by Ben Kutz

Are you wondering what some helpful tips and tricks might be to get through chemotherapy a bit easier from survivors who have been through it? Some of the patients we are serving at UPMC gave us some helpful pointers that helped them manage their chemotherapy treatments a bit better! Of course, everyone’s cancer and treatment are a unique situation so make sure to consult with your oncology team regarding managing the side effects that you might expect to have. 

In general, a lot of the side effects that we see are fatigue, nausea, and body aches. As we know, exercise will help to reduce those side effects of treatment but what about your day-to-day well-being throughout the week? Treatment can have a significant impact on things that you might not have thought of and there may be things that help you to get through it easier that you might not have considered. So, in case any of these tips might apply to you or someone else, these are some things that the survivors and patients we are working with at UPMC have given to offer some insight to people that might be new to their chemotherapy treatments and managing some of the changes that come about with that. 

Our first set of helpful tips came from someone who completed treatment for ovarian cancer and is now cancer free! 

  • “Get up every day, get dressed and put on your shoes. Moving out of bed will help your mental state, too. I tried to do a little bit of physical exercise every day, even it that only means walking up an extra flight of steps on the really bad days. I was quite active before I started chemo, and tried to do a good portion of activity after I started the treatments. On the days I felt better, I did more of the physical activity that I enjoyed and did not force myself to do the part that I do not really enjoy so I saved those for days I felt pretty good.”
  • “People will come out of the woodwork to try and help you along. For those that do something really helpful, tell them exactly what it was that was good. They likely will try to do it again. For me, it was someone I barely knew who sent a poem every few weeks via email. Sometimes I didn’t feel well enough to write her back, but she kept sending them anyway. Having someone that you can vent to as a soundboard for some of the comments that people will make who mean well but can frustrate you is really helpful.”
  • “You’ll get lots of different advice from different people who have all been there and done that with their own chemo treatments telling you what to expect and how to handle it but in truth, the way everyone handles chemo is so different because everyone’s different. Be prepared to improvise for your own situation and look into different solutions.”

These next tips are from one of our gentlemen who completed chemotherapy for prostate cancer and is now looking forward to hiking, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports after recovering from his treatment!

  • “Even though my chemo made water taste awful, you really have to hydrate yourself throughout the week. I sometimes would make sure to take extra sips of water as I ate or I would drink at times separate from meals. So even though it wasn’t pleasant at all, I made myself stay hydrated the best I could before getting chemo and after. Even though I had a lot of stomach issues with my treatment, they kept telling me to do whatever I could to stay hydrated. I know its not an easy thing to do but I made it a point to think I was proud of myself after getting my water in despite my taste being all messed up.”
  • “Focus on something to look forward to after you have your last one. Of course I had no idea how I would be after finishing chemo but I think it really helped motivate me to get past the next round of it looking forward to going back to hunting and fishing with my family. I kind of did a countdown to deer season with each treatment because if it just happened that if I stayed the course I would get done with all of it just in time to have a month break and then go into deer season and that’s what I did.”
  • “Try to stick to a routine the best you can. For me, I had certain days where I would do my yard work or cooking and then other days where I would just sit in front of the tv and do a couple of exercises. Either way just make sure you stay physical in ways you can tolerate. I also tried my best to stick to a really consistent sleep schedule even on weekends and I think doing that helped me not fall behind around the house and helped me at least get quality sleep when I did go to sleep. At first all I did was sleep but then it messed up my night routine and I think I missed some appointments too. I know they told me to rest as I needed to but I figured I didn’t want to sleep all day or not do anything all day and then be up all night so I felt like that routine worked a lot better for me. 

Last, here are some additional points that were given or similar to other ones that our patients had given when we asked them.

  • “If the place someone’s getting treated at has TV’s like they do here, I really liked having something I would only watch while I was getting my infusion. So every time I would go in I would watch stand up comedy shows on youtube or something fun and different like that to help the time pass and it didn’t make me dread being there so much.”
  • “In case I was going to get nauseous after chemo, I kept my meals light when I ate before my infusion and that seemed to make it not as bad.”
  • Lots of mints!! I get a really terrible taste in my mouth from that stuff and I think it actually makes me pretty agitated if it doesn’t go away but eating mints and chewing gum really helps mask that.
  • “Definitely bring warm-clothes, a blanket, or a big hoodie or something. Also, chapstick! Chapstick was really helpful for me. When I got really dehydrated and then had to sit in places with cold dry air for a while my lips cracked a lot.”
  • “Journaling my frustrations really helped me. I didn’t think I would ever be in this situation but instead of being nasty or moody all day I would bring my pocket journal with me and just write down my thoughts when a moment like that came. “

All of this might sound like a lot but your oncology team will also be there to explain everything to you that you should expect and they’ll likely give their own pieces of advice as well! After reading these things from people that have been through chemotherapy, I hope you can see that you can definitely get through it! Look at each of these tips as a testament of all the people who have also gotten through similar situations.

Finally, exercising appropriately is a fantastic way to make sure you get through treatment with fewer issues; reach out to us to see how we can help you get through chemotherapy a bit better!