Beating down chemo’s ill effects

Are you feeling like you don’t know what to do first … throw up, fall over from sheer exhaustion, or pinch yourself to make sure the hands and feet you can’t feel are still there? I know, not funny.  Unfortunately, chemo isn’t as discriminatory as we’d like; the drugs kill the good cells but are rough on healthy ones too. So getting through chemo camp often means having to tread rough terrain. To help you through the unpleasantries, I’ve compiled research from several medical resources as well as from a few of the masters themselves—soldiers who’ve tested what’s out there and found what works for them. This is my “Standing up to Chemo: Greatest Hits” album.

Let’s start with nausea

Would you believe our brains actually have a vomiting center? Chemo turns that center on by causing the body to release serotonin, dopamine, and histamine. Fortunately anti-nausea drugs have gotten better at working around this glitch. Compazine is often effective in that it blocks dopamine. You should take it about three hours after chemo and for two or three days after treatment.  If you still start to feel nauseous, you can add Zofran to your arsenal; to be taken at the first twinge of upset.

Diet may help fight nausea too. Eating five or six small meals throughout the day is easier on your digestion. Bland foods may become your king’s meal; mashed potatoes, oatmeal, crackers, pudding, and fruit are all kind to your stomach.  As far as drinks, warm and fizzy helps. Try warm 7-Up or ginger ale. Otherwise clear juices are good.  If you can’t stomach fluids of any kind, try juice popsicles.


Let’s move on to diarrhea and constipation

If you have one or the other, or are lucky enough to have both, know that Senekot is a gentle, effective laxative. Immodium works for the opposite problem. Certain foods can jump start digestion. For instance high-fiber foods like All-Bran cereal and muffins are binding. You can also up your fiber intake by replacing white rice and pasta with brown, and swapping your white potato for sweet potatoes.  Prunes, dried apricots and soothing bean soups help keep you regular.


Mouth sores are another culprit

Chemo goes after fast-growing cells, and doesn’t stop when it gets to the mucous lining in our mouths. So go easy on your teeth and gums. Biotene toothpaste may help. Brush often and floss daily. Use a mouthwash without alcohol, and if over-the-counter products aren’t working, your oncologist can prescribe something more effective.


Pain from neuropathy (numbness or tingling to extremities) typically comes with the territory, too  

You can combat the pain with more drugs or alternative methods. Conventional drugs include acitaminophen (Tylenol) or non-steroid anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen for mild pain.  If these drugs don’t take care of the problem, and it worsens, you may bite the bullet with opioid medications like hydrocodone, codein, or oxycodone. Then there are drugs for breakthrough pain (flairs between pain medication doses). Of course, you’ll need to have the conversation with your doctor to determine what’s best for you.


If you prefer to go au naturelle, the National Institutes of Health has given its seal of approval to techniques like relaxation, visualization, hypnosis, and biofeedback for chemo-induced pain

Relaxation can reduce muscle tension, help with sleep, boost energy, and reduce anxiety. Examples are deep breathing and progressive relaxation. Through progressive relaxation you lie down, clench and release individual muscle groups, eventually focusing on the places that hurt.

Visualization involves using a symbol to imagine the transformation of pain; for example, a blazing fire doused by water. There are audiotapes to teach these techniques. Then there’s electrical stimulation; one of the more common forms is PENS (Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), which combines acupuncture with electrical stimulation of the nerves.

Good luck  along your way to  good health, with chemo in your corner while standing up to the not-at-all-fun effects.

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4 Responses to “Beating down chemo’s ill effects”
  1. Dawn Ramari says:

    This is like a script from a reality series… and that’s exactly why what you’ve written is so helpful. Often times women are not told the side effects. It’ s like, “We’re going to cure you but you may feel like your at death’s door for a while”. Thanks for spilling the beans with candy coating the effects of treatment. It’s so much easier to deal with things, if you know the truth. Great suggestions for the counter attack to maintain your sanity. God bless.

  2. Cindy Gish says:

    Since I am done with my chemo, I thought I would post some after treatment results on how I’m doing.

    Almost 4 months out of chemo… the numbness in my fingers and feet I believe is now gone. Yea! My low resistance to infection did catch up to me with a bad cold, which I never get each winter. Also, I am now fighting diverticulitis and had to be hospitalized. I am now home and trying to recover with a new diet high in fiber. I didn’t know I had this, but they told me with low resistance the infection went wild. My hair is almost at combing stage. Yea! =D Once I get over this hurdle with the tummy pain I hope to get back into exercise. Good luck to everyone and praise God for listening to our prayers and blessing us each day. Cindy

  3. Sharon Bray says:

    There’s lots of good information in the article, but one thing that was not mentioned directly, that helps with most of the unpleasant symptoms that you mentioned, is massage. I can speak directly to the benefits of massage, as I am a massage therapist. But I can also say from the experience of my friends that acupuncture has also been effective in reducing the effects of fatigue and nausea from chemotherapy.
    Back to massage, it is important that you go to a therapist who has been trained to work with people living with cancer because there are important adjustments that must be made. Having said that, there are special massage protocols that specifically address peripheral neuropathy, constipation, and nausea. And, of course, massage will be very effective with creating relaxation, which will help with fatigue, anxiety and pain.
    If you have trouble finding a massage therapist trained in oncology massage, you can go to the website, or check with your local massage school.

  4. I was surprised to hear that some oncologists, especially in Europe are using insulin potentiated chemotherapy which avoids many of the horrid side effects (and even some of the horrid cost) of the procedure. The insulin tells all the cells that there is plenty of glucose, so now is the time to open up the intake ports and grab that stuff while it is there. Cancer cells have lots of insulin receptors to support rapid growth and they just love glucose. It seems that the chemo looks enough like glucose, that they grab most of the available chemo so other cells get much less of it. It uses only a tenth as much of the chemo, so the drug companies are not fond of this, but it still seems to do the job and patients feel better and can take more of it. It’s also called low dose chemo. Can we find some experts and some patients who’ve had it to bring more reality to this table?

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