My tips and hints to help with chemo
- 17 things that make chemo a bit better
- 33 tips for self care when you have no energy
- being s chemo support person
- dental and mouth care during chemo
17 things that make chemo a bit better
- go for a walk in nature for half an hour (by the sea or water, or somewhere with trees). The exercise will really aid your healing in getting oxygen pumped throughout your body and the vistas will make you feel that life is good.
- rest during the day if you are tired. Give yourself permission to have a kip in bed or just plonk on the couch (with a magazine or DVD). Not fatiguing yourself will result in lessened side effects from the chemo
- eat little bits of food often. If you are not able to eat a normal meal, snack on grapes, stewed, dried or raw apple or porridge (very soothing)
- laugh. Watch comedies on TV or at the movies or laugh with good friends and family. Laughing boosts the immune system (remember the movie Patch Adams)
- take your medications regularly to avoid feeling nausea and get back to ‘normal’ as soon as you can.
- plan your post-chemo celebration or dream holiday. Plan a post chemo party or that trip to a country you have always wanted to visit but never got to. You could look at some brochures or websites and start planning, even if only in your mind
- use your imagination and visualisation. Imagine yourself recovering quickly from each chemo and see it in your mind
- sketch or paint something. I did some sketching and colouring during my chemo last week and it made me feel very calm, relaxed and happy. Also, the Cancer Society offers an Art Therapy programme
- spend time with positive people. Let friends and family motivate and support you. Make sure you hang around with people that cheer you on and up (though it’s normal not to feel positive all the time!)
- write down how you feel in a diary, journal or on your computer. You can be completely honest and get those feelings out without having to censor anything
- talk to an expert. You could talk to your oncology district nurse or a cancer specialist at the Cancer Society about your experiences, side effects, issues or questions. Don’t be alone with any worries
- drink lots of water. Drink lots of fluids (at least two litres per day for the first four to five days after chemo). This can be coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soup, juice, jelly or water, whatever you can tolerate. This will help lessen the chemo side effects
- start a ‘fun’ project. Is there a project that you could do that requires little physical energy? You can do five or ten minutes here or there when you are inspired eg keeping a scrapbook on your post-chemo holiday, family tree research or that dream kitchen/house
- get heaps of sleep. Ensure that you get eight hours of sound sleep. It will really assist your healing.
- join a support group, either informally or through the Cancer Society. It is great to talk to people who are going through the same things as you are
- have a treat if you can afford it, a facial, a new top or morning tea at your fave café
- try a complementary therapy, something that helps with your side effects and doesn’t interfere with the chemo e.g. acupuncture or reflexology.
33 tips for self-care when you have no energy
Cancer and cancer treatments can result in fatigue (on a continuum from reduced energy levels to almost no energy whatsoever). Often energy levels go up and down depending on where you are in the treatment cycle, the types of medications or treatments you are receiving, your white and red blood cell count levels, how much sleep you’ve had, how much energy you used yesterday etc.
Fatigue and immunity
When white or red blood cell counts fall, people often feel tired and want to just stay at home. This is a natural instinct to stop you catching infections. However, if you are feeling unwell, contact your Oncology nurse or GP; that is different from having fatigue.
A new way of being
Experiencing fatigue may feel challenging to those who are used to being out there, busy, and achieving in life. It takes time to learn to listen to your body and live with low energy. Saying ‘no’ to commitments can also be challenging to those who aren’t used to it.
Being busy vs rest
Society has many rules about resting…and that we should always be ‘doing’ something. Cancer recovery can be a demanding job and being on the couch can be perfect in this situation. There is also a time post-treatment where you may still feel fatigue but aren’t ill anymore. Resting and convalescence is really important then too.
The keys for self-care when dealing with fatigue
- learning to listen to your body. Each day, really listen to how you are feeling, what you are able to do and what you want to do. It is turning off the external world in a sense, and going to your internal world
- acting on it. If you are exhausted, you need to clear your schedule and rest. You may be used to putting the family, partner or job first. But now, it’s the other way around. You are number one and have to put yourself first
33 Tips and hints
a. Being proactive – things you can do in advance
Use your energy wisely
Conserve energy. There are many ways use less energy. Here are a few ideas:
- don’t go out too much. It really hard to survive out in the public arena when you are tired and/or have a low immune system. Choose your outings and venues wisely
- delegate things you would normally take responsibility for e.g. cooking, childcare, cleaning, driving etc.
- use public transport. Take the train or bus, rather than drive but watch out for coughs and sneezes. Sometimes I move seats if someone behind me is coughing
- say ‘no’ to any invitation or obligation that feels strenuous (that BBQ or dinner party may have been fun before but today, might feel like a huge energy sapper)
- low energy socialising. Ask people to visit you, instead of you visiting them and limit visits to a time limit that suits you
- use automatic payments for bills. That way, you have less financial transactions to physically organise
- keep a blog with how you are doing. That way, you don’t need to update everyone. Or ask someone to be your contact person so you don’t have to talk to everyone yourself
- know your limits – try and stop before you run out of energy (not after). It takes a lot less time to recharge from mild tiredness than when you are completely exhausted
Keep your energy for you. If your energy is limited, save it up for things that you really want or need to spend it on e.g. a hospital appointment or a walk on the beach. Don’t give your energy away.
- plan your week. Perhaps one or two outings a week but not two appointments a day. It may wipe all your energy
- prioritise. Would you rather go to that birthday party or a walk? You may have to choose one over the other
- what do you want? Plan things that you want to do, not what others want you to do
- fun. Plan some things that you really enjoy when you can e.g. cafes, a movie or dinner out. I find movies good as I can just sit and I make an effort to go to ‘feel good’ movies
Be careful with your immune system. While you are ill or going through treatments, you need to do your best to avoid people with colds, flus, tummy bugs etc.
- be germ-free. I take hand sanitiser with me everywhere. Do go out but avoid places with lots of people and wash your hands often
- let people know that you can’t see them if they have a cold
- cancel if on the day, you’re feeling run down. Let people know that you’ll confirm appointments on the day as you might not be up to the commitment
Self-care in advance
- a positive mind-set. Do all you can to create a positive environment around you: stay away from stress and negativity as much as possible
- support, support, support. Get all the support you need from your medical team, the Cancer Society and close friends and family. If you can, get help with childcare, cooking and housework
- reduce your stressors. What is causing you stress? Is there any way to reduce that stress?
- exercise is important. Do exercise when you can even if it is a gentle ten minute walk as it will give you more energy (but don’t overdo it)
- entertainment. Get DVDs, books, magazines etc. set up in the living room or bedroom
- eat well. Organise nutritious meals for the freezer or someone to help with preparation. You can also shop online for groceries
- get a great healing team. Talk to a naturopath, herbalist, natural therapist or counsellor in consultation with your GP/specialist
- relaxation, meditation and stillness. Lots of down time is needed; even just sitting in the garden (but too much sun might interfere with chemo)
- a positive attitude to resting. You do not have to be superwoman; let yourself rest and relax.
- be your best advocate. Being ill requires you to put yourself first. No one else knows how you are feeling so you have to communicate your needs
b. How to re-energise when you have low energy
- check in. How much energy do I have today? Did I just cross that tiredness line? Then stop
- express your feelings. Tell people around you that you are tired and need to rest, and if you need anything. Write in your journal: express how you are feeling
- stay home. Reduce your activities and if you are run down, cancel or delegate things
- rest and relax. Plonk on the couch or get in to bed. Limit stimulation e.g. talking to lots of people and stressful TV programmes. Ideas include: a warm bath with nice oils, quiet or relaxing music and meditation or visualisation
- couch based fun. Anything to relax e.g. Sudukos, gentle DVDs/TV, reading, sketching, writing in your diary or keeping a blog
- nature – being in nature or a walk are very therapeutic
- waiting it out. Sometimes after three or four hours of total exhaustion and resting, I am ready for a walk
- rehydrate and replenish. Keep your fluids up – water, ginger ale, juice, cordial, a hot drink or a jelly. Nutritious meals with the usual, good protein, fruits and vegetables, little and often. Have a treat if you need it e.g. a nice piece of chocolate cake
Being a chemo support person
My friend Gillian has written a helpful summary of How to be a Chemo Support Person. I hope that it will be of help to others. Thanks Gill!
I have had the privilege of being Andrea’s support person when she was having Chemotherapy and Herceptin treatment so just wanted to share some ideas that may help someone else that has been asked to take on this role. Just be aware this is only from my experience and it could be totally different for someone else and the person you are providing support for may require totally different support. This experience gave me a small insight in to what my friend was experiencing and gave me a practical way to be able to help, so if you are offered this opportunity I would encourage you to take it.
- Offer to pick them up and take them home and to stay as long as they need you. If you are unable to stay make sure they have someone with them for that night.
- Arrive on time, the person may already be feeling anxious so you don’t want to be the source of additional stress.
- Have the whole day free so you aren’t having to check the time, often it will take longer than expected.
- Pop into a cafe for a hot drink or even get a takeaway to sip on while you are waiting, if you get there early.
- Try to be as relaxed as possible and just be yourself, most probably the reason they have asked you is because they feel comfortable around you, well either that or you’re a great joke teller like myself .
- Have some good jokes for use as distraction (such as when the needle is being insertedbut perhaps not a naff knock knock joke from your childhood J
- Take something with you that you can do if the person wants to rest or doesn’t feel like talking, crossword, book, magazine, joke book (this is your opportunity to learn some better jokes ) etc.
- Offer to go and get snacks and drinks; also you should try and drink and snack yourself as it can be a long day. Lots of little treats may help to make the person you are supporting feel better but they may also not feel like eating.
- Go off for a walk if you need to as it’s good to get some fresh air and the person may want some time alone (yes by now she is sick of my jokes).
- If the person needs to go the bathroom or for a walk, offer to go with them as they will need to trail the treatment stand behind them and may feel weak. Then just wait outside in case they should need you. However remember always to allow them to keep their dignity so whatever feels right for them is OK with you.
- If the person starts to feel nauseous, ask the nurse for assistance as they may be able to have an anti-nausea medication.
- Try to talk about interesting things apart from the treatment although not to the point where you are pretending it is not happening. You may be able to do some pre-planning on topics of interest and then can chat about that or even have some activities to do. We did some colouring in of pre-drawn images, which was actually quite fun and really relaxing.
- Ask if they want you to go to see Oncologist etc. as it is good to have two ears there and you may also be able to take notes.
- When you get home it’s good to debrief with another person as there is quite a lot to take in.
- And last but not least ASK if you aren’t sure.
Dental and mouth care during chemo
- clean your teeth with a soft toothbrush and toothpaste
- rinse and gargle your mouth thoroughly with mouthwash and spit out the rinse
- make up mouthwash from equal amounts of table salt and baking soda (from the kitchen) , mixed together and kept in a jar with screw top life. Dissolve 1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon of this mixture in a glass of warm water for your mouthwash
- use a lip balm to keep your lips moist and supple
- check your mouth in the mirror once a day. If your mouth has any of the following problems, contact your Oncology Nurse or health professional:
- ulcers, any white spots or patches on your tongue of inside of your mouth
- bleeding from gums or lips
- cold sores
- There are various products and mouth rinses available that will help to treat any problems you may have with your mouth. Your doctor or nurse will be able to help you with these.