Olympic figure skating great Dorothy Hamill recalls chemotherapy side effects

Written by Community Health Network on 2/15/2014 10:15:00 AM

In 1976, Dorothy Hamill trademarked the "Hamill-Camel", a figure skating spin, and won gold at the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. Instead of retiring from the sport when she was at the top of the podium, she went on to compete in the next year’s World Figure Skating Championship—and won. Dorothy applied those same guts when she was diagnosed with cancer.

In 2007, the figure skating champion was diagnosed with breast cancer. After extensive chemotherapy and treatment she was declared cancer-free in 2009. But even a few years after her last chemotherapy session, Hamill still felt drained from all of the treatment.

“I don’t have a lot of energy,” said Hamill in a 2010 interview with People magazine. “I get really tired. Even when I’m not skating I get tired.”

Dr. Christina Kim, a certified MD Anderson Cancer Network® physician at Community Health Network, specializes in breast surgery. She says there are common long-term side effects from chemotherapy.

“Dependent upon the treatments the patient has received and the severity of their breast cancer, they could experience early menopause or weight gain because of the changes in their metabolism due to chemotherapy,” said Kim.

Other long-term side effects from chemotherapy include:

  • Possible fertility issues
  • Short-term fogginess
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Depression

While the road into remission may not always be smooth, there are many ways that the patient can help combat the side effects.

Many institutions, including Community, have peer support groups that provide educational and emotional support. Eating well, cutting down on alcohol consumption and staying active through exercise also help survivors manage lingering side effects.

Dorothy Hamill said that in order to manage her depression post-chemo that she turned to skating.

"Thank goodness, I had my skating,” said Hamill. “There was certainly a pattern to my life. When times were tough, I went skating. It was only while I was out on the ice, enjoying the freedom of movement and my love of music, that I was able to escape from my bottomless heartache."

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If you have questions about chemotherapy and how to manage long-term side effects, ask one of our certified MD Anderson doctors. Don't forget to watch Team USA try to skate their way to gold in Sochi!

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