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Neuropathy and Shopping for Shoes

The other day my friend and I went to one of those no-frills shoe stores. You know the kind, those warehouse-looking buildings that sell every shoe imaginable except the ones in your size. Rows and rows of sample shoes were displayed on tables that ran the length of the store, while all available sizes were stacked under the tables and generally consisted of two medium-size eights, one size 12 and five pairs of wide-sized twos. Since I wear a 9.5 shoe with a 6AAAAAA heel, and have neuropathy in my feet, nerve damage caused by chemotherapy, I was pretty sure this was not my kind of shoe store.

Against the far wall of this warehouse emporium were running shoes, walking shoes, sensible flats and open-toed sandals, while the middle of the store displayed stacked heels, high heels and spandex ankle boots with styles called Santa Fe and Sandstone, names probably chosen by the same people who name paint colors. On the other side of the store were fashion forward shoes with wireframe, six-inch heels that looked more like scale models of Lady Gaga’s outrageous piano shoe.

Since this was a no-frills store, and there were no mirrors, women were asking total strangers what they thought about the shoes they’d picked out. A woman with big hair and shaved eyebrows–I imagined she ran an establishment called “Ruby’s Beer, Wine & Setups”–asked if I thought her shoes would “drive Wayne wild.” I ask you… What can you say to a sixty-five-year-old woman with hair the color of overripe mangos, who’s wearing clear, plastic Cinderella want-a-be’s? Then there was the portly woman who found a pair of “breed-me, don’t feed-me” shoes and who asked if I thought pink and gold snakeskin would go with white stretch pants?

I realize drag queen/pole dancer/platform stilettos are–pardon the pun–the height of fashion, but let’s get real, girfriends: How many of you actually own a pair of these stratosphere stilts, and if you do, when’s the last time you fell off your shoes? Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful high heels, but my chemo-damaged, neuropathy-ridden feet can’t tolerate most heels for more than a walk to the car and back before the balls of my feet are in agony.

For those of you who don’t know, neuropathy is the medical term for painful nerve damage, usually to the peripheral nerves in hands and feet, caused by chemotherapy, radiation, excessive alcohol, diabetes, kidney problems or poor nutrition. While there are several studies on preventing neuropathy caused by chemo, none appear to be “the” solution, however there has been some success with the drug, Amifostine (Ethyol), as well as calcium and magnesium given before chemo begins. If you already have neuropathy from chemo, you might try soaking your hands and feet in cold tap water. DO NOT USE ICE WATER. As always, ask your oncologist what he or she suggests. Unfortunately, after neuropathy starts, many women are forced to stop treatment because the pain and/or numbness is so intense. The good news is that for most of us, neuropathy gradually gets better after treatment stops, although in my case, some residual symptoms seem to be permanent.

As the number of aging Baby Boomers continues to increase, millions more women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and chemo-related neuropathy, not to mention that we lose the fat pads on the bottom of our feet as we age. If only shoe manufacturers would realize there’s millions of women who need shoes other than ones that appeal to Snooki! So, all of you shoe designers, how about making stylish, comfortable shoes that don’t look like “Janet Reno does the lobby of the MGM Grand?”

PS: I love the comment Hollywoodlife.com said about the above photograph, “What’s more frightening: a purple dog or a pregnant Snooki in six inch heels?”