Cancer is a word that can be scary and even scarier to experience. The chemotherapy used to treat cancer can also be frightening at best. Chemotherapy kills the cells that rapidly divide and that is what cancer cells do. But other cells divide quickly as well such as in the gastrointestinal tract. So it has side effects such as nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, mouth tenderness, sores, inflammation, diarrhea or constipation and changes in taste and smell.
It is very important that the chemotherapy patient eat well during this time. Malnutrition has been found to be the cause of death in 20% of cancer patients so getting enough is very important. It can help you to feel better, maintain weight, tolerate the treatments side effects, boost your immunity, decrease the risk of infection, maintain weight, strength and energy and help you to recover and heal more quickly.
When recovering from the chemotherapy it may seem like the furthest thing from your mind is to eat anything. There are several things that may help minimize the side effects of vomiting and nausea. The best thing to do is to eat smaller meals about every 1-2 hours and avoid spicy, fatty or greasy foods. Regular eating rules may be put to the side for the time being. During this time the diet of a chemotherapy patient will be a little different than your regular healthy eating habits. Reduced calorie, light foods and reduced fat items may not be the best choice at this time. You will want to choose full fat when purchasing milk, cheese or other foods.
Most of the medications used in chemotherapy cause appetite loss to some degree and this can lead to malnutrition. This change in appetite is temporary and should return to normal when you have completed the treatment. Until this time eat high protein, high calorie foods and add extra calories with protein and milk powders, cheese and cream cheese, honey, jam and sugar, butter, and peanut butter. Liquid supplements such as shakes and smoothies or even soups and milk are good choices if chewing is a problem. Other foods such as hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, ice cream, chocolate milk, full fat yogurt, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, puddings and custards, and applesauce are softer and easier to eat.
And remember that breakfast can be the most tolerable meal of the day so try to get a third of your calories then. You might want to avoid drinking fluids during meals because they will make you feel full and have them through out the rest of the day.
If nausea and vomiting is a real problem for you talk to your doctor. There are medications that prevent these things and can be used before the symptoms appear. And there are several things you can do to help with nausea and vomiting such as not eating food with strong aromas and try sipping fluids throughout the day. Sucking on hard candies such as mint or lemon drops can be helpful. Do not eat in the same room where the food is prepared because the aroma may be too strong. Sit up or lie with the upper body raised for an hour after eating. Rinsing your mouth out both before and after eating can be helpful also. Don’t over eat.
Remember that you are fighting for your life and take advantage of the kindness of others and let your family help you with housework and managing your days. If you don’t have people to help you research your community or ask your oncologist for a referral to a registered nurse.
You need to watch your immune system at this time. It can become weakened and avoiding food borne illnesses is very important. Be sure you are using pasteurized and processed juices and ciders, juices and milk and cheese. Wash all vegetables and thaw meat in the refrigerator. Avoid raw foods such as sushi or shellfish. Be sure that food is cooked thoroughly and that your wash your hands and surfaces before and after preparing food.