Getting diagnosed with cancer is scary. Bam! Suddenly you’re in a bewildering whirlwind of unsettling appointments and diagnostic procedures. It’s chaos and confusion and then you’re confronted with cancer treatment: chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, second opinions, unsolicited advice on essential oils, soursop, and alternative therapies, and who knows what else.
Sometimes the advice is helpful, sometimes it just lands wrong. But at the end of the day, most newly diagnosed cancer patients just want answers and a little bit of comfort. We just want to know how to get through it.
So when a close friend – another cancer thriver – made the sad announcement that her dear brother had been diagnosed with cancer –which had already spread – and was beginning chemotherapy immediately, I sat down and did my best to compile all of the tips and tricks that got me through with some semblance of sanity. And sometimes even a smile.
So, what follows is more or less what I sent to her, with a few minor edits.
Chemo Survival Tips and Tricks
I’m SO sorry you are going through this right now – I hope you find some of this helpful. I honestly did almost all of these things myself so I can speak to their efficacy from a personal POV.
This is the majority of what I found to be helpful, but I’m sure there is more/ I can speak to any questions you have… please do feel free to give me a call/text whenever. How are YOU doing!? Gosh I wish I could be there with you but you have all been on my mind to be sure.
So anyway, here goes – my best attempt to put together the most helpful tips and tricks for getting through chemo:
Chemotherapy Post-treatment tips – Detox Baths!
- Apple Cider Vinegar bath – really amazing for drawing out the toxins (eg those released by the dead cancer cells as well as the chemo itself). These were a game-changer in the day I got home from each round – really made me feel a whole lot better
- Epsom salt bath – good for magnesium absorption as well as detox
- Essential oil baths – lavender is a great option here to soothe the body. Nope, not claiming essential oils will cure cancer! But they sure do help calming the mind and body. Aromatherapy is awesome.
Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects
- L Lysine – OTC supplement (amino acid)… the *only* thing that actually helped my mouth sores heal when I got them. My friend who had gone through the same treatment I had told me about this, which her holistic/Ayurvedic doctor had informed her about. It makes sense because it’s a building block particularly for the digestive lining
- Ice cubes can help temporarily, the mouthwash they give us can sorta help temporarily, they claim it can prevent. Didn’t really work for me, the stuff they gave me for when I had them. Only the l-lysine actually works to heal them!
- Oh YEAH! – ALOE!!! This is SO helpful for the mouth sores and for the digestive tract. You can find pure aloe juice at Whole Foods for sure. Aloe is Super healing generally.
- Organic/ non-toxic/ natural creams – I used pure shea butter (which frankly I can’t stand now lol!) but the skin can become very sensitive from chemo, so using something gentle and natural is important because the skin will want TLC
Digestive Issues from Chemo– Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Constipation, etc
- Glutamine (L-glutamine) – another OTC supplement that helps repair and rebuild the lining of the digestive tract which is majorly compromised by chemo (all fast-growing cells/tissues are targeted the most by chemo, which means not just cancer cells, but hair cells, digestive lining, skin, etc)
- Probiotics – so important! gut flora is devastated by chemo so the more probiotics the better
- Easily Digestible, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods (see blow)
Anti-Cancer Diet and Nutrition: Easily Digestible, Anti-Inflammatory, Nutrient-Dense Foods
- Blended Veg Soups – my blog has a lot of anti-cancer-friendly soup recipes. Ideal because they’re easy on the digestive tract, comforting (warms foods are best), and packed with nutrients that boost immunity and support the body in healing and fighting.
- Bone broth – super healing for the gut, provides a lot of protein, easily digestible
- Smoothies – a great way to get in a lot of fruits and veggies, as well as vegan protein powder
- **If people offer to cook/ if you ask friends and neighbors for food or if they offer, I recommend that you gently request they make cooked foods that are high-veg, low animal products. Honestly veggie-based soups like I mentioned would be perfect because it’s easy to freeze soup as well. You can add unflavored vegan protein to veggie soups, as well as the L-glutamine – I did this myself. Another go-to for me was warm zucchini noodles in organic tomato sauce topped with cooked broccoli, nutritional yeast (gives it a cheesy flavor plus lots of fiber, amino acids, and B-vitamins!), hemp seeds, turmeric, salt and pepper. Lots of veg and anti-inflammatory goodness, but still had a comfort-food vibe.
- If you have a juicer, celery juice and/ or carrot-ginger-turmeric are super healing. Green juices are great too, just harder to achieve when you make them on your own. Cucumber apple ginger is a good combo as well, just don’t want to go overboard with fruit in the juices.
- In a nutshell – LOTS of veggies. Plant-based protein. Blueberries/ berries (organic, cleaned well – a bit of a myth that you can’t have raw fruits and veggies. My onc approved the berries as long as they were cleaned well by me, not from like an open food-bar!)
- Things to avoid – you’re familiar – gluten, dairy, sugar, processed foods, chemicals, additives, GMOs, non-organic, pesticides, sugar alcohols – as much as possible
General Feel-Good Tips (During, between, and after cancer treatment!)
- Laugh!!! Laughter is seriously the best medicine.
- Netflix and Chill – comedies and light-hearted viewing pleasures ideal
- Rest/ Nap. Duh, I think.
- Simple Activities that he loves – drawing? nintendo? sudoku? comic books? wild guesses here haha but you get the picture 😉 Slash do we even call it nintendo anymore…!?
- Favorite music/ uplifting/ motivating songs
- Love – all the hugs and making sure he knows he is loved is honestly way more powerful than most of us realize
- Social and emotional support – SO IMPORTANT! This can be in the form of loved ones, family, and friends of course, but it’s also tremendously helpful to connect with other cancer patients/ survivors/ thrivers/ warriors. Support groups can be great, but there are so many options out there with social media – through Facebook and Instagram I’ve connected with so many amazing, supportive people! In my experience, these groups always step up. We get it. We got you. Find your cancer crew!
- Adventures – as much as possible, getting out and about doing new things, going to new places, things he has always wanted to do
Relaxation/ Meditation – Ways to Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, aka the Relaxation State, aka the Healing State
- Binaural beats – I didn’t know about this myself and it’s only recently come into my awareness, but listening to music with these frequencies can help people enter a meditative state which is conducive to healing. It literally impacts the frequency of brain waves so they release serotonin. I meditated a ton during treatment, so I feel like this could be a useful alternative for your brother. Just FYI there are a couple contraindications which I’m 99% sure wouldn’t impact him but you know better so I obvi wanted to make sure you are aware. It’s basically relaxing meditation type music – just search binaural beats on youtube and a lot of options will come up. Worth checking out imho.
- Meditation – and obvi if you think meditation/ mindful breathing would be an option, it’s been proven time and again the impact it has on healing.
- Deep breathing – Deep belly breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, aka the ‘rest and digest’ system (alter-ego to the fight or flight). This turns off the stress-response, which interferes with immunity.
Movement – Moving the Body during Chemotherapy is Important
- Whenever and as much as possible, he should get up and walk around, stretch his limbs, anything! Anything to get the blood flowing and, most importantly, the lymph moving through his system so that the body can eliminate the waste
Hospital Survival Kit for Chemotherapy Treatment
Honestly this is assuming he is inpatient for treatment – as I was. Outpatient is a bit different as it’s obviously for a shorter time, although I think a good amount of it holds true!
The key is comfort, relaxation, happiness, joy, and love.
- Pillows! Sleeping in the hospital is almost impossible but good pillows help. And I had my own (purple obvi lol) throw blanket that I added to my bed for extra warmth because it was always so cold, not to mention the bed looked cozier
- Stuffed animal – because why not!
- Clothes/ PJs – I refused to wear hospital gowns because I did not want to feel like a patient, so most of treatment I was in PJs (I could only change/ shower once every 24 hours when they changed my chemo bag, so I stayed in PJs! A normal outfit for going home is also key.
- IV poll bling – I hung Christmas ornament sparkly snowflakes from my IV poll and a ‘you got this’ banner my sister gave me, some people make covers for the chemo bags, anything to make it look less scary
- I also thought of the chemo as my ‘magic elixir’ that was healing me rather than some scary drug
- Small picture of family/ friends/ pets/ artwork – obvi nothing too crazy or fancy but anything that makes it feel a bit more uplifting or like home
- Adult coloring books maybe? I was gifted like 5 and colored all of 1 page
- Snacks/Food – tbh I brought ALL of my own food to the hospital because the hospital food made me nauseous and was not nearly as nutritious as my own standards required.
- Lemon/ ginger suckers – good for weird tastes that can come up for some people during chemo
- Herbal teas – soothing and healing in their own right, green tea is super anti-cancer if he can drink it (blends are often tastier!)
- Slippers! Non-slip socks! I got cozy rubber-bottomed slippers to walk around in so I wasn’t walking around in socks but they are very cautious of slips and falls so rubber bottoms for anything
Additional hospital suggestions for the ladies:
- I showed up for treatment in wigs, dresses, sunglasses – the whole nine! If you show up looking fierce and fabulous, you might actually feel that way too. Even when I got a fluke infection and had to go to the ER the night before round three with a fever of 103, I had my wig on and still felt somewhat put together in my cozy light blue sweater, black PJ bottoms, and white sneakers. A comfy yet cute outfit to leave in is helpful too!
- Makeup! Look good feel good is a real thing. The simple act of applying makeup can make you feel less like a patient and more like a normal, extra beautiful human being. A nail kit helps too. Nails can get brittle so having a clipper and file on hand is helpful, plus fun polish can brighten the situation up.
- Wigs! Losing your hair can actually be kinda fun… sorta! The first wig I got was a wavy silver-lavender wig, and I got soooo many compliments when I wore it! Most people thought it was my own hair haha! I also had a blonde bob, a long, wavy honey blonde glamour girl wig, and my go-to natural hair long red wig which I wore to my sister’s wedding, bridal shower, bachelorette, and dates 🙂
Recap: How to get through Chemo with your Sanity intact – and maybe a Smile too!
- Basically anything that is relaxing or uplifting will turn off the stress response and put the body into a state where healing is possible, which will improve the efficacy of treatment and your ability to recover.
- Aiding the body’s natural detox pathways by taking natural supplements and eating easy-to-digest, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods between treatments (even during) will go a long way toward mitigating side effects and improving his recovery between and post-treatment.
- Bucket List Vibes – going out and doing the things you have always wanted to do but are scared to, or put off for ‘later’ – now is the time to do it/ prioritize making it happen. It can be as small as trying a new restaurant or as big as changing a career, following your passions, or going on that solo trip across the world! Giving yourself something to look forward to is a major help.
- Well, I hope this helps, and I’m ALWAYS here whenever you need to talk, have any questions, or just want to cry or vent or laugh or whatever! Sending you, your brother, and your family so much love <3
If you or anyone you know is facing treatment, or in the midst of it, and you have questions, concerns, or want some support in navigating the whirlwind, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or set up a time to chat with me (complimentary of course!). We can discuss personalized tips and strategies to manage treatment, help with recovery, plus additional resources that you may find helpful!
Lots of love <3