April 10, 2023
Chemotherapy is a common form of treatment that involves administering drugs to destroy cancer cells in the body. While chemotherapy treatment can be highly effective, it can also come with many side effects. Chemo drugs destroy both cancerous and healthy cells, which can lead to physical and emotional symptoms such as nausea, hair loss, fatigue, infections, anxiety, depression, and more. After completing chemotherapy sessions, focused care is essential to promote healing, recovery, and overall well-being.
The following guidelines can help minimize post-chemo side effects and make life easier during recovery.
Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated help support the immune system and promote healing. Chemotherapy impacts the body's ability to absorb and utilize nutrients from food. The digestive tract's healthy cells responsible for absorbing nutrients can be damaged by chemotherapy. So, eating a healthy diet is especially important during this time. Focus on incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats into your diet. Avoid processed foods, sugary drinks, and excessive amounts of alcohol.
Drinking plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day is essential. Water helps to flush toxins out of the body and promote healthy digestion. Older adults should drink plenty of water to maintain hydration due to changes in kidney function and decreased thirst sensation. Aim for eight glasses of water every day for 1 week after treatment and increase the intake if experiencing excessive sweating or diarrhea.
Before starting a post- chemo exercise program, consult with your healthcare provider. Start with light activities such as walking, stretching, and yoga and gradually increase the intensity and duration. Listen to the body, take breaks, and wear appropriate clothing and footwear. If the patient experiences pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or other symptoms, they should stop exercising and consult with their provider.
In addition to structured exercise, incorporating physical activity into a daily routine can also be beneficial. This can include gardening, housework, or walking instead of driving. Remember, any amount of physical activity is better than none. Include enjoyable activities and make them part of their daily routine
Research has shown that exercise can help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, improve quality of life, strengthen muscles and reduce the risk of other chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can cause fatigue and exhaustion, making it difficult to get enough restorative sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. One should avoid using electronic devices and watching TV. Create a relaxing environment in the bedroom by keeping it cool, dark and quiet. It is important to stay active during the day to help improve sleep quality. In addition, taking short naps during the day can also be beneficial or reduce fatigue and improve energy levels. Try to schedule short, restful breaks throughout the day to recharge.
If the patient is having difficulty sleeping, healthcare providers may suggest lifestyle changes or medication to enhance sleep quality.
Stress can affect physical and emotional health, so it's important to find ways to manage it post-chemotherapy. Some effective stress reduction techniques are:
Chemotherapy weakens immunity, leaving the body vulnerable to infections. Therefore, it’s crucial to take preventive measures to minimize the risk of infections. This includes washing your hands regularly with soap and water, especially before eating and after using the restroom. Avoid touching the face, nose, or mouth, as this can transfer germs from hands. Additionally, it is advised to keep one’s living space clean by regularly disinfecting surfaces, such as countertops, doorknobs, and light switches. One should also avoid contact with sick people and not go into crowded areas as much as possible.
After advanced cancer treatment, it is important to have follow-up visits with a healthcare provider. This will enable providers to monitor health, track progress, and address any concerns or issues that may arise. Follow-up appointments may include physical exams, lab tests, imaging tests, or other diagnostic procedures which can help catch any issues before they become serious.
There are several important “don'ts” to be kept in mind during post-chemo recovery:
Chemotherapy can weaken the body and immune system, so it's important to prioritize self-care and healthy habits. Neglecting these can cause physical and emotional health issues, such as fatigue from lack of sleep or difficulty regaining strength and stamina due to poor nutrition, hydration, and exercise.
Taking things slow and listening to the body is crucial. Over-exertion can cause physical issues like muscle strain, joint pain, and exhaustion, making recovery harder and leading to further complications. Relaxation should be prioritized to support recovery and overall well-being.
Chemotherapy can cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and pain. These may persist beyond the treatment period. Neglecting these symptoms and their consequences may lead to infections, dehydration, and drug-related problems. Contact the healthcare team for guidance on managing side effects and treatment options.
Patients often feel guilty about how their illness affects their loved ones and may distance themselves. Receiving help can be difficult especially for those who are used to helping others. Advanced cancer treatments are challenging, but staying connected to family, friends, and support networks is essential for recovery. Isolation may lead to loneliness, depression, and anxiety, while social support can provide emotional support, advice, and encouragement to cope with the challenges.
Ignoring one’s mental health may lead to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These issues can affect daily activities, work, and relationships. They can also cause physical challenges like insomnia and chronic pain. Counseling, therapy, and support groups can help manage emotions and reduce stress. Staying connected with loved ones and engaging in hobbies can provide a sense of purpose and support during recovery.
The chemicals in tobacco products weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of infections and chronic health conditions like lung cancer and heart disease. They damage the body and delay healing. Many resources are available to help quit smoking and tobacco use, including nicotine replacement therapies, support groups, and counseling. Healthy habits like exercise and proper nutrition can help reduce cravings and support recovery.
Additional resources that may be helpful during the post-chemotherapy period include:
American Cancer Society: Offers a range of resources and support services for cancer patients and survivors, including nutrition and exercise guidance, support groups, and information on managing side effects. They also offer a 24/7 helpline where patients and loved ones can speak with healthcare professionals and receive support and guidance.
National Cancer Institute: It is a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is the United States principal agency for cancer research and training. NCI provides information on cancer treatments, side effects, and support services. They also offer a toll-free helpline. Additionally, the NCI conducts and funds cancer research to improve cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
CancerCare: A national nonprofit organization that provides free professional support services to anyone affected by cancer, including patients, caregivers, and loved ones. Their services include counseling, support groups, educational resources, and financial assistance.
Livestrong: Is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and free cancer support services, including counseling, support groups, and financial assistance to help cover the costs of cancer treatment. Its website provides information on exercise, nutrition, and emotional wellness.
The post-chemotherapy period can be challenging, but the recommendations mentioned in our blog post can enable recovery and overall well-being. It's important to prioritize self-care and avoid unhealthy habits to prevent further complications. By utilizing available resources and staying connected with the ACTC healthcare team, patients can navigate the post-chemotherapy period easily and effortlessly.
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