Tips & Tricks During Treatment

This section can help you deal with and mitigate the impact of chemo in your daily life, highlight what to pack for treatment, and offer some suggestions for keeping your diet as nutritious as possible.

Preparing for chemo can feel as daunting physically as it does emotionally. The anxiety surrounding treatment, how you will receive treatment (port access, PICC line, intravenously, orally), and how your body will react to treatment is enough to send anyone into a frantic internet search. There are many ways patients can receive chemotherapy and numerous different drugs with differing schedules. First and foremost, utilize your cancer team and ask questions: what to expect, who can come to treatment, what items you will be provided, and what you’re allowed to bring with you.

This section can help you deal with and mitigate the impact of chemo in your daily life, highlight what to pack for treatment, and offer some suggestions for keeping your diet as nutritious as possible.

Dealing With Chemo

  • Get Some Rest

Fatigue is the most common side effect experienced by cancer patients, especially those undergoing chemotherapy. So, get plenty of rest and avoid pushing yourself too hard, even if you feel good. Be patient with yourself and others since it may take some time to get back to your regular energy levels. And, remember that it’s OK to ask for help so that you can take it easy.

  • Stay Hydrated 

Diarrhea, vomiting and other chemotherapy side effects can cause you to become dehydrated. Not only can this cause you to have low energy, but it can also cause other health issues. So, be sure to drink plenty of water during your treatment. Decaffeinated tea, juices and milk can also help. If you’re having trouble consuming enough liquids or staying hydrated, talk to your care team.

  • Eat When You Can

Chemotherapy can cause nausea and appetite loss, so it’s important to eat when you can to avoid becoming malnourished. Keep in mind that many foods may taste different as you go through treatment. For some patients, food may have a metallic aftertaste during and after chemotherapy.

  • Create a Sense of Normalcy in Your Routine

Stick to your normal routine as much as possible. That could be something as small as getting dressed up every day, or having a meal with your family. These rituals can help take your mind off cancer.

  • Look to Your Support and Care Teams to Have Your Back Through Treatment 

Going through chemotherapy is tough, so look to your family, friends and your care team for support. The doctors and nurses will do everything they can to make you comfortable. But it’s important that you ask questions and voice concerns, so they can help.

  • Keep Things Around That Bring You Comfort

Bring your favorite blanket, a yummy snack, your best friend, a good book or whatever brings you the most comfort and keeps you busy while you wait. 

  • Stay Ahead of Your Nausea

Many patients experience nausea during and after chemotherapy. So, get your nausea prescriptions filled before you start chemotherapy, and take them before treatments so they kick in before the nausea does. If your nausea medications don’t work, ask your doctor to try a different prescription. It might take a few tries to find the one that works best for you.

Sitting outside and getting some fresh air may also provide a little nausea relief. Popsicles, mints and gum may, too.

  • Stay Positive

Sometimes our fears are worse than the reality, and each day of treatment can surprise you. Seek out the positives in your day – small and insignificant as they might seem – to keep your spirits lifted.

  • Prepare for Possible Hair Loss

Most cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy experience hair loss, usually starting around seven to 21 days after the first treatment. For some, hair falls out gradually, while others wake up with big clumps on their pillow. But whether you lose your hair depends on the type and dosage of chemotherapy you’re receiving. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting treatment, then make plans for what you’ll do if and when you lose your hair. You might consider cutting your hair short or shaving your head once you start losing your hair, for instance, or decide to try out scarves, wigs, turbans or hats.

  • Remember That Everyone’s Experiences with Chemotherapy is Different

You’ll get lots of good advice, your experience with chemotherapy won’t necessarily be the same as that of another patient. Some people may want to stay in bed for days after chemotherapy, while others can go about their normal routine within a few days. And some patients lose their hair quickly, while others keep their hair longer – or don’t lose it at all. 

So, go easy on yourself, pay attention to your side effects and share your questions and concerns with your care team.

 

What to Pack for Chemo

We’ve compiled a list of things that our own survivors as well as former cancer patients and health care professionals believe are must-haves to include in the chemo tote bag you bring to every treatment appointment. 

  • Comfortable Clothing

Wear a short sleeve or V-neck shirt to make it easier for the treatment technician to put an IV in your arm or a port in your chest. Bring a sweater or sweatshirt that you can take off or put back on quickly in case you get cold during treatment.

  • Comfy Socks

Former MD Anderson Cancer Center patient and survivor, Stephanie Madsen, urges chemotherapy patients to wear closed-toe shoes and to make sure that they pack some comfy socks to wear when their feet get cold. For her, the softer and fuzzier the socks or footies were, the more she liked them. We concur!

  • Hat, Scarf, or Beanie

If your chemo drugs cause you to lose your hair, keeping your head warm is key! Protecting your head from weather changes while keeping it warm in an air-conditioned treatment facility will help you feel more comfortable while you’re there. A hat, scarf or head turban can also be a colorful fashion accessory to cheer you up when you’re not feeling particularly cheerful.

  • Pillow or Blanket

A pillow and blanket will come in handy if you want to sleep during your treatment. The chemo room is usually temperature controlled and having your own blanket will allow you to stay warm when necessary, while making you feel more comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable place.

  • Fluids – Especially Water

Some patients get headaches during treatment. If you’re dehydrated, the intensity of your headache will likely be magnified. Drinking water or juice will keep you hydrated. It’s also a good way to flush the residual chemotherapy toxins out of your bloodstream faster.

  • Snacks

Pack a variety of your favorite snacks. You may get hungry during treatment – especially if you travel a long way or have to spend a lot of time having or waiting for treatment. By bringing the things you know you like to eat, you won’t have to stop to get food or rely on the hospital or treatment center food.

  • Skin Care

Bring some personal care and oral hygiene products. Chemotherapy is notorious for causing a dry mouth or leaving a metallic taste in your mouth. A toothbrush and toothpaste or a small bottle of alcohol-free mouthwash may be helpful for chasing a bad taste away. You can purchase gels, oral sprays and Soothease™ Natural Chemo Drops to minimize the discomfort of a dry mouth. Body lotion can soothe irritated skin. Look for products that are recommended for sensitive skin or products for cancer patients. If smells bother you, stay with unscented products.

  • Nausea Combatants

Pack a supply of things to combat nausea and queasiness. Crystallized ginger is an excellent remedy for nausea. Likewise, so are Queasy Drops and Pops. You may want to suck on mints or chew gum. Look for products that contain Xylitol because it is also found in products to combat dry mouth.

  • Entertainment

Pack a selection of things to entertain yourself and make the time go by faster. Bring along a tablet or laptop so you don’t drain the battery on your phone too quickly, and be sure to bring the charger. If you have a tablet that you use as an e-reader, or to watch movies or listen to music, bring that. You’ll get a lot of entertainment out of that one device. Throw in some popular magazines or some other light reading. You might also bring games to play with the person who accompanies you. Scrabble, Words with Friends, and crossword puzzles are great choices because the brain stimulation will help you combat the effects of chemo brain.

  • Organization

Pack a large multiple file organizer where you can keep your medication lists, insurance information, medical records, test results and other important documents for easy access. You’ll be grateful that you can grab the file and go.

 

Nutrition

  • Keep Food Tasty

Chemo can do a number on your taste buds, making certain foods and drinks taste metallic or unpleasant. Water and meat are the two most common items that become distasteful during chemo, says Cara Anselmo, clinical dietitian at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. If it becomes difficult to drink plain water, try drinking flavored mineral water or add sliced lemon to tap water. If certain meats become difficult to enjoy, try other sources of protein such as eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, and fish.

  • Fight Constipation

While some people experience diarrhea with chemo, others deal with constipation. Keeping hydrated is important to help prevent constipation. Including all types of fiber in your diet also can be helpful. If you aren’t accustomed to large amounts of fiber, make sure to increase your fiber slowly. Getting some exercise -- even just a 20-minute walk -- can be a powerful intestinal stimulant.

Manage Weight Gain. Some cancer patients tend to gain weight during treatment, says Jennifer Koorenny, MS, RD, oncology dietitian for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. She suggests low-fat meals, snacks, and lots of vegetables.

  • Improve Your Appetite

Many people undergoing chemo find that their appetites suffer. Since carbohydrates are usually digested well, Erika Connor, RD, clinical dietitian for the Stanford Cancer Center, recommends trying snacks such as hot cereals, toast with peanut butter or other nut butter, or pita bread with hummus. Other foods to consider include yogurt and blended soups.

  • Ease Diarrhea

 If you are experiencing diarrhea, avoid greasy and fried foods, caffeine, sugary drinks and fruit juices, salad greens, raw produce, and sugar alcohols. Foods that are generally well-tolerated include oatmeal, most fruits without skin, sweet potatoes, and squash.

  • Keep a Food and Symptom Diary 

Write down what you eat and drink, and record any symptoms you experience daily. This will help you and your health care team identify what you are eating that may be causing nausea, constipation, or diarrhea. This way, medications and other dietary suggestions can be tried before problems escalate.

  • Avoid Alcohol

During chemotherapy, be kind to your liver because it is helping to metabolize all the potential toxins in your bloodstream. According to Anselmo, alcohol can cause undue stress on the liver and make it harder for the liver to process chemo drugs. Alcohol can also make your nausea or other gastrointestinal side effects worsen and may interact with certain drugs that are given in conjunction with chemo.

  • Watch Supplements

Dietitians in top cancer treatment centers across the country suggest not taking dietary supplements during chemo. These include vitamins, minerals, herbals, and botanicals. There are potential drug-nutrient interactions that can interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Talk to your doctor about taking any supplements when you are undergoing chemo.

  • Limit Green Tea

Some physicians limit the amount of green and white tea consumed by patients who are undergoing chemo. Anselmo advises her patients to limit tea drinking to one or two mugs a day. Green and white teas are packed with antioxidant phytochemicals and may interfere with the desired effect of chemo.

Ask Your Doctor About Soy-Based Foods. Before eating soy-based foods, check with your oncologist regarding your specific type of cancer or chemotherapy.

Sources:

https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/10-chemotherapy-tips-from-cancer-patients-who-ve-been-there.h00-159303834.html

https://www.choosehope.com/blog/whats-in-your-chemo-tote-bag/ 

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/features/15-nutrition-tips-chemo#1 

https://www.oncolink.org/cancer-treatment/cancer-medications/support/tips-to-make-cancer-treatment-a-little-easier

https://www.everydayhealth.com/cancer/what-bring-chemotherapy/

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