that a protein complex found in human breast milk, called HAMLET, has been shown to kill at least 40 different kinds of cancers in laboratory studies. This is very exciting and promising work!

    Have you ever heard about that?
    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  4. How could I not hear about Dr. Ruddy and her nonsense? She's spamming the entire internet with her pink virus crapola. It reminds me of the early 90s on USENET and the anti-aspartame nutjobs who ruined

    I'm leaving the above post so readers will know that this is not a real comment and if they come across this on other blogs they will know to ignore it. Whatever you do, don't donate to "Dr. Ruddy" and her pink virus scam. And, trust me, aside from the videos of her at a conference (in which she is the only one visible and which looks like it was done in a basement) this IS a scam to get your money.

    Please donate any money to the American Cancer Society, Komen for the Cure, or alternatively, me. I"m happy to give you my paypal address. I will, however, probably spend your donation on Sees candy and shoes.

    1. Yes, thank you for good info! I am 4 months after-chemo and my nails just started to crack horizontally across the ridges, Damn that chemo!

  5. Sorry to hear about your nails : (. It seems strange to me that they would be affected after chemo is over (as opposed to during), but I guess there can be many post-chemo side effects. I like your idea of painting them black though - très chic! Thanks for straightening us out about the Dr. Ruddy post too, good info.


    1. Ingrid, I think the visual delay will be because the nails are so slow growing and actually start way back under the skin, so any changes take a while to grow out and appear.

  6. Sorry to say but I had colon cancer in 2003 then chemo couple months after finger nails started to have ridges, breaks, and split sometimes down the middle of the nail, oh what did chemo did to me cannot for any reason find how to fix it

  7. I just posted my own ode to my nails. I had my last chemo about 6 weeks ago and I'm expecting 8 of my finger nails to come off. Although it seems silly to mourn the loss of my weekly finger painting ritual when I just beat cancer, I can't help dreading these next few weeks, always worrying about what's left of my nails. But I'm ready and armed with Minion band-aids. I don't wish this on anybody else, but I'm glad to know somebody out there understands!

  8. So your nails will grow back? I just at the end of my chemo and I've got 1 nail that I think will come off.

  9. I finished chemo in late May of this year. I had some major nail bed pains (like whacking them on a corner when I just barely bumped them), then my nails thickened and discolored, then pulled away from the nail bed. "Luckily"?, they didn't crack and fall off. I'm now 5 months out and most of the nails on my left hand (which was less affected than my other hand and feet) have grown out the dicolorations, but I still have slight ridges halfway down. On the right and left thumbs I still have some discolorations. The right thumb is still seperated from the nailbed half way down from the tip. The left thumb and right pointer and middle finger are still sepearated 1/3 of the way down from the tips. My pain went away within in couple weeks of the final chemo, thank goodness! I totally had that same thoughts of why they do "finger nail tortures". My big toes were really the only ones that were affected, and they are not in good shape, but they are better than they were before chemo...I had damaged them a couple years ago by hiking in wet sneakers for 2 hours (yeah, not that smart). I just wish I knew of an oil or lotion or something that I could put on them to help them all heal more quickly. For now, I take a "hair,nail, and skin boosting" multivitamin, and just lotion as much as I can and keep them clean.


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