The need to undergo chemotherapy is a harsh reality for many breast cancer patients, and every woman’s chemo “cocktail” will vary depending on what she’s been diagnosed with. My doctor prescribed TCH – Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin. (Herceptin is not a chemo drug itself, but a targeted therapy that produces antibodies for those who are HER2+). Each of these medications comes with their own list of potential side effects – some of which a doctor will prescribe medication to help combat.
When you think of what is being put into the body with chemotherapy, it’s no surprise that it basically becomes a toxic waste site. I am doing my best to eliminate those toxins as quickly as possible to try to maintain some semblance of “health” during and after my treatment plan. While I’ve avoided any vomiting, there are other side effects I experience with every cycle – typically starting on Day 3 (of a 21 day cycle) after a round and continuing through the first 10-14 days.
I’ve come up this Chemo Hack List of the Top 7 things I’m doing to help eliminate or minimize these uncomfortable side effects. Since I still have 2 rounds to go at the time of this posting, I’ll update this as I find more things that are helpful and well as address whether or not I escaped the more common long-term effects (like neuropathy, etc.) all together with some of the things that I’m doing.
HACK #1 – DRINK WATER: It is recommended that we drink at least 3 quarts of water a day, every day. That is a LOT of water but it is vital to help flush through everything. When you’re not feeling great, or when water tastes like metal, it can be hard to remember to drink as much as we need to. To help with that, I use this a 4 cup measuring cup, and three stretchy hair bands. Each band represents how many times that cup needs to be filled in order for me to have my daily requirement (4 Cups = 1 quart). Every time I fill the measuring cup, I remove one of the bands. This way I always know how much more I have to drink. That being said, I also include other fluids I drink towards that 3 quart total on those days when I just can’t force water down without gagging.
HACK #2 – TURKEY BASTER BIDET: I know, it sure ain’t Thanksgiving! But the body has to eliminate all that water and more. What isn’t spoken much about in the way of side effects is that what comes out can burn! So I keep a turkey baster next to the toilet in the bathroom (which, fortunately, sits right next to the sink). Every time I eliminate, I gave myself a little Turkey Baster Bidet to rinse myself. This helps tremendously, and I never skip this step after experiencing a very uncomfortable raw episode after my first round (which I treated with Desitin). After each rinse and a dry, I apply Vaseline around the general area so as to protect the sensitive skin. With everything else going on, having burning Girly Bits isn’t going to help. Lube and rinse. That’s all I’m saying. (This typically isn’t needed after Day 10-14)
HACK #3 – BAKING SODA: It’s not just the Down Low that gets a toxic washing. Our mouths are equally as sensitive and a prime area for chemo effects because the cells there produce rapidity (the type of cells the chemo is targeting). I haven’t gotten mouth sores, but I do have to deal with this weird all over burning sensation, a tongue that feels like I downed a scorching cup of coffee in one gulp, and burning, chapped lips. The ACS recommends avoiding certain foods to help combat this….foods which, ironically, are the only ones I really feel like eating because I can actually taste them. (I definitely pay for this later.) This includes acidic, salty and spicy foods. If you can avoid those, more power to you – you’ll be ahead of the game! And there are prescription medications to help with sores if you get them (The OTC mouthwash Biotene is also helpful). My chemo hack for this is to rinse my mouth several times a day with baking soda and water. I use about 1/2 teaspoon to a cup water. The baking soda helps alkalize the mouth and brings some fast, albeit temporary relief. I like to use an organic aluminum free product like Bob’s Red Mill.
HACK #4 – FRANKINCENSE: I am a big believer in the healing qualities of good, therapeutic grade Essential Oils. While it was my personal choice not to ingest any EOs during treatment, you can bet I will be during the “Reconstruction” phase when I am done. I do, however, use EO topically for different things. One thing I do is apply Frankincense to the soles of my feet and my ankles starting on the day before a round. I then apply it the morning of treatment, and every day for a week following. I’ll apply it once in the morning and once later in the day, and then wear socks. If you decide to do this, make sure to get a good therapeutic grade oil. I started with Young Living (being as I’m a YL distributor myself), however, theirs is VERY expensive and a bottle only lasts about 1.5 – 2 treatment cycles. My Go-To place now is Eden’s Garden for quality, price, and speed of shipping. I purchased it here.
HACK #5 – CHEMO FASTING: The history and health benefits of fasting is long and impressive. When I heard that some people were implementing fasting around their treatments, I was immediately interested because I know that with less food in the system, everything will pass through much quicker. It is a person preference for how long to fast, but based on what I read, I decided to fast the day of my treatment, plus or minus. I have my rounds on Fridays, so starting that week, I try to keep from eating a lot of food that takes longer to digest, like red meat. On Thursday, I like to go meatless altogether. On treatment day, I stick to water only, and then go back to regular eating on Saturday. Another thing I do to prepare for a round is take a stool softener as the steroids I am required to take on Thursday and Saturday cause major constipation. So I start them on Wednesday and take them daily through the following Sunday or Monday. This has proven an effective way to keep everything moving through my body as quickly as possible, with no long-term back up.
HACK #6 – GINGER ALE AND PRETZELS: A classic “Old Wives” remedy for nausea related to pregnancy, ginger ale works well for chemo related nausea, too. Trying to minimize the number of drugs I put into my body, I haven’t wanted to use either of the two prescription medications given to me by my oncologist. By drinking ginger ale and eating pretzels, I have managed to move past any nausea I experience on-and-off during the week after my treatment (typically starting Day 3). The fizzy, gingery, salty combination is a classic hack used among a lot of breast cancer patients, and one that I am happy to add to this list because it really worked for me.
HACK #7 – Chemotherapy Meditation CD: I wish I had known about this CD before I started chemo, because I would have started using it right away. The whole freak out factor I dealt with going into this thing was off the charts. It was actually the thought of undergoing chemo – more than the cancer itself – that scared me the most. Be that as it may, I pulled up my Big Girl Pants and did what I had to do. But THIS is making a notabe difference, since I have the “Before” and “After” to compare. Spoken in a very soothing voice by Belleruth Naparstek, “A Meditation To Help You With Chemotherapy” is an amazing resource for putting chemo in a positive light, reduce adverse side effects, help the body’s immune system, and encourage hope, safety and calm. There is 20 minutes of a guided meditation and another 20 minutes of affirmations. I use this primarily at night before I go to bed, and it helps me sleep. (Fortunately, because it works on the subconscious level, one does not have to be awake to reap the benefits. Win/Win!!) I highly recommend this hack for anyone who holds a lot of stress around the subject of getting chemotherapy. I hope it brings you as much peace as it has me.