Easing the Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Any cancer patient knows that chemotherapy means two things: a potential cure for cancer and side effects. Thankfully, there are several strategies to help minimize these adverse effects and get you back on your feet.
Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. Unfortunately, chemo can also destroy healthy cells, such as those that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow, causing several unpleasant side effects.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the following tips can help patients manage chemotherapy's three most common side effects:
Nausea and Vomiting
- Enjoy foods and drinks while warm or cool (not hot or cold). Give hot foods and drinks time to cool down, or make them colder by adding ice. You can warm up cold foods by taking them out of the refrigerator one hour before you eat or by warming them in a microwave.
- Avoid foods and drinks with strong smells. Onions, garlic, fish and coffee are just a few to steer clear of.
- If you feel like you might vomit, take a few deep breaths or get some fresh air. Distracting yourself by chatting with friends or family, listening to music, or watching a movie or TV may also help.
- Suck on sugar-free mints or tart candies. If you're feeling nauseous, sucking on a piece of candy can help. Don't use tart candies if you have mouth sores, however.
- Just relax. Meditation, yoga, prayer, and progressive muscle relaxation are just a few ways to calm you down and decrease stress that may cause fatigue.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Often, this means eating 5 or 6 small meals a day. Keep healthy snacks on hand for a quick pick-me-up, and be sure to drink 64 ounces of fluid to stay well hydrated.
- Plan time to rest. A 10- to 15-minute power nap can help fight fatigue. If you prefer longer naps, try not to sleep for more than an hour—keeping naps short will help you sleep better at night.
- Get active. Research shows that exercise can ease fatigue and help you get a full night's sleep. Try going for a 15-minute walk, doing a bit of yoga, or riding an exercise bike.
- Get a haircut. Cutting your hair or shaving your head before hair loss actually occurs can make you feel more in control. Hair loss will be easier to manage if you're already used to short hair or baldness.
- Buy a wig while you still have hair. The best time to shop for a wig is before you begin to lose your hair. This way, you can match the color and style of your new wig to your own hair.
- Protect your scalp. Following hair loss, it's important to protect your scalp by wearing a hat or scarf when outside and applying sunscreen before exposing your scalp to harsh sunlight. Be sure to wear a hat if you're planning on spending time in the chilly weather.
- Avoid products that can irritate your scalp. Hairspray, elastic hair bands, barrettes, hair dyes, and electric straightening or curling irons are just a few items to steer clear of.
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