How to prepare for and handle chemo side effects

April 07, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Preparing for chemotherapy and the potential side effects that come with it can help clear up uncertainty and ease stress.

Chemotherapy is used to destroy cancer-causing cells. While the cells that cause cancer are the main target of chemotherapy, the treatment can also affect healthy cells, causing side effects such as:

The following are 10 ways to help deal with chemo-related side effects:

  1. Prepare healthy meals ahead of time. Stock up on some of your favorite nutritious snacks and make a few of your favorite meals to have in the freeze for days when you may not feel like cooking.

  2. Try hard candy like mints or lemon drops. Keep some in a jar in your house and in your purse or car. These can help on the days you feel nauseated or when chemo treatments leave you with a metallic taste in your mouth.

  3. Visit the dentist. Your doctor may recommend a trip to the dentist to make sure you don’t have any oral infections that could create problems later. Be sure to let your dentist know you are undergoing chemo treatments each time you visit. Pick up a non-alcohol based mouthwash, like Biotene®, to help with dry mouth and to keep your mouth clean.

  4. Get your rest. Fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy, so listen to your body. Take short naps (no longer than an hour) throughout the day rather than taking one long nap. You may also find that you need to conserve your energy for the most important activities of your day.

  5. Exercise. While this is not the time to push your body too much and you may not feel up to it on some days, exercise can help boost your mood, improve sleep and boost immune levels. Talk to your doctor in advance to see how exercise can be safely incorporated into your treatment plan.

  6. Do things you enjoy. Find time on non-treatment days or days you’re feeling well to participate in activities you enjoy. Going for a bike ride or enjoying a meal from your favorite restaurant can help boost your mood and ease stress. Humor therapy also can help ease anxiety through your treatment.

  7. Adapt your diet. Chemotherapy can cause nausea, taste changes or loss of appetite, so you may need to adapt your diet. Consider eating several smaller meals throughout the day rather than two or three large ones. Find snacks that are high in protein and calories, such as shakes, puddings, sherbets or nut butters.

  8. Let others know you’ll need help. Treatment days may leave you wiped out. Let your friends and family know when you need help and accept their offers to run errands, cook meals, do laundry, etc. Placing a to-do list on your fridge can be a helpful reference for friends or relatives who stop by.

  9. Consider a new look. Though many experience hair loss during chemotherapy, the good news is it is temporary and your hair grows back. You may want to consider a wig or other headwear, such as a scarf. To protect your skin during treatment, use a moisturizer as well as sunscreen on your face, neck and head.

  10. Talk to your care team. Communication with your care team is essential throughout your treatment. Your care team can help answer any questions you may have and address any concerns about side effects.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn about support services available to help you through your cancer journey.


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