Created: 11 October 2011 | Written by Dr. Wilson for Citrus County Chronicle
Published in the Citrus County Chronicle, October 11, 2011
Chemotherapy, also called chemo, is frequently prescribed to kill cancer-causing cells before or after surgery, and to combat certain types of cancer such as leukemia. Chemotherapy is used because it attacks cancerous cells wherever they have spread in the body, rather than targeting a specific location. It may be administered as an intravenous drip, an injection, pills taken orally, or cream spread on the skin.
Cancer is caused by abnormal cells that multiply rapidly. During chemotherapy, your body becomes a battlefield. Drugs circulating in the bloodstream kill the abnormal cancer cells, but they can also damage normal cells that divide fast, such as cells in your blood and bone marrow, hair follicles, reproductive tract and digestive lining. This can cause a number of unpleasant side effects, including nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, aches and pains, diarrhea, constipation, mouth sores, sore throat, anemia, and low white blood cell count, which makes you vulnerable to infections. Each patient responds to chemotherapy differently; some people become quite ill, while others experience almost no symptoms at all.
Side effects of chemotherapy can be managed with drugs, but there are a number of things you can do to help your body fight the battle, minimize the symptoms, and heal faster. During chemotherapy, you need to maintain a healthy, balanced diet so your body gets all the nutrients it requires. Eat foods of many colors to maximize phytonutrients and other natural antioxidants. You may experience loss of appetite, and your favorite dishes may taste different or lose their appeal. Try eating smaller meals or snacks throughout the day. Walk or do light exercise to stimulate appetite. Distract yourself by having meals with family members or watching television while you eat. Eat with plastic forks and spoons if your food tastes metallic. An adequate amount of protein is important to promote healing. If eating is difficult, try a liquid diet. Mix protein powder in milk, or in juices if you do not like dairy products. Avoid acidic and high-fiber foods (raw fruit and vegetables, coarse whole grains) which can aggravate nausea and bloating. The lining of your digestive tract is irritated by chemotherapy, so stay away from hot spices such as curry and Cajun, greasy and fried foods, rich desserts and sweets.
Eat your meals at room temperature. Drink liquids, but not together with your meals. Be careful about eating undercooked foods and very soft cheeses because you are more vulnerable to bacterial infections when your immune system is compromised. Stress, anxiety, and fatigue aggravate the side effects of chemotherapy. Get plenty of rest before and after a chemotherapy session. Sleep allows your body to repair damage and regenerate healthy cells.Confide in friends and family members who can offer emotional support. Do not try to be heroic going through this experience all alone; allow others to comfort you. Meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga can help relieve stress.
Ask your doctor about anything you do not understand, and try to gather as much information as you can about your treatment and what to expect. Your medical team is there to help you heal quickly.