Monday, November 28, 2022

Breast Cancer Fight: Tips to Manage Chemotherapy Side Effects at Home


Possible side effects from chemotherapy are hair loss, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, mouth ulcers, fatigue, numbness, fever or infections.

Each patient reacts to chemotherapy differently so it's hard to say which side effects will affect me or how severe I will get them. Many side effects go away fairly quickly, but some might take months or even years to go away completely. These are called late effects. 

Sometimes the side effects can last a lifetime, such as when chemo causes long-term damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, or reproductive organs o(TヘTo) 

One thing is for sure though - I will definitely have hair loss.

However, as I will be using a scalp cooling cap, hopefully my hair loss will be reduced. Success rates in patients for reduced hair loss, not zero hair loss... are about 50 - 70%.

By cooling the scalp, scalp blood vessels narrow, which results in less chemotherapy reaching the hair follicles. In addition, cooler hair follicles become inactive, making them less susceptible to the treatment so hair loss can be reduced. Also, scalp cooling results in the faster recovery of hair volume after chemo.

Based on what my cancer nurse navigator, Nurse Meera, said and on what I read, here are some tips I've learnt to manage the other side effects at home:

Infections
Chemotherapy reduces the body's ability to fight infection. This makes me more likely to get infections that can get me seriously ill.
  • wash hands regularly with soap and water, especially after going to the toilet or before preparing food and eating.
  • wear a mask when I am out and avoid crowded places or people who are sick to avoid infections. However, for my mental well-being, I should not coop myself indoors all the time if I feel well enough to go out as it can cause depression. 
  • ok to take public transport, but remember to mask up.

Fatigue
Chemotherapy may make people feel tired a lot of the time or get tired very easly doing everyday tasks.
  • get plenty of rest.
  • keep active to fight tiredness caused by chemotherapy and improve physical/ mental health. Not too vigourous though, as chemo and the Herceptin jabs may weaken the heart. Nurse Meera was very cautious but Dr Samuel, who knows me better, said around Zone 2 or even 3 should be safe for me, as I was already pretty active to begin with. He said I should listen to my body and just look out for any heart pain or breathlessness.  Note: My trusted personal trainer, Superman, will be helping to plan my exercise program during my breast cancer treatment journey. 
  • take time off work or work from home to recuperate properly.
  • plan activities for the time of the day when I feel most energetic.
  • ask for help from family/friends when needed.

Sore mouth
Chemotherapy can make the lining of the mouth sore and irritated aka mucositis. Symptoms include mouth ulcers, discomfort when eating, drinking and/or talking, dry mouth, reduced sense of taste etc.
  • gargle with salt water {not mouthwash} every morning and after every meal to prevent mouth ulcer. Nurse Meera said that this is very important as it helps to prevent the loss of taste too.
  • avoid spicy, salty or sharp foods. 

Loss of appetite
Chemotherapy may lower my appetite or change the way food tastes or smells. Important to still force myself to drink plenty of fluids and eat what I can.
  • eat smaller meals more often instead of 3 larger meals each day.
  • eat healthy snacks regularly to make sure I get enough nutrients.
  • be active as being active can actually increase appetite.

Tingling/ numb hands or feet 
Having tingling (“pins and needles”) or numbness in the hands or feet may occur after chemotherapy. This is called peripheral neuropathy. It may last for a few months after treatment finishes or it may be permanent... eeks!
  • keep myself warm and avoid touching things directly with bare hands {wear kitchen gloves} from the fridge. Also, to use the fan and avoid air-con if possible. This is to prevent numbness of the limbs and fingers. 
  • wear well-fitting shoes with non-slippery soles.
  • wear socks to sleep to keep feet warm.

Diarrhea
Chemotherapy may irritate the lining of my digestive system. Also, since my immune system is down, it is easy for me to get stomach upset or food poisoning.
  • drink plenty of clear fluids {8-12 glasses per day} e.g. water, clear soup, clear juices, electrolyte drinks
  • avoid raw food, half-cooked or overnight food to prevent food poisoning.
  • avoid food that may trigger or worsen diarrhea e.g. raw food like sashimi, unwashed food, fatty food, greasy food, unpasterised food
  • milk and probiotics are ok, but best to avoid yogurt.
  • eating hawker food is fine, but try to avoid those that have been prepared early and put on display e.g. economy rice food. Choose those that are cooked on order. 

Brain fog 
There may be problems with short-term memory, concentration and attention span during chemotherapy. Routine tasks may take much longer than usual.
  • use lists, post-it notes or calendars to help remember things. This is one reason why I'm journaling down my breast cancer journey on the blog too...
  • eat well and get enough rest. 


*****

Follow my breast cancer fight on the blog, Facebook or Instagram {#AiFightsCancer}

Before mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgeries

After mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgeries
Surgical Drains Removal After Mastectomy and Breast Reconstruction 

Adjuvant Chemotherapy and Herceptin Injections

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