Coping with Cancer Treatment

Along with its needed effects, cancer treatment may cause some unwanted side effects. It is important to work with your cancer treatment team. They can help you deal with the physical and emotional effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

Some side effects may go away as your body adjusts to the treatment. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any side effects that bother you or that get worse. Your provider may prescribe medicines to help stop nausea, vomiting, or other side effects.

To cope with feeling tired:

  • Get plenty of rest and sleep.
  • Plan your most important activities for the times when you have more energy. Ask family, friends, or caregivers to help with cooking, housework, yardwork, and errands.
  • Do moderate exercise, like walking, for 15 to 30 minutes a day. This can help with tiredness and improve your appetite. Talk to your healthcare provider about other types of exercise you can do. You are more likely to follow an exercise plan if you choose a type of exercise that you enjoy.

To cope with a loss of appetite:

  • Eat frequent small meals or eat small snacks between meals.
  • Add extra protein to your diet by eating more cheese, meat, fish, nuts, and soy products.
  • Use high calorie nutritional supplements, such as Boost and Ensure, as directed by your provider.
  • If cooking odors bother you, ask family, friends, or caregivers to prepare food at their homes and bring it to you.

To reduce nausea and vomiting:

  • Eat small meals all through the day.
  • Suck on hard candy. Avoid other sweets and fried or fatty foods.
  • Eat dry foods like toast or crackers to help ease an upset stomach.
  • Avoid food odors that increase nausea.
  • Drink cool, unsweetened, and noncarbonated drinks such as apple juice or flat ginger ale. You may need to drink just small amounts at a time.

To help relieve diarrhea:

  • Try drinking clear liquids, such as water mixed with fruit juice, weak tea, broth, or flat ginger ale.
  • Avoid coffee, strong tea, colas, and other caffeinated drinks.
  • Avoid foods with acid such as tomato or citrus juice. Avoid milk and other dairy products if they make your diarrhea worse.
  • As your diarrhea starts to get better, eat foods that are easy to digest. Eat breads, soft cereals such as cream of wheat and oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, potatoes, rice, and bananas.
  • To prevent skin irritation, use soap and water to clean the skin around your rectum (where bowel movements come out). After cleaning the area, apply a water-resistant ointment, such as A&D Ointment or petroleum jelly.

To cope with pain:

  • Take pain medicine as directed by your healthcare provider. Follow the directions that come with your medicine, including information about food or alcohol. Make sure you know how and when to take your medicine. Do not take more or less than you are supposed to take. Be sure to have your pain medicine prescription refilled so that you don’t run out. If the medicines are no longer working, talk to your healthcare provider.
  • Use moist heat for 10 to 15 minutes at a time to help relax your muscles and make moving easier. Moist heat includes heat patches or moist heating pads that you can buy at most drug stores, a wet washcloth or towel that has been heated in the dryer or microwave, or a hot shower. Don’t use heat if you have swelling.
  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the sore area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Try a massage given by a trained massage therapist. Massage increases blood flow and reduces tension.
  • Try hypnotherapy, which uses a state of deep, relaxed focus to treat pain, reduce stress, and help with depression.
  • Do things to relax and reduce stress, such as deep breathing, meditation, biofeedback, or yoga.
  • As your pain improves, try to do some moderate exercise, such as walking for 15 to 30 minutes a day.

To help relieve skin problems:

  • Avoid tight or scratchy clothing that irritates your skin.
  • Use lukewarm water and mild soap for bathing.
  • Avoid long exposure to the sun. Wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunscreen lotion as directed by your provider when you need to be outdoors.
  • Do not use any powders, creams, perfumes, deodorants, body oils, ointments, or lotions without first checking with your provider. They may interfere with your treatment.

If you develop sudden or severe itching, contact your healthcare provider.

To cope with hair loss:

  • If you plan to buy a wig or hairpiece, get one while you still have hair if you want one that matches your hair.
  • Wash your hair with a mild shampoo. Pat it dry with a soft towel.
  • Consider cutting your hair short or shaving your head. This may give you a sense of control.
  • Protect your head from the sun. Use sunscreen or wear a hat when you are outside.
  • Protect your head from the cold. Wear a hat or scarf.

It may help to join a support group to talk with others whose hair has fallen out during cancer treatment.

To cope with emotions:

You may feel angry, depressed, worried, afraid, and confused. You may have trouble concentrating or remembering things. The type of cancer that you have or some treatments may cause confusion or depression. Talk with your provider about this.

  • Set realistic goals and priorities. Change the things you can, and learn to accept what you cannot change.
  • Learn ways to reduce stress, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.
  • Learn which activities make you feel better and do them often, such as getting out in nature, listening to music, or watching comedies.
  • Develop a positive attitude. A positive attitude does not mean denying that you have cancer. It means not focusing on your cancer all of the time. Continue to work toward your goals and desires.
  • Share your feelings with friends or loved ones. Let others help you through the low spots.
  • Spend time exploring your connection to life and to others, which may include spirituality and religion.
  • Support from your family, friends, and clergy, support groups, or professional counseling can help.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-09-30
Last reviewed: 2014-09-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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