18 Real Ways to Thrive Through Chemo!

We turned to the experts—people who’ve been through chemo—for the tips that helped them feel their best. See if they work for you, too.

“I did cancer my way”
Sarah Hale
Muscat, Oman
Originally, Watertown, WI
Diagnosed with Stage I ovarian cancer in 2012

Dress up  “For me, sweatpants and slippers weren’t fit for chemo sessions. I felt that would be embracing the ‘I am ill’ attitude. So, I’d dress fancy and put on some makeup. I remember walking into the chemo suite rocking a pair of high heels, a dress and a wig. Even though I didn’t feel well, dressing up made me feel better.”

Get down(ward, dog)  “I ignored the ‘you should rest’ remarks and signed up for hot yoga! It’s one blissful hour not talking about cancer, not feeling sick, not stressing about the future. Instead, you can connect with your body. You empty your mind of poisonous thoughts and you become you, not you + cancer.”

Do something wild—with your doc’s OK!  “My family and friends were concerned when I told them I was going snowshoeing on my birthday—during chemo. They warned me, ‘No, no, you’ll get sick from the cold!’ But enjoying the outdoors was invigorating to my soul. To be away from the medicinal smells. To be in nature. With friends.”

Find your food  “I really lost interest in food during treatment but I knew I needed to eat to keep up my strength. So I taste-tested a bunch of different foods and identified a few that became standbys. I found that when I just couldn’t stomach anything else, I could still eat Annie’s Organic Mac & Cheese. I also enjoyed Veggie Chik’n Nuggets and Greek yogurt. My mom kept them stocked, so I always had something I could eat.”

Embrace bald  “I enjoyed my hairless head. And I wasn’t afraid of confrontation. Taking a jog around town in between treatments, a middle-aged man yelled at me, ‘What’s with you kids and the crazy hair? It’s not right!’ I turned around, smiled and told him, ‘I have cancer, so please stop judging people by their appearance.’ I jogged away leaving him open-mouthed and hoping he would consider his words more carefully in the future. I felt better for clearing up misconceptions than letting the comment bother me all day.”

“I gained strength from friends and family”
Sue Glader, author of Nowhere Hair (nowherehair.com)
Marin County, CA
Diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in 1999

Keep your head cozy  “When my hair fell out, I got myself a cashmere beanie to sleep in. I had no idea how drafty my bedroom really was, until I was bald. Of course, it turned into my daytime hat before I knew it. I wore that beanie every day until my hair started to come back. That’s when I decided to conveniently forget it at a vacation rental in the mountains.”

Bring games to chemo  “To pass the time during chemo, I brought playing cards or board games, like Scrabble. I found that playing something that used my mind helped lift my spirits. And, best of all, I was still sharp enough to beat my husband every once in a while.”

Take someone you love  “It’s just good to talk to someone. And if that person you love can also make you laugh, so much the better. There’s no place most of our friends and family would rather be than holding our hand in a time of deep need.”

“I focused on healing”
Maimah Karmo, author of Fearless: Awakening to My Life’s Purpose Through Breast Cancer (maimahkarmo.com)
Aldie, VA
Diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in 2006

Create a vision board  “I used images that helped me focus on my healing. Like pictures of the beach or of me and my daughter. Words like joy and abundance. Declarations like I am healed and I am thankful for where I am. I hung it in my bedroom, and eventually, I began to live in that space. I wasn’t wrapped up in fear or in being sick.”

Get help  “I became exhausted during treatment, so I told my friends and they quickly came over. They cooked and cleaned. They took my daughter out. They bathed her. They bought me groceries.” 

Accept your feelings right now “I consider myself a successful businesswoman, and I have been used to being in control and on the go. But during my treatment, all that changed. I dropped all expectations of myself. If I was tired, I slept. If I was sad, I cried. I accepted myself more.”

Open up to your children  “During treatment, I tried to be honest with my daughter, Noelle, who was 3 at the time. But I would temper it with something positive. If I felt bad, I would tell her, ‘Mommy is sick right now and I can’t play a lot and jump around. I have to take medicine, but I will be okay.’ And when I was nauseated, I’d tell her, ‘Go play—I’ll be fine in a couple of hours.’ ”

Allow yourself to be transformed “Fighting cancer helped me realize my body is a temple, so I learned about nutrition and began to eat more conscientiously—more fruits and vegetables. I also stopped simply eating until I was full. My belief now is, if it isn’t helping my body, then it may be hurting my body or be of no value.”

“I visualized chemo working”
Douglas Kirk
Cinnaminson, NJ
Diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer in 2013

 Visualize during chemo sessions  “At the infusion center and when I was at home with my pump, I would close my eyes and picture the chemo going through my body, killing all the cancer cells and leaving the healthier cells untouched. I also visualized my doctor telling me I was cancer-free.”

Jump!  “Every morning before breakfast, I got on my rebounder [mini-trampoline] and bounced. I played two songs from my iPod while I bounced, so I knew when they were done it was about seven minutes. While bouncing, I breathed deeply and did arm circles (arms extended to the side) and I visualized flushing out toxins and revving up my infection-fighting white blood cells.”

Upgrade your diet  “For me, everything tasted like a combination of metal and perfume during chemo. What better time, I figured, to start ‘eating to live’? So I ditched sugar and processed foods and, since I was often nauseated, I’d make a broth of veggies, beans and spices and sip that. It was easier to get liquids down than solid foods. The broth not only kept me hydrated, but provided a steady source of protein throughout the day.”

Send yourself the right message  “After my diagnosis, my sister took a label maker and plastered my house with positive messages. She put them on the cabinets, light switches, above the door handles and on the mirrors. I was constantly reminded that I will get better.”

Stretch!  “Chemo can be taxing. Sometimes stretching was my only form of exercise. I bought a book on stretching and, depending on my energy levels, stretched up to 45 minutes a day, sometimes adding a few yoga poses. It always felt as if I had given myself a massage when I was done.”

Published April 2014

  Thriving During Chemo

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Keep Healthy During Chemo
20 Ways to Thrive During Chemo
Preparing for the Completion of Chemo
Working Through Chemo

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18 Real Ways to Thrive Through Chemo!