Although chemotherapy is a very effective treatment for cancer which can eliminate malignant cells, prevent their further growth, or at least keep the size of the tumor under control when it is used as a palliative measure, the side effects can be quite distressing and difficult to manage. The majority of patients experience side effects from chemotherapy to a greater or lesser extent, including fatigue, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, infections, loss of appetite, and anemia. Moreover, certain symptoms may last for months or even years after treatment and can cause various complications over time.
Chemotherapy affects rapidly dividing cells in the body and as a consequence, a significant drop in white blood cells, which help fight infection, and platelets, which promote blood clotting and prevent bruising, occurs. Additionally, the drugs used in cancer treatment also cause changes in other rapidly dividing cells, such as hair follicles and the blood-forming cells in bone marrow. Therefore, you will most likely start noticing side effects right after your first chemotherapy session. If the side effects you experience are severe, your doctor will prescribe additional medication to alleviate them. However, you can also improve your symptoms by changing some aspects of your daily life. The following five tips have proved to be helpful for a lot of cancer patients and hopefully, the recommendations will benefit you as well.
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1. Eat small, regular meals and avoid spicy food
Nausea is a very common side effect of chemotherapy, as the drugs you receive also affect the cells in your digestive tract. Loss of appetite and vomiting can occur as well. Nevertheless, food is essential during your treatment and it is advised not to have an empty stomach, so you may find it less difficult to eat small meals more frequently. You should avoid spicy, greasy and heavy foods, as well as a dairy since these can upset your stomach even more. Treat nausea with the same approach you would use if it had not been the result of chemotherapy.
Some other useful tips to prevent or improve nausea include:
- eat your food warm instead of hot
- avoid unappealing food, as it can worsen your symptoms
- start taking medication to prevent nausea before your first chemotherapy session, if your doctor agrees
- breathing deeply may also help to alleviate nausea
- include ginger in your diet, as it is a very strong anti-nausea natural remedy (you can eat it raw or drink ginger tea as well)
- eat a light meal right before your chemotherapy session
- avoid the smell of food being cooked if it makes your stomach more upset
- do not eat in a hurry and chew your food thoroughly for a better digestion
- you can also prepare meals several days ahead and freeze them in case you will feel too sick to cook after treatment
2. Maintain a sleep schedule and take a nap whenever you feel too tired
Nearly all patients who undergo chemotherapy report feeling more tired than usual or even exhausted. Fatigue is another common side effect of cancer treatment and can have multiple causes. Even though it often appears due to chemotherapy itself, fatigue may also have underlying causes such as anemia or sleep disturbances. If this is the case, you will receive appropriate medication which will attend to the specific cause of this symptom. Thereby, if anemia is making you tired, your doctor will prescribe medication to increase your red blood cells or will advise you to get a blood transfusion, while for sleep disturbances, you will be recommended sleeping aids depending on the severity of your problem.
Nevertheless, if your cancer treatment is directly responsible for this symptom, maintaining a sleep schedule might help you manage fatigue better. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same hour so that your body will adjust to a certain routine. If, however, you still feel too tired during the day, taking a nap is always a good idea, but it is preferable to get a few extra hours of sleep early in the day so as not to disturb your sleep pattern. Another important aspect of managing fatigue is planning your daily activities and sorting out your priorities. This way, you will be able to save your energy for what you would like to do the most. Finally, you should not feel guilty for accepting or requesting help from your family or friends with practical tasks such a shopping, cleaning your house, gardening or taking care of your children.
3. Engage in light exercises such as walking, yoga or swimming
Regular exercise will not only improve your fatigue and nausea, but it will also bring about a series of considerable benefits, including:
- boosting your metabolism>
- improving your blood circulation
- strengthening your muscles and bones
- helping you relieve stress
- alleviating your anxiety
- increasing your body’s mobility
Light forms of exercise such as swimming, walking, and yoga have been demonstrated to be a great help for coping with the side effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. You should be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. It is also highly recommended to begin your exercise program slowly and then gradually increase your activity.
However, before deciding to choose a form of exercise, it is better to discuss with your doctor, as you may have to take additional precautions if, for instance, you have a chemo pump, and some activities may not be appropriate for your condition. Moreover, it is also a good idea to announce one of your family members that you are going to exercise every time you intend to do so, in case you will not feel well.
4. Drink at least 10 glasses of water per day
Increasing your intake of water is crucial when you are undergoing chemotherapy. While a person who does not receive treatment for cancer should drink 8 glasses of water per day, cancer patients need significantly more fluids. Thus, it is strongly suggested to drink between 10 and 12 glasses of water daily. It will alleviate some of the side effects of chemotherapy, including fatigue and constipation, as well as prevent dehydration, which your body is very prone to during treatment, and promote a normal functioning of your kidneys.
The quality of the water you drink is also extremely important. Because your immune system will be weakened during chemotherapy, you will be more amenable to infections. For this reason, you should choose water with a high purity level. Alternatively, you can use water filters, distillation systems or a reverse osmosis water purification system, which can remove up to 99% of the contaminants present in tap and bottled water. In addition to water, you can also opt for herbal tea, sports, drinks, and natural fruit juices.
5. Avoid potential sources of infection
Besides water, there are numerous other sources of infection you might be in frequent contact with. During chemotherapy, you are considerably more prone to infections, as the drop in the number of your blood cells lowers your immune system. Not only are you more susceptible to getting sick, but your body will also have a more difficult time fighting the infection. Therefore, taking into consideration the following tips may help you avoid some of the most common sources of contamination:
- do not eat or drink products past their expiration date
- wash your hands regularly with anti-bacterial soap, particularly before eating and after using the toilet
- do not consume raw food such as sushi, milkshakes containing raw eggs or sashimi
- avoid pre-made food products such as salads, sandwiches, and take away
- wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly
- cook food properly to eliminate bacteria
- avoid crowded places like public pools, shopping centers, and public transport as much as possible to avoid contacting a virus
- keep raw foods away from cooked meals in the fridge
- clean the utensils you use for preparing raw foods with hot water
If you experience any symptoms
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