Dealing with the side effects of Chemotherapy is huge distraction from the business of doing what you should to support and expedite healing from cancer. You now have a whole new set of issues to treat, many of which can leave you feeling depressed and caught up in a downward spiral.
Take heart.. this too shall pass.
The worst days are usually 3rd - 7th after treatment. Thankfully I didn't have a big problem with nausea with the help of Compazine starting day 2 through day 4, and after that I didn't need them, thanks to the powerful supplements I was taking to minimize drug specific side effects.
Working with an experienced Nutritional Oncologist was my saving grace. I got the recommended blood tests based on Oncometabolic factors. every two months so they could anticipate and address issues before they became a problem.
I felt it would be helpful to share remedies for the most common side effects, that are natural and without side effects of their own!
CAUTION:Make sure to talk to a nutritionist (contact me for a referral) to make sure there are no possible Drug-Nutrient interactions with your particular prescriptions.
Preparing for Your Chemo Treatment
My husband came with me to every chemo session. We made sure to get fixed appointments at times when his work schedule would allow him to join me. We took comic books, cards and a dice game to pass the time pleasantly.
I can't emphasize how helpful it is to ask a supportive friend or upbeat family member if they are free to drive with you to your appointment and back, not that you can't do it alone, it just makes the experience, and in my opinion the effectiveness of the treatment, so much better.
Your mind-set, your attitude, and your thoughts before and during a chemo treatment will program your brain, and hence your body's response, with either positive confidence that the drugs are working to heal you, or with worry and doubt that they can. You can help the process by holding on to a happy, strong attitude, or dampen the body's ability to heal with negativity, ambivalence and sadness. Which program will you choose?
The power of our thoughts is tremendous, "mind over matter" is not an empty saying. Harness the power of your mind by feeding it confidence that the treatment is zapping every cancer cell. Imagine that you're playing a game of PAC-MAN at each treatment... it really works.
If you have a small DVD player, then take a funny movie along! Laughterboosts the effectiveness of medication and relaxes you so that treatment is enhanced. My husband and I managed to find things to giggle about.
You could also bring an image of a heart, or any healing, religious or spiritual symbol that is meaningful to you. I asked the nurse to tape the photo I took, to the chemo bag. Why not infuse the contents with divine healing energy?
Take a large thermos or two of ICE COLD lemon water, or mineral water with a splash of orange blossom water (avail at health food and middle eastern stores), and a container of ICE. We took ice in a large Tupperware container because they had none at the clinic. Drinking icy cold liquids or sucking (no sugar) Popsicles during treatment helps limit damage to your intestines, by contracting the blood vessels. And lemon helps keep your liver happy.
Weight loss / Nausea
It's very important to maintain your weight during treatment. Although it's difficult to think of food when you're nauseous or when everything tastes like cardboard, you'll have to force yourself a little.
Cancer is called a 'wasting' disease, so address any symptom that keeps you from eating well. Controlling nausea is a high priority.
- Eat small amounts of food all day long instead of large meals
- Drink plenty of tea, water and lemonade (sweetened with a bit of stevia not sugar). Don't get dehydrated!
- Don't wait until you're hungry to eat... have a snack every couple of hours... sliced apple with a little almond butter, rye crackers with hummus, a pear, almond cheese on whole grain organic toast, etc.
- Don't eat fatty foods the day of or after Chemo treatments.
- For Breakfast, have gluten free, fiber rich toast with a sprinkle of cinnamon, whole grain organic crackers with a thin slice of rice or almond cheese, or a boiled egg. You don't want liquids first thing on days you're dealing with nausea.
- Ginger ale (low sugar, like Reed's brand at health food stores) or bubbly mineral water with a squeeze of lemon can help settle your stomach.
- You may have an awful bitter taste in your mouth that could last a week after treatment. Sucking on a lemon wedge sprinkled lightly with sea salt, or swishing salted water in your mouth helps. Spicy or tangy foods also help. Find out what works for you, and hold fast to the thought that this is TEMPORARY!
- ZINC supplements can help restore your sense of smell and taste.
- Fresh air, and sitting upright help minimize nausea.
- Avoid smoking or smokers.
- Avoid strong cooking odors. I found a few of these really bothered me. Even some dish soaps were intolerable!
- Schedule weekly acupuncture or massage treatments, they helped me tremendously with symptoms and moving the toxins out of my body
Foods that are easy on the stomach if nausea is an issue:
- Diluted juice (apple or grape) not acidic juices
- Club soda or mineral water with a hint of lime or a mint leaf
- Fruit smoothies, no dairy
- Ginger tea
- Mashed banana
- Cream of rice
When you are able to tolerate foods, add the following to boost your Calorie intake:
- Tahini (has protein and boosts white blood cell count)
- Coconut milk
- Almond butter
- Dry roasted Nuts (almonds, walnuts and pecans) not peanuts
- Whey protein mixed in cool water, between meals (it has anti-tumor qualities too!)
- Seeds, sunflower
- High omega-3 eggs
- Olive oil in your salads
- Coconut oil, I used 2 tsp. on whole grain toast twice a day
Moderate walking a half hour before you eat will help with symptoms and stimulate appetite.
This is a biggie. Most people experience various degrees of fatigue during Chemo which impacts their ability to resume normal life activities. Fortunately, the reasons for the fatigue are known, and can be targeted with Supplements and foods.
L-Carnitine: this supplement was a life saver for me. My energy level remained at about 50- 60 % of normal, which is so much better than the majority of patients. I took 750grams, 2x a day in water. Suggested brands are Ecological Formula's powder version, and Designs for Health 'Carniclear' liquid.
You want to increase foods that are high in potassium, which is depleted during Chemo and can contribute to Fatigue.
Try to have several servings of these a day:
- Low-sodium V8 juice
- Prune juice
- Acorn squash
- Portabella mushrooms
- Butternut squash
- Medium banana (under-ripe, no spots)
Foods to avoid:
- Dairy products
- High-fiber foods (whole grains, flax seeds, green leafy veggies...)
- Fried or fatty foods
- Spicy food
- Seeds and nuts
- Raw veggies and fruit
- Caffeinated drinks (except unsweetened black tea)
- Dried fruits
Just like when our kids were little, it's best to follow the BRATT diet until your bowels are happy again:
- Bananas (no brown spots on skin)
- Tea, black no sugar
P.S. In the Middle East we advise boiled rice with a little plain low-fat yogurt to cure diarrhea, and it works every time. I think the active cultures in yogurt are responsible.
Supplements that support the GI tract are:
L-Glutamine: this is another supplement that I took religiously during treatment. Not only does it heal the lining of your gastrointestinal lining, it helps wounds heal faster. So if you have any kind of surgery, make sure you have glutamine powder around to help.
Mix 30 or 40 grams of Glutamine powder with slightly cold water or apple juice and sip slowly. It is tasteless. It is most effective if taken between meals.
Carob: Buy raw carob powder, and mix 1 Tbs. with unsweetened rice or coconut milk for a treat and a cure! Can be cold or warm (but not hot).
Tannalbit: (500mg cap, 3-4 caps 3x/day) A tannin-rich plant extract that has remarkable anti-diarrheal and cancer inhibiting properties.
If you feel you need more immediate relief, over the counter medications like Immodium or Maalox are an option.
Another possible side effect depending on the drugs being used for Chemo, or a side effect of the anti-nausea drugs.
You want to increase your intake of insoluble fiber:
- Popcorn (low-fat)
- Supplemental fiber - fresh ground flax seeds mixed into foods or drinks, or oat bran fiber mixed into oatmeal or coconut yogurt
- Dried prunes and figs
Exercise will help as well as taking a daily dose of probiotics with guaranteed 50+ billion active cultures. Keep in refrigerator. It is advisable to take probiotics for at least a year after Chemo.
Chewing (xylitol sweetened) gum triggers our brain to send a message to our bowel.
According to a study people were given chewing gum 3x a day after colon resection surgery, and their intestines recovered faster and they were able to have bowel movements sooner than patients who did not chew gum! (Meta-analysis of Randomized Studies Evaluating Chewing Gum to Enhance Postoperative Recovery Following Colectomy; Sanjay Purkayastha, BSc, MRCS; Henry S. Tilney, MRCS; Ara W. Darzi, MD, FRCS, KBE, FMedSci; Paris P. Tekkis, MD, FRCS)
Foods to Avoid:
- Simple carbs
- Rice Milk
- Black Tea
Sleep: Make sure you're able to rest well and get enough sleep. It actually helps your ability to deal with pain.
Vitamin D: A link has been made between low Vitamin D levels and pain. Studies have shown that supplementing with Vitamin D reduces pain from bone metastases and improves muscle strength.
Vitamin C: Depending on your chemo drugs, you may or may not be able to take high doses of Vitamin C, but if your nutritionist (someone who is well versed with oncology and drug interactions) says you can, then work up to 3000+mg a day, 1,000 mg at a time. Trials have shown Vitamin C reduces pain after bone fractures.
Studies on therapeutic levels of Vitamin C, and Pain:
- Can Vitamin C Prevent Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
- Use of antioxidants to treat pain in chronic pancreatitis
Foods that help:
Foods to Avoid:
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Potatoes and peppers
- Foods that cause allergies
Herbal remedies like this one are also promising: A Chinese Herbal Formula for the Treatment of Pain and Associated Symptoms of Cancer.
Low White Blood Count
Take note of your WBC test results. Your oncologist will most likely keep track of your count and give you a shot if needed before treatment, but there is much you can do to keep your level up.
Astragalus Root was prescribed for me , and I still take it. It has a long history in Chinese medicine for immune health. Thanks to this herbal formula I didn't have a problem with my White Blood Count during treatment, which is a common side effect.
Another helpful supplement is Esberitox, which combines three powerful immune boosting herbs; Thuja, Echinacea, and Wild Indigo. The pills are chewable and taste like caramel!
I mentioned Tahini above. This is a tasty way to help your platelet count. Make hummus heavy with Tahini, or drizzle 1 - 2 Tbs. mixed with lemon juice on salads. I love tahini spread on bread with a sprinkle of cinnamon!
Foods that can help
- Hi Omega3 Eggs
- Organic, grass-fed beef
- Broccoli and Cabbage
Take Care of Your Liver
Your liver will be vulnerable during Chemo, as it processes all those toxins, so you'll need to pay extra care to keeping it as healthy as possible.
I started most days with a glass of lemon water (1 lemon squeezed into 8 ox of water).
Some things you can do to help the toxins move out of your system, and take some of the load off your liver are:
- Drinking 6 - 8 glasses of water a day. (squeeze lemon into each)
- Moderate exercise, walking 25 - 30 minutes a day
- Deep breathing
- Eat nuts, seeds, cruciferous vegetables, apples, vinegar, carrot juice, greens and artichokes
REMEMBER TO STAY POSITIVE!
WORRY WILL HAMPER YOUR HEALING.
Be Well! ♥