Martin was 54 when he learned that he had a tumour on his appendix and that had metastasised. The oncologist recommended chemotherapy to extend and improve his life. After the fourth infusion, Martin could no longer walk. He had blisters on his feet and the skin was peeling off. The oncologist suggested a change of treatment medication. It worked. Martin can even walk around barefoot again.
“Before I started the treatment, I was given a detailed and clear explanation of all possible side effects,” said Martin. “To prevent my hands and feet from reacting to the chemotherapy, I was advised to moisturise my hands and feet four times a day.”
Martin’s chemotherapy consisted of an IV in the hospital, then two weeks of pills and a week of rest. Then a follow-up visit followed with blood tests, and the treatment process started again with the infusion in the hospital. After the first infusion, Martin became very ill in the hospital. After a week, things improved and he could do something again. In the following sessions, he not only felt ill in the hospital but also at home. Because of the pain in his hands, Martin couldn’t do anything for a week.
“My hands often cramped painfully in a way that prevented me from moving them. My fingertips were so sensitive it was impossible even to type an email.
When I went outside, I had to wrap myself up completely because heat and cold had a major influence on how I perceived my pain. Just sleeping on the first floor with a window open worsened the pain in my hands and feet. Even breathing in air hurt my throat.”
“I wanted to go outside, have fun”
After the third infusion, the scan showed that the drugs had worked. “The doctor was happy, but I sat in the doctor’s office feeling like a zombie, I was that sick. To get me back on my feet, I was hospitalised for four days. The start of the fourth treatment was postponed for a week.
At that time, I noticed that I mainly wanted to live, to have fun. During a bike ride to the city centre, I got caught in the rain and was soaked. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to stop the IV.
I wanted to live and go out every day. My oncologist was not happy to stop the treatment but he understood where I was coming from. He supported my decision. The IV treatment was stopped, but I continued with the pills.”
Until then, Martin had had little trouble with his feet. He put lotion on them four times a day. “Every day. I stuck to it. Despite this, the skin started to peel off my feet. I even had to cut it off. The skin on my feet changed and it felt like plastic.
My hands were fine. But my feet just kept getting worse. I got blisters under my skin. Not normal blisters, like the ones you get after you have done a lot of walking. No, these were under the skin. That’s where the blisters formed. It was very painful. I could barely walk anymore. When I wanted to go outside, I took the bicycle. I was still able to do that. But you can’t go everywhere by bicycle, and sometimes you still have to walk. In the meantime, I became an expert on insoles.
Soft soles and silicone soles gave me some relief, but after a few kilometres they didn’t help anymore.”
The blisters now started to form on the side of his foot. “It hurt even more when I took a step. The blisters even formed under my toenails, which made them lighter in colour. When the oncologist saw my feet, he postponed the treatment for a week. This was hard to take. He said, “If we continue this way, your feet will become so bad, it will cause serious problems.”
The oncologist started looking for alternative medication. Meanwhile, Martin took the same pills. Two weeks of pills and then a week off. After the tenth round of treatment, he was given different medication which would reduce the side effect of the hand-foot syndrome.
“My feet recovered slowly. The blisters disappeared, the folds of skin decreased. I could walk again. I could walk barefoot through the grass again. Even on the beach, over the sand and shells. It didn’t hurt anymore. Of course, I continued to moisturise my feet daily.
During our holiday in Gran Canaria, I took beautiful walks through nature, even without insoles. Because of those new pills, I didn’t even need them anymore. I bought sandals with a leather insole.
In combination with udder ointment, I was able to walk barefoot for two weeks. Perfection. My feet are still peeling a bit but they are nearly normal again and I can walk and feel fine. I can walk again.”
To protect the privacy of the subject, his name has been changed. Name and details are known to the editors.