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June 1, 2021

10 Ways to Care for Yourself Before, During, and After Chemotherapy

10 Ways to Care for Yourself Before, During, and After Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is one of the more common treatments used by oncologists to treat cancer that has spread outside of where it started and into the lymph system. Chemotherapy treats the cancer cells spread throughout the body in the lymph fluid.

Because chemotherapy has an effect on much of the body, it can also bring some challenges before, during, and after treatment. The specific side effects will be dependent on the type of drugs used to treat your specific type of cancer. So be sure to ask your oncologist what to expect.

We’ve prepared a list of 10 ways you can prepare for, cope with, and recover from chemotherapy cancer treatment:

  1. Cold cap to help reduce hair loss
  2. See a counselor
  3. Plan for pain control
  4. Improve sleep schedule
  5. Eat well
  6. Stay sharp
  7. Mouth care
  8. Consider a pet
  9. Stay active
  10. Work considerations

Invest in a cold cap to help reduce hair loss. The theory behind scalp hypothermia is that cooling the blood vessels in the scalp may reduce the number of chemicals that reach the hair follicles during chemotherapy. Wearing a cold cap can reduce hair loss by up to half during chemotherapy. Losing your hair can be an emotional experience, and protecting your scalp may help you avoid losing your hair. Before you make a purchase talk to your oncologist about whether hair loss is a common side effect of the chemo drugs being used for your type of cancer.

2. See a counselor. It’s normal to feel fear, anxiety, depression, and other forms of psychological distress when you're sick. You may worry about dying, the financial burden of treatment, or inconveniencing your loved ones. Speaking to a counselor or therapist about your fears helps prevent your feelings from becoming unmanageable.

3. Make a pain control plan. Most cancer patients can expect to experience at least some pain during their treatment and recovery. Talk to your care team about using a pain rating scale to quantify your pain. Give your medical team details about which medications have worked for you in the past. Don't forget to mention any medication allergies that you may have. If you have a history of drug or alcohol addiction be sure to talk about whether the suggested pain medications could cause addiction. Do this ahead of time to make it simpler to communicate your pain level and get pain relief options when you need them.

4. Improve your sleep schedule. Problems sleeping due to pain, anxiety, or other treatment-related side effects can add to chemotherapy fatigue. Keep a sleep diary to document when sleep disturbances happen, and see if you can find patterns that lead to poor sleep. By doing this you can identify and then remove some of the things from your routine that could be causing your sleep to be less than ideal such as caffeine too late in the day or using your phone right before bed. You can also create a sleep hygiene plan that includes:

  1. Going to bed and rising at the same time every day.
  2. Using relaxation techniques before bed
  3. Avoiding food, alcohol and caffeine later in the evening.
  4. Using supplements like melatonin to help your body reset its internal clock for sleeping.
  5. Optimizing your bedroom or sleeping area to be peaceful, cool, dark and even infused with some oils like lavender that can help with relaxing.

Eat well. Loss of appetite is a common side effect of chemotherapy and becomes worrisome if it causes significant weight and muscle loss. Ensure your calorie intake remains sufficient by:

  • Eating several small meals a day
  • Having your favorite foods on hand
  • Drinking most liquids between (instead of during) meals
  • Snacking on foods high in calories and protein.

6. Stay sharp. A phenomenon known as "chemo brain" can cause difficulty thinking, remembering, planning, and communicating. This can happen during the time you're taking chemo treatments and even weeks or months later. Researchers are uncertain what exactly causes chemo brain or who will get it, but there are ways to sharpen your mental abilities if you start experiencing the symptoms. Tips include:

  • Leave yourself detailed reminders written down or on your phone
  • Follow a routine
  • Use word puzzles to exercise your mind
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Avoid alcohol or other substances that make it hard to focus

Take care of your mouth. Xerostomia is a condition that causes dry mouth and thick or sticky saliva. It is a side effect of several cancer treatments, including chemotherapy. Trouble swallowing, saliva that sticks to your lips, a burning tongue, and white flakes around the mouth are all symptoms of xerostomia. You can alleviate the symptoms of this uncomfortable condition by following these tips:

  • Use an oral rinse every few hours
  • Take frequent sips of water
  • Apply lip balm
  • Run a humidifier in your home
  • Avoid salty or acidic foods.

Consider your furry friend. A pet can be an excellent source of comfort during and after chemotherapy treatment. While a pet offers much-needed support and companionship during cancer treatment, there are some things to consider to keep you and your pet safe. Place all medications out of a pet's reach, so they don't accidentally eat some of them. Make sure your pets don't come into contact with any of your bodily waste for up to 72 hours after you've received chemotherapy. You may also want to visit your pet's veterinarian to make sure there are no illnesses your pet could pass to you while your immune system is compromised. Finally, have a plan for a friend or family member to watch your pet if you are too sick or need to stay in the hospital unexpectedly.

Find a way to stay active even when you don’t feel like it. For the first days after a chemo session you should rest and recover. But between visits to the cancer center for chemotherapy, and even after your chemo is complete, you will start to feel more like yourself. As soon as you feel able, resuming physical activity at a moderate level can help increase your energy levels, help you stay at a healthy weight and may even improve long-term survival and reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Aim to exercise about 30 minutes per day and include strength training twice a week. Consider choosing an activity you enjoy and inviting a friend to come along with you to help yourself stick with it.

Work considerations. If you took time off or worked reduced hours while undergoing chemotherapy, you might be looking forward to returning to your normal work schedule after treatment ends. Whether you go back primarily for income or for a place to reconnect socially, be patient with yourself. Consider going back part-time initially, working from home if possible, and sharing as much or as little as you'd like about your cancer experience with your coworkers.

Being diagnosed with cancer and deciding how to treat it is an understandably emotional time. There are resources available to help you choose a doctor, sort through treatment options, experimental review therapeutics, and find support. Contact us at Affiliated Oncologists to learn more about support and resources available during your chemotherapy treatment and beyond.

Categories: General Cancer