After my first chemo session, I discovered a number of challenges I needed to resolve. I learned that no matter how well you prepare, how closely you listen to the nurses, you will encounter unique problems as your body fights to eliminate the cancer.
Here are some of the things I found very helpful. I hope that they can help someone else out there.
Smells: Like most people I became hyper-sensitive to smells. This is normal. Don’t sweat it. It hit me around day 4 after my infusion. The strongest reaction I had was to the smell of meat. Any kind of meat. Cooking meat was the worst. But let’s be real here; I can’t expect my healthy, carnivore husband to chug smoothies. He needs to eat, and I am blessed in that he was willing to cook his own food for a few meals. My Solution: I used one of those paper masks you use when you are going to be sanding furniture, or doing something that raises a lot of dust. I put a couple of drops of Lavender Oil on the mask, and let it dry. When the smells pushed my smell-o-meter off the chart, I simply put on the mask. All I smelled was the pleasant, soothing scent of lavender. I also put a couple of drops on my hand. If I wasn’t wearing the mask, I just put my hand under my nose and took a couple of breaths. Smells neutralized. Problem solved.
Solid Foods: For 2 or 3 days, I found that a meal of solids was just not sitting well. But you have to eat, and take in calories, because you have to give your body every advantage to fight on your behalf. My Solution: I purchased a Nutri Ninja. It comes with books that have lots of good concoctions! I also doubled up on protein shakes. I did find that anything sugary immediately gave me an awful taste in my mouth. So I look for protein powders with the lowest sugar content and the highest number of protein grams per scoop. Use two scoops instead of one. If you are making a fruit or veggie smoothie, add vanilla protein powder. You don’t really taste it, but you get the added punch and needed calories. The one I am using is called “Designer Whey” and I get it at Trader Joe’s. I also combine fruit and veggies as much as possible in my smoothies. Cuts down on the natural fruit sugars and gives me the added vitamin benefits of the veggies. (Shopping Tip: I ordered mine online from Bed, Bath and Beyond. The price was $159. An automatic $30 rebate was applied, and then I used the 20% off coupon that they always have available. Shipping was free. So, after tax, the cost to me was $102.)
Listen to your body: There was a lot of advice and suggestions that I got from the nurses that did not work for me. In fact, a lot of it had the opposite effect of what they meant. For example, they told me to have crackers and pretzels. I don’t normally eat that stuff anyway, because the carbs convert to sugar, and I have hypoglycemia so sugar is always an issue. But I figured I would listen to the experienced people. The day of my first infusion, I brought a baggie with pretzels. I ate them during the infusion. Kind of like a guilty pleasure. No problem. The next day, I took a handful of pretzels and from the first one I put in my mouth, I had the most awful taste and they turned my stomach. Same with Ritz crackers. I put them down and didn’t have them again. Problem solved.
Another thing I found was an opposite for me was caffeinated beverages. They told me not to drink them because they are a diuretic and would upset my stomach. Wrong. If you have been drinking coffee or tea, and you suddenly stop, you may give yourself a wicked caffeine headache. You have enough going on without giving yourself a thumping headache. Solution: I keep a bottle of water next to my coffee cup. I make sure I drink additional water to stay fully hydrated. No more headaches. I still enjoy my coffee.
Another trick I found was an alternative warm drink. Sometimes, I didn’t want the flavors from tea. I took a cup, put a generous slice of fresh lemon in, and a couple of drops of liquid stevia. (You can use honey – honey is very healthy! I don’t use honey because it makes the drink much too sweet for me.) Fill the cup with hot water, and let it cool slightly. You can sip this, get the benefits from the fresh lemon, and enjoy a warm drink without worrying about flavors that might upset your stomach.
If you are vomiting a lot, you need to be careful not to become dehydrated. Keep a bottle of Pedialyte on hand in the fridge. You can have this over ice, or add it to a fruit juice. This will help you balance your electrolytes and may be easier to keep down than plain water.
Sleep When You Are Tired: This is not the time to push yourself or dwell on those dust bunnies staring at you from under the rocking chair. When you feel tired – sleep. Pretend you are a dog. They sleep all day sometimes and are just fine. They enjoy their sleep, they surrender to it. Play puppy! Your body is working double overtime to help the chemo do it’s job and make you well. Help it along!
Dress for Success: You have been hearing that forever, right? Dress for success in the office. Dress for success when going out socially. We women invest a great deal into our appearance. Our self image is often tied up in how we look, how we are dressed. When we are wearing something that makes us feel pretty, we walk with more confidence, act in a confident manner. The same goes for when you are going for chemo. Yes, you can go in comfy clothes. There is nothing wrong with that. I find that when I am dressed in a way that makes me feel good, my attitude is one of confidence. My good friend, Peggy Nolan, said that when she went for treatments, she always wore bright lipstick and dressed nicely. There is magic in dressing well, and it is a part of our feminine identity. Next time you go for a treatment, dress like you want to look your best, feel pretty. Believe me, it translates into a happy aura that can only help in the journey!
Attitude: A positive attitude is the most powerful drug you have in your arsenal. It is more powerful than any chemotherapy and more powerful than cancer. I have done a lot of visualization and meditation. I refuse to think of the chemo as poison. That is a negative thought that your brain will instantly fight against. I think of it as liquid energy that is shooting towards the tumor, breaking it into bits. When I have fatigue or discomfort, I don’t fight it or allow fear to enter the picture. I think about how hard my body is working for me, and these symptoms are just my body saying that the fight is hard, but it’s on the job. If you must work at something, work at rejecting every single negative thought that pops into your head during this journey!!!!! You can help the meds and your body win this one!!!!!
I just had my second treatment, and one of my challenges this time around is to make sure that I take in enough calories to prevent any weight loss. I will let you know what new hints and tips I come up with to help!
Meanwhile, remember that you can make it better for yourself! Believe that you can do this! Your doctors are in charge of the medical side of the journey. You can be your own leader on the emotional/mental/spiritual front!