Wade Hayes Overcomes Treatment Side Effects

The country music singer copes with the consequences of two fights with cancer.

Country singer Wade Hayes burst onto the scene in 1994 with his debut album, "Old Enough to Know Better." Its title track, along with three more singles from the album, all reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Country charts.

While touring in 2011, Wade experienced severe abdominal pain and profuse bleeding. Although he rallied sufficiently to do the show, he saw his doctor afterward, who recommended a colonoscopy. An orange-sized tumor was found in his large intestine. The diagnosis was stage IV colon cancer, which had already spread to his liver, lymph nodes, and diaphragm. Wade underwent a lengthy surgery, followed by chemotherapy.

Two years later, Wade faced cancer again, this time in his lymph nodes.

"They opened me up from stem to stern, literally," Wade told Country Weekly. "They had to take a big part of my large intestine, most of my liver, part of my diaphragm out, lymph nodes, and I’ve had several small surgeries on my liver to get it repaired enough to work correctly."

Although his cancer treatment was ultimately successful, Wade still had to deal with the side effects of surgery and additional chemotherapy. When asked by Coping with Cancer  about the biggest challenge he faced with cancer, Wade said, "Neuropathy is the one that stands out in my mind. It’s a condition where the nerve endings in your hands and feet are damaged. If you touch anything that isn’t room temperature, it’s very uncomfortable. You can’t feel things, but you’ve got this strange tingling yet numb sensation. I play guitar for a living, but I couldn’t feel where my fingers were on the neck of my guitar. You have to be pretty dexterous to play guitar with any accuracy, so it was difficult. It took about a year to get my dexterity back, but my hands are fine now. I still feel the effects in my feet, but fortunately, I don’t play with my feet."

In 2015, Hayes released a new album titled "Go Live Your Life." As he told Rolling Stone:

"I hope it inspires people … When I'm saying, 'Go live your life,' I'm not saying to go jump out of an airplane or ride a bull. I'm saying I've got a second chance. You never know what's waiting around the corner for you. So tell somebody you love them. Find what makes you happy. That's what the song's about."

Dealing with Treatment Side Effects

Any cancer treatment can cause challenging side effects. Problems may arise when treatment designed to impact cancerous tissues also affects healthy tissues or organs. Each person undergoing a treatment regimen reacts to it in individual ways. Some people experience very few side effects, while others may need to endure more than were anticipated.

As seen in Wade Hayes’s case, one side effect of chemotherapy is peripheral neuropathy.

What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Neuropathy refers to nerve disease or damage. Peripheral nerves send signals to the brain through the spinal cord, such as "my feet are cold" or "stand up." Any damage to this communication system may cause a person to experience compromised movement and feeling.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (part of the National Institutes of Health), approximately 20 million people in the United States experience some form of peripheral neuropathy, a condition that develops as a result of damage to the peripheral nervous system, which can be triggered by certain cancer treatments. These can be divided into three groups of symptoms depending on what part of the nervous system is affected:

Damage to sensory nerves––those that help you feel pain, heat, cold, and pressure––may cause a variety of side effects, including tingling, numbness, or a pins-and-needles feeling in your feet and hands that may spread to your legs and arms, an inability to feel hot or cold sensations, or an inability to feel pain, such as from a cut or sore on your foot.

Damage to motor nerves––those that help your muscles move––can cause weak or achy muscles, which may cause you to lose your balance or trip easily. It may also be difficult to button shirts or open jars. This side effect may also make muscles twitch or cramp, and if you don’t use your muscles regularly, it can cause muscle wasting. If your chest or throat muscles are affected, this can become especially serious if it creates difficulties in swallowing or breathing.

Damage to autonomic nerves––those that control functions, such as blood pressure, digestion, heart rate, temperature, and urination––can cause digestive changes, such as constipation or diarrhea, dizzy or faint feelings due to low blood pressure, sexual problems (men may be unable to get an erection and women may not reach orgasm), sweating problems (either too much or too little), or urination problems, such as leaking urine or difficulty emptying your bladder.

For many people, peripheral neuropathy is temporary, but because nerve fibers regenerate slowly, it may take some time before the nervous pathways are restored. In the meantime, you should take precautions to protect yourself from injury:

  • Prevent falls. Move rugs so you will not trip on them. Ask for help with this, if needed. Put rails on walls and especially in the bathroom, so you can hold on to them for balance and security. Put bath mats in the shower or tub. Wear sturdy shoes with soft soles. Get up slowly after sitting or lying down, especially if you feel dizzy.
  • Take extra care in the kitchen and shower. Use potholders in the kitchen to protect your hands from burns. Be careful when handling knives or sharp objects. Ask someone to check the water temperature, to make sure it’s not too hot.
  • Protect your hands and feet. Wear shoes, both indoors and out. Check your arms, legs, and feet daily for cuts or scratches. If it’s cold, wear warm clothes to protect your hands and feet.
  • Ask for help and slow down. Let people help you with difficult tasks. Slow down and give yourself more time to do things.
  • Ask about pain medicine and integrative medicine practices. You may be prescribed pain medicine. Other methods, such as acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, and yoga, may also be advised to lower pain. Talk with your health care team to learn what is best for you.

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