CANCER HACKS Tips and tricks for getting through chemo
A blog for those who are going through cancer, know someone who is, or are just a little curious about all the weird and wonderful things that go on in cancer land.
Thank you to the wonderful Peta who asked me to write this.
- Fatigue. Get ready to nap. There’s nothing you can do about it so try not to get frustrated at how limited you’ll be in what you can manage. I worked one week on, one week off during my first tango with cancer but it got super tough as I had more and more chemo and I got more tired. I made sure I was still doing some light exercise but nothing like the PT sessions I was doing before. Treat yourself to some nice pyjamas and comfy lounge wear and be kind to yourself. Your body needs some R&R to show the cancer who’s boss.
- If you don’t have a portacath and you’re getting chemo intravenously, it can feel like the it’s freezing your veins. Heat packs will help warm and soothe the ache.
- Sick bags and anti-nauseas. These became staple items in my handbag. I never had a moment when I needed to rip the sick bag out in public but it was nice to know that it was there. Like a nausea safety blanket.
- Hand sanitizer and facemasks - also staples in my handbag. Your immune system is going to go down the gurgler. The chemo kills not just the cancer cells, but also all your white blood cells making you neutropenic and meaning you struggle to fight even the smallest of infections. Keep anti-bacteria hand sanitiser gel on you at all times and don’t worry about becoming that overly paranoid germophobe – you’re totally allowed.
- Educate your friends on your situation. Make sure they understand that their small cough or cold can be MUCH worse for you. Ask them to use hand sanitiser and possibly face masks when you catch up. Or opt for a FaceTime date. It’s sometimes a much safer option.
- Chemo can damage your mouth, teeth and give you mouth ulcers. They’re not only painful but can also cause infections which can be serious if you’re neutropenic. Mouth wash, natural toothpaste and a soft toothbrush can help keep your mouth clean and free of devil germs.
- Icey poles or ice blocks can help prevent mouth ulcers and are usually staple items in the chemo ward menu. Ask your chemo nurse.
- Constipation. Yup – it’s a real thing. I had a friend that would have her stomach pumped because she didn’t poop for such a long time. Try using some herbal softeners like Senokot, heaps of green veg, a load of water and move your body when you can. Let your doctors know if things just ‘aren’t moving.’
- And from constipation can come haemorrhoids. It just keeps on getting more and more fun... 😩 If this happens to you, get the haemorrhoid cream and stock up on some soothing baby wipes.
- Soft cheese, buffet food, raw seafood and cured meats. If these are a few of your favourite things – you’re not going to like what I say next. You can’t eat them. WAH! Just like pregnant women – you’re advised to avoid them as some foods have a higher risk of carrying germs which we can’t defend ourselves against. I was guilty of having some soft cheese once or twice but if you’re neutropenic (no white blood cells) then you should steer clear.
- It’s so important to try and keep a healthy diet but sometimes big meals are the last thing you want to eat. My nutribullet became my best friend during treatment and I ingested most of my 5 a day in liquid form. Smoothies, green juices, soups, etc. And they’re also good for making bliss ball snacks. NOM! Check out @JenniferMakes for some food porn.
- Sometimes chemo likes to mess with your tastebuds. Suddenly delicious things taste like crap. Or don’t taste like anything at all! Often spicy food and alcohol are the first to go. Try using plastic cups and cutlery if you develop a metallic taste in your mouth, and chew on minties and fruit chews.
The Hair Sitch
- I have new found respect for bald men – how the hell are you not cold ALL THE TIME!? Obviously this can become worse during winter so I’d suggest investing in a sleeping cap so you stay warm while catching z’s. I got mine from my local Cancer Council shop.
- Some women find that their new silky smooth head can get irritated by a normal pillow case so invest in a silky smooth pillow case.
- As my eyebrows rapidly made their way onto the endangered species list I went and visited the makeup counters at Myers. A wise and wonderful consultant steered me away from eyebrow pencils and recommended a brown eyeshadow. With the powder, I could be much more gentle when applying it which meant less risk of eyebrows falling out.
- Turbans. Obviously. Here are some lovely scarves if you're looking....
- Nail polish and hand moisturiser. Certain chemos can do terrible things to your nails. If you’re having taxotere for breast cancer they can turn black so painting them with a pretty dark colour can help. Kester Black have some rad colours containing far less nasty toxins than other nail polishes.
- Epsom salt baths and heat packs can help with achey joints and bones. The heat packs are also really good to have during chemo as your veins tend to get sore and feel cold.
- Lip balm and moisturiser. Get ready to get dehydrated. Mild soaps and fragrance free lotions are good if the skin is dry and irritated.
Thanks to @chemocaribou for the image.
- To do-lists. When chemo brain takes over it’s hard to remember your best friends name, let alone what you were shopping for at the supermarket. I’d keep lists for everything!!! It was also nice to tick off even the smallest of tasks like replying to people’s messages, taking pills or making my way through the ‘movie list’ I had created.
- Oncology questions. I would write down every little question or concern I had so I wouldn’t forget them between appointments. Then I would fire the questions at my poor oncologist and takes notes so I didn’t forget the answers.
- Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and have a freak out about cancer, chemo, your hair, your life and all the heavy stuff that is going on. If you don’t feel like waking up your partner, housemate, mum or sleeping cat – I’d recommend having a journal beside your bed. Sometimes getting it out of your head and onto paper means you can get back to sleep.
- Cancer is an emotional rollercoaster. Ask your friends for help and try and find yourself a chemo buddy. No one understands more than someone that has been through a similar cancer ride.
No two rides on the cancer train is the same so I’d love to hear any tips that others picked up on the way and I will add them in.