Chemo. It is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of cancer treatment. And while there are countless types of therapies and treatments these days, chemo remains the standard form of treatment for many types of cancer. Tommy has gone through four or five different rounds of chemotherapy, and they were all different in regard to tolerability, hair loss, fatigue, nausea, etc.
Because every experience is so different, I designated an entire chapter of my book, Better Together: Navigating the Cancer Experience, to sharing dozens of chemo experiences of survivors and caregivers. Below is an excerpt from that book! This is a list from the end of the chapter where I share the tips and tricks I've picked up, alongside Tommy, to make chemo a bit more manageable for both survivor and caregiver.
Managing Chemo Side Effects:
This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are a few of the things we found worked well for us.
Keep a wide array of snacks in the home: I like to use the “snack basket” approach. I fill a basket with as many different snack flavors and textures as I can, and move it with Tommy from room to room. This helps to add a few extra calories during those brief moments he’s hungry between meals.
Keep the house clean and have plenty of candles or essential oils on hand to help with sensitivity to certain smells: A calm, clean environment creates a blank slate that you can add scents to. Sometimes Tommy preferred a fragrance-free home, but sometimes a candle scent helped.
Alcohol-free toothpaste and mouthwash to avoid mouth sores. This one was a game-changer for us. Chemo can lead to sensitive teeth and gums. Being proactive with oral health prevents sores.
Ginger tea and ginger candies for nausea. Ginger is a “tried and true” nausea aid that was recommended to us dozens of times, and one we recommend now as well. Tommy’s go-to ginger candies are called Gin-Gins, and we buy them in bulk online.
Stay ahead of your nausea by eating when you can, and staying hydrated. This one took us a while to master. We initially waited to treat nausea after it arrived, but learned that being proactive is much more effective.
Mental side-effects (depression, anxiety, etc) are just as important to address as physical side-effects. Seeing a therapist, speaking with a group, or just reaching out to a friend are great steps towards managing the mental challenges of chemo.
Be aware of when you watch your favorite movies, listen to your favorite music, and eat your favorite foods as you can develop an association with them with treatment weeks. (Tommy developed a permanent aversion to Gatorade, just because he now associates it with chemo weeks!)
Plastic utensils can help avoid a metallic taste while eating.
Track your symptoms and side effects: Knowing what is “normal” for you during chemo weeks, versus something that seems “off,” is important to keep track of, and share with your doctor.
Show your support with encouraging, spirit-lifting, and practical cards and gifts! Sharing a few I love to send below: