Staying healthy during chemotherapy

The anticipation of cancer treatment can be stressful to say the least.  But priming your body for treatment can help reduce negative side effects of the treatment, and keep you healthier through its completion.

Before chemotherapy:

Staying healthy during chemotherapy

You should get used to eating a healthy diet before any chemotherapy treatment starts. This will help in two ways.  This will help you build strength, muscle and keep a healthy body weight.  The healthier your body is before, the better it will be able to protect against infection and stay healthy during treatment. A healthy diet prior will also get you used to eating nutritious food at regular intervals throughout the day.  This will make routine eating easier during treatment when you need to keep weight and calories up.

Keeping your mouth healthy is also a big part of undergoing treatment, as many different kinds of chemotherapies cause mouth sores and subsequent mouth or gum infections.  Make sure you visit your dentist, before starting cancer treatment.

Issues with appetite or eating vary per person, and can be mild to severe.  These depend on a few things such as the type of cancer, what part of the body is affected, the type of chemotherapy used, the dosing and length of the treatments you receive.  Discussing ways to mitigate impending symptoms with your doctor before you start any treatment can help you be proactive in staying healthy.  Your doctor should be able to recommend ways to manage some of these symptoms, as well as the types of foods which can help keep feelings of nausea or vomiting at bay. 

During chemotherapy:

Some nutrition related symptoms those undergoing chemotherapy are:

·         Appetite loss

·         Changes in sense of taste/smell

·         Constipation

·         Diarrhea

·         Dry mouth

·         Lactose Intolerance

·         Nausea

·         Sore Mouth

·         Vomiting

·         Sore throat

·         Trouble swallowing

·         Weight gain

·         Weight loss

  1. This is a list of the major symptoms, but of course is not limited to this.  As you can see, the list is pretty long, and all the symptoms can make it difficult for those undergoing treatment to keep healthy and get the calories and nutrition they need.  What you should remember is that like everything else, there will be good and bad days.  This is especially true when it comes to food, an important part of getting the nutrients necessary to keep the body strong.  Here are some ways to manage these nutrition related symptoms and side effects and stay healthy during treatment:
  2. Eat when you can: as mentioned you will have good and bad days.  Take advantage of the good days, when you have an appetite and a calm stomach.  Use these days, or times throughout the day to increase protein and caloric intake.  This will help rebuild cells, muscles, and tissues that are affected by the chemotherapy treatment.  Whether these meals are solid or liquid, try to eat whichever feels comfortable throughout the day, as long as you are getting calories in during the day. 
  3.  Its ok to play favorites: You may find that certain food are easier to get down than others.  That’s ok.  Eat the foods that do not give you bad side effects, which may limit you to only a couple foods.  You are more likely to eat and eat more by sticking to the favorites.  This will help you get strength up and eventually your appetite will increase to other foods.  Extra protein and calories can be found in meal replacement drinks or powders to be added to meals.
  4. Some days will be tough: Symptoms can get the best of you some days, and you may not be able to eat at all.  This time should be focused on feeling better, whether through meditation, sleeping or soothing activities.  Once you feel better you are more likely to be able to eat something.  This should not last more than 48 hours. 
  5. Drink plenty of liquids: Whether you are able to eat or not, you should make sure you stay hydrated and keep up your fluid intake. Keeping a bottle of water, juice, or smoothie nearby can help you get more to liquid into your body throughout the day.  This is especially important if eating is an issue.  8-12 cups of liquid a day is the recommended amount for adults daily. 

What else can you do?  Because cancer treatment like chemotherapy makes you more prone to infection, taking extra measures with food preparation can reduce this risk.  This means washing and scrubbing raw fruits and vegetables, thoroughly washing hands, knives and cutting boards, and storing food in the refrigerator.  Avoiding salad bars, buffets and deli style restaurants is also a safe bet, as places where food is left open in this way is more prone to bacteria and germs.