The below four tips were compiled by me, culled from various online, paper, and even medical sources. I have tested them myself and so far, have had great success keeping the worst of the chemo side-effects at bay.
Except that pesky baldness thing.
It could be that I'm lucky - but I do believe it has to do with the tips below so I'll share them with you. If they help, please let me know. If you have your own tip, feel free to add it in the comments.
Tip Number 1. Water, water, water.
I bought a 64 ounce Brita Pitcher and drank a full one every day, beginning the day before chemo, the day of, and the day after. I did that, not for the super-healthy pure filtered water, but so my ADD self can keep track of my water intake. If I left it up to me and the faucet I'd have no idea what I drank, but I would wonder why there were glasses all over the house.
Keeping track, I know how much I drank ... and wonder why there are glasses all over the house.
Chemo meds are filtered by the liver and excreted by the kidneys. Flushing your body will help remove the toxins faster, will help aid in digestion (meaning keeping you regular), and will keep your skin from drying out too much.
Oh, and an added bonus - lots of water makes your veins plump, so if you are trying to avoid a port, this might help your nurses give you a nice stick.
Don't like water? I heard a chemo patient say that. Think of it this way - if you are going to have to visit your bathroom during chemo, wouldn't you rather it be for aggressive water consumption rather than puking, straining, or the runs? (Or all three?) And, Aqua Delight has a clean, fresh flavor and helps cut through metallic taste. You have nothing to lose by ordering it.
Tip Number 2. Fiber, fiber, fiber.
I begin a high fiber diet the day before chemo. Since the medication kills off your fastest-growing cells, including ones in your digestive tract, common side effects are either explosive diarrhea, the kind of constipation that requires a Lamaze coach, or, horrifyingly, both. Most people assume nausea is the worst part of chemo - nope, it's actually what goes on at the other end. A high fiber diet can prevent both conditions. It's worked for me.
Don't wait to start - I begin it the day before chemo. Here is a list of foods that I typically eat during chemo week:
All-Bran cereal mixed with Total Whole Grain
Progresso bean soup (split pea, lentil, etc.)
Whole grain toast
Carrot or celery sticks
Dried apricots or prunes or Trader Joes Dried Fruit Fiberful bar.
Since I cook for my family, I do a normal dinner consisting of:
I do a brown rice or sweet potato as the starch and load up on the veggies for me. Artichokes are a very high fiber veggie.
Dessert. I've never been a sweets person, but I do have a cup of hot tea and two Metamucil cookies. They come in apple and cinnamon and sugar.
I eat like this for a week to ten days after chemo, or until I'm sure my digestive system is functioning normally.
Okay, I know what you're thinking. You'd rather have your cancer kill you than eat a taste-free diet such as this. Well, good news! You won't be able to taste anything anyway, so it doesn't matter much what you eat. Might as well eat to alleviate symptoms cuz you sure as heckfire aren't going to be able to eat for enjoyment. Nothing says you can't have a cupcake or cookie or something too, if that's the way you swing. But, you really want the bulk of your diet during chemo to be, uh, bulk.
Tip Number 3. Medicine, Medicine, Medicine
I do not deny myself a prescription med at any time. Long time friends will smile knowingly. I grew up in the 70s, what can I say? Better living, and all that.
I was given Compazine and Ativan for nausea. If I even dream I'm getting nauseous, I pop a pill. If I see somebody on TV wretching, down goes a Compazine. I take the Ativan at bed just in case I wake up feeling queasy, you never know.
I learned after surgery that it is a lot harder to control pain or nausea once it starts than to prevent it in the first place. So, no waiting on the meds. No being brave. No saying, "Oh, it's only a little queasiness, I can take it."
No, don't take it. Be a wimp and slam the drugs. You get no points for bringing yourself to the point of a three hour puke. You probably won't need them after five or six days anyway - if that long.
Tip number 4: Mouth Care.
Chemotherapy also kills off the fast-growing cells inside your mouth. To prevent mouth sores, it's time to listen to your dentist and brush, floss and baby your teeth. I purchased biotene toothpaste and biotene mouthwash. Instead of my faithful Crest or Pepsodent or whatever is on sale for a buck with a coupon, I'm using expensive toothpaste. Brush often, brush well, and floss.
And, here is the important thing: bathrooms are dirty, dirty places. I bought myself a toothbrush sanitizer Overkill? I think not. Was it Mythbusters where they showed the toilet flush and the germs going on everything in the bathroom, from toothbrush to soap? Maybe it was Time Warp. I can't remember but I do recall that it was truly disgusting, and when I found out chemo patients are supposed to close the toilet lid before they flush to prevent that e-coli backspray, it brought that horror story back. Even more horrifying, I live with all males and realized that closing the lid wasn't going to happen.
So, my toothbrush is sanitized after each use. E-coli and chemo just weren't made for each other.
And, I've not had a sore.
There is also a new product on the market called Luvionex Dental Gel which is supposed to break the bond between plaque and your teeth. Keeping your teeth clean needs to be a priority for a while.
Those are my top four tips for getting through chemo but as always, your mileage may vary. I take taxotere and carboplatin. There are 30 other types of chemo drugs out there. What works for me and my chemo may not work for you and yours. What I do know, is that I have had a much easier time with my chemo than others who are on the exact same regimen as me and who are not doing the above. Take from that what you will.
But what if those tips don't work? Should you have anything on hand, just in case?
Senekot is a gentle laxative. At the first sign of blockage, take one. I hear the longer you wait, the worse it gets. I know a poor soul who had to be disemboweled, er, I mean, disimpacted at the hospital.
Based on my last experience with nursing care - that is is one medical procedure I think I'll skip.
On the other end of the spectrum, you should keep some immodium around. Again, start taking it at the first signs you need it.
Heartburn can be a very common problem. I had minor heartburn my first round of chemo but made the mistake of buying Prilosec that takes a week to start work. You may want to have Tagamet instead. It works immediately. Fortunately, I've not needed it this round.
Claritin is supposed to be good when getting your neulasta/neupogen injection. Since I have not had that shot yet, I don't know if it helps or not.
(For those who don't know, when your white counts get down too low and you can't fight off any infection or receive chemo, they give you an injection that builds your white cells.) Side effects from this one are serious bone pain and claritin is supposed to help you with that, indicating it might be an allergic reaction.
Few get out of chemo without a white cell booster and I may get one next week, so I'll report back.
I guess I should mention exercise. This is one I don't participate in myself. But, I hear it's good for you. I hear it can give you energy when you start to get tired.
I'll leave that one for you to decide.
Me? I have a book waiting.