10 Easy Ways to Stay Well During Chemo

By Winnie Yu

Taking care of yourself during chemotherapy is critical to staying healthy and feeling good. It’s also essential to preventing infection at a time when your immune defenses are down. Start with these simple steps:

  • Focus on fluids. Make sure to get plenty of fluids during treatment, especially those rich in nutrients and calories such as supplement shakes, fruit juices and sports drinks.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t eat. Chemo alters your appetite and taste buds and can cause a metallic taste in your mouth. “Eat what’s comfortable and tolerable, but don’t feel discouraged if you can’t eat much during chemo,” says Kelly Faltus, MSN, AOCNS, ACNS-BC, an advanced practice nurse at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
  • Shake up your eating habits. Sometimes, eating six small meals throughout the day is easier to stomach than three large ones. You may also want to be more adventurous, Faltus says. “Try new things that may help increase food’s appeal,” she says. “You may discover new ways for food to taste better.”
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially before you eat. Avoid touching your mouth and nose, which can lead to infection.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked  foods. Raw or undercooked meats or fish, or foods in communal bowls such as the office candy dish, are more apt to be contaminated with bacteria.
  • Steer clear of the sun. Certain chemo drugs can make you vulnerable to burning or allergies. When you go out in the sun, wear a broad-brimmed hat and apply sunscreen. Consider wearing clothes with SPF protection.
  • Use a condom. Chemo can put you at risk for bacterial infections and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Plan your day around your treatments. Chemo can sap your energy and make it hard for you to do what you used to do. Be mindful of when you feel your best and worst, scheduling activities accordingly.
  • Do what you can to sleep. If you’re struggling with insomnia, aim to improve your sleep hygiene by reducing caffeine, relaxing before bedtime and maintaining a regular sleep schedule. If necessary, talk to your doctor about sleep aids.
  • Exercise a little every day. Physical activity can boost your mood, help you sleep and improve your energy levels. Do a little every day, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk.
Published December 2011

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