Managing Common Treatment Side Effects

"They warned me that I would be tired...
They were right,"  
~ Nicole McLean in her blog post Half-way Through Radiation Therapy: Exhaustion is Real. 

If chemotherapy or radiation therapy are part of your treatment path, you may experience a variety of treatment related side effects. These side-effects can range from mild to severe, but there are ways to minimize the effects that cancer treatments have on your body.

Managing Fatigue

Extreme fatigue is a common side effect across a variety of cancer treatments.  Dana Jennings, New York Times writer and cancer survivor says, “I felt worn down, like a pencil nub that couldn’t possibly be sharpened one more time.”

Part of dealing with fatigue is accepting that you will be able to accomplish only your highest priority tasks. Strive for 8 hours of continuous sleep but recognize that short naps could be your ticket to feeling less like a zombie. Some individuals report 30 minute naps throughout the day gave them micro bursts of energy to receive a visitor, take a walk, or prepare a special meal. Too much time in bed can be counterproductive so rest when you need to and seek the help of others for daily tasks. Talk with your treatment team about ideal nutrition, how to stay hydrated and how to manage stress.  All of these feed into fatigue. 

Dealing with Hair Loss

Hair loss is a common side effect of many chemotherapies and a major concern for some individuals. While hair loss may be inevitable for some individuals, the following tactics can help retain hair as long as possible.

Avoid shampoo or other hair treatments with chemicals that can irritate your scalp.  Alcohol, salicylic acid, harsh fragrances, hair dyes and perms really stress your hair and scalp.  Instead, opt for gentle natural shampoo and conditioner every other day. Hair dryers, curling irons and flattening irons should be avoided in favor of air drying your locks.  This might be a good time to consider a shorter style that requires less “doing.”

Cold cap therapy is another options that cancer patients have used to try to reduce hair loss. A cold cap is a special cap that can be worn during chemotherapy treatments. There are two main types of cold caps. The first type uses a refrigerated cooling machine to pump a liquid coolant through the cap throughout the treatment. The second type uses a cap filled with a cold gel that is changed every 30 minutes to keep the scalp cool. Kate Dilligan shared her experience with cold cap therapy in A Patient’s Take: Cold Caps to Prevent Hair Loss.

If you decide that you’d like to rock a wig and want to match your hair color go shopping and find the one you like. Experts suggest that you hold off on having the wig fitted until you have been relieved of all of your hair to ensure the best fit.  And save your receipt – the wig might be a medical tax deduction.

Minimizing Nausea & Vomiting

Anti-nausea drugs have improved in the last several decades so definitely speak with your oncology team if you are experiencing extreme nausea. Beyond prescription medications, many people have found relief by using ginger products.  Ginger pills, teas and ginger ale are widely available and effective. Avoiding spicy foods and foods with strong smells is also advised. If you have uncontrolled bouts of active vomiting, make sure to talk to your medical team about adjusting your dosage of anti-nausea medications.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, Robin Care can help find you the resources you need to maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible.

Haley Burress has served special populations, including seniors, cancer survivors, and adults with developmental disabilities, for more than 15 years. She strives to give family and professional caregivers, as well as patients, reliable information and realistic ways to connect with one another. She currently writes for a variety of healthcare services agencies. When she is not writing, you can find her hiking any trail with her husband, 8 year old son, and dog.

  • August 20, 2018