Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top Four Tips for Getting Through Chemotherapy without Puking, Straining or uh, Letting Loose

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

Pro-biotic yogurt

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?

I do.

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.

By nurses.

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.



  1. Biotene is the best. I was swishing with that stuff every single time anything other than water crossed my lips. On the hydrate tip, I found Gatorade was easier to get down when water started tasting icky. Of course, I'll never drink the stuff again, but it got me through the chemo. Good luck. Glad to have found your blog.

  2. Jolly Ranchers candies were my constant companion. Just a few moments then I'd spit it out but the taste was lasting sweet and good.

  3. Great ideas! I am a 5 year survivor and I have taken what I have learned and put it in an easy to read book called Treat Her Like a Princess, How to Help Your Girlfriend with Breast Cancer. It is helpful for patients, but mostly it give the ones who want to help us the tools they will need. Hope yall find it helpful.

    PS- sugar free popsicles are a great way to deal with hydration and mouthsores

  4. I'll have to try those candies - maybe it's the one thing I could taste!

    Good luck on your book, Denise. It sounds useful.

  5. Thanks, Ann for posting your suggestions. They will definately come in handy when I start my chemo!

  6. Faithful biotene toothpaste, moisture drops and mouthwash user here too throughout chemo. ALSO glutamine powder 2-3x/day - dissolve in water or juice, sip and swish then swallow - helps not only to prevent mouth sores but also helps prevent or slow the progression of peripheral neuropathy which is a common side effect of chemo (tingly hands/feet etc.). It worked wonders for me when i started having that effect. stopped it in its tracks.

  7. What an excellent post ... so much good info. I'm absolutely terrible at drinking my water. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. thank you for that great information. I am only have six rounds of chemo (Stage I/Grade 3). I've just had #4; two to go! I send you kudos and hugs for your courage and resilience. I posted some chemo suggestions on my blog based on my (limited) experience. I didn't know about getting the blood count reports, though and completely forgot about that Mythbusters episode. The Britta pitcher is a great idea. My doctor doesn't show the blood test results to me. He's young, but a bit old school. I've been thinking I want copies. Now I'll take care of that.

  9. Hi Linda,

    I would get copies - I get copies of everything. I have a binder full of my medical test results, blood tests, etc. I'm surprised they don't give it to you automatically, but I'm always surprised when anything different happens then what I'm used to.

  10. Thank you for sharing. I will note all your tips as I'm about to embark on chemo next week for the very first time.

  11. I to had the unwanted diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 39(turned 41 today) but I am very grateful for the people that I have met on this journey. Great tips. The only addition I could think of please use paint your nails in order to prevent them from turning black or brown. Clear is fine.

  12. My Dad took the Claritin with Neulasta shots. He found that it did help with the severe bone pain. At least the later shots weren't as painful as that first round without Claritin.

  13. MOVE!! Get out of bed, do things around the house, walk around the block...move your body! That would be what I would add to the above. Moving helps your body's circulation, your digestion (of food and drugs...), your general mood and being. Some people are bedridden right after the chemo infusion, but most of us are actually able to function from day to day. Don't stay in bed just because...make a point of getting up and moving your body. Every day.

    1. I agree with MOVING. My dog Begged me to go out for her walk. Let me tell you I did not feel like going but I did. Sometimes just a few houses sometimes to the corner. But I ALWAYS felt better after going out.

  14. Hi there. I'm adding to this post a little late, but here goes. Dry brushing your body is great for circulation, getting rid of toxins, improving dry skin and it just feels soooooo good. Google it and see how many benefits you come up with. The best one is that it just feels really good. I am also a Stage IV Metastic BC. Constipation and nausea are my biggest issues. I do most of the above, but doesn't do it for me 100%. Trying to gain back the 17 lbs. i've lost during chemo. Great post.....great blog..... Thanks Ann

  15. I just read this and wish I had before my treatments in 2012. Everyone has their own story. I have had chronic fatigue. Last chemo Aug 2012 and still having medical problems from chemo. I am cancer free. Just cannot get energy levels up. I have signed up for water aerobics and hoping it will help. We all belong to the club...although not by choice we share an experience you cannot fully understand until you go through it. I tell people it is not a battle it is a war and we have been to the front lines. Cancer did teach me so many important things.

  16. Thank you for your tips , I've just started two rounds of chemo
    So far 14 more to go , I love the info you provided . Great to find positive info on web

  17. Ann, Love your blog! am featuring you in my blog post about how writing about the experience can help with emotional symptoms like depression. You write really well! - Pam Stephan

  18. Another tip for prevention of mouth sores, tooth loss: 5 drops of vitamin D, swish, swallow. Magnesium (2 tablets) helps somewhat with the constipation, but I also take stool softeners. Magnesium plus vitamin B6 also helps with "Chemo brain". I got all of this from a nutritionist who specializes in helping oncology patients with chemo side effects. He also recommends 3 cups of chicken or beef broth a day.

    I'm going to order the water, since my squeeze of a lemon now reminds me only of what I vomited up two days after chemo.

    I'm only on treatment 2 of 8 for stage 3 bc, so still have a ways to go.

  19. Ann, thank you so much for your open and honest writing. I am 7 days away from my first chemo treatment (so I guess I can't be called a cancer patient yet). I have read a lot of blogs recently, yours is refreshing to say the least. I am going to do all the things you and others are recommending. I hope your battle will soon be won, adding you to my prayers.

  20. I'm currently pre-any diagnosis. Cancer or no cancer. But right now I'm not hungry for sandwiches, bread, pasta (I LOVE PASTA), fish, fruit, crisps etc.
    I'm basically living off ready noodles, jelly, oralyte (that's like pedialyte) and seed mix.

  21. Things I never thought about when it come to chemo and how to handle it. Will have to bookmark this page. Thank you for the information, it's truly appreciated.

  22. I can see how eating good meals will help you get through chemotherapy. I remember when my grandma went through chemo. It was a little different but I remember her saying it was hard to have an appetite for things. No matter how difficult it may be, you should keep eating to give your body energy.

    Zach Thalman |

  23. Wow, your blog is just gorgeous !
    *love* both as the messages and the quality of the writing. Thanks !

  24. I would highly suggest getting Acupuncture treatments as well! They are good for immune system build up and just well being! I had a treatment the day after my chemo and every week after that. I was able to keep on working and was never sick. I am a 13 year survivor and still do acupuncture 1x a month for well being! All of your tips were great and do help.

  25. So glad to have found this blog today. I began my chemo just last week with second coming on Wednesday. I had stage 3 lung cancer and had to have my left lung removed in August. After attempting to recover from surgery for three months I have begun this stage of the game. Trying so hard to remain positive. So far I've not had a lot of troubles from the first treatment five days ago, and am so hoping it stays that way. So many great tips here. Thank you all so very much!

    1. I also had my left lung removed six weeks ago. Started chemo four days ago. This has been much harder than I thought it would be. Doesn't help that I am allergic to pain meds (opiates). Constipation has been a big part of problem. Also allergic to first nausea med they put me on. Some days I just want to cry all day. Walking causes me to feel like I am going to fall. Week feeling muscles. But continue to try. I do want to be mobile. I'm 55 female with sle, complicates things a bit. So glad for these suggestions.

  26. I start treatment on 1/14/15. will use all your tips. I'll tell you how i do.

  27. Thanks - I was just diagnose with an aggresive stage 4 prostate cancer (this since my last annual 7 months ago). Chem starts next week. This si a very helpful blog. I thought I was organized, but now I have a list of things to do this week....thanks

  28. Heartburn can be a pain when doing chemo. But don't rely too much on prilosec. It does more harm than good.

  29. Thank you for the tips. I had my first cycle of chemo and I got so sick that water wouldn't stay down. My second is next week and I want to be better prepared. These tips will help.

  30. I am so happy I find this blog I to will begin Chemo I am stage2 Breast Cancer Triple negative, I will do Chemo 4xs for 2 months and then the other treatment will be for 4 months once a week, I will be taking the injection to keep the white blood counts up.

  31. I am so happy to have found this. I begin chemotherapy (AC-T dense dose) on May 5, 2016. I will have 8 treatments twice a month.....SO scared! I will be getting the Neulasta shot after each chemo treatment. This helped alot and I already ordered the Biotene toothpaste and mouthwash. I am also going to order tagament and get the Brita pitcher! THANK YOU!!!!!

  32. what a wonderful site. ill eventually need chemo doc says but will be starting afinitor, and aromatsin this week. don't know if chemo would be better? stage 1v bone cancer from breast cancer had two years ago. anyone have any thoughts if I should just have the chemo already? I tried ibrance with faslodex but didn't stop the spread my cancer markers went up 20 points to 69 within a month, does anyone think I should just do the chemo now, doc keeps saying eventually, I have two spots on my liver too, in my ribs, femur, shoulder, hip, everything seems to be on the right side. thanks for any feedback, my email is thanks you

  33. also can u have chemo twice?

  34. This has been so helpful to me as I begin my first of four chemo treatments on Friday! I have a long shopping list now!!!


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