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Ten Top Tips for Surviving and Thriving on Chemo

Updated on September 30, 2009

You can do it - I am!

In May this year, after a few mis-diagnoses, I was finally given the life changing news that I was suffering from breast cancer and would have to undergo surgery ( a full mastectomy) and chemotherapy. Oddly enough, the surgery didn’t really faze me. I knew that I could have a reconstruction and maybe even free breast enlargement – (do a “Jordan” as my husband dreamily said) Not sure I will do that – don’t think I have even enough skin…. But, while I wouldn’t choose to have my breast taken off, plastic surgery is so advanced these days that I can only think new , bigger, perky breasts could be a definite advantage– lying on the beach and still pointing upwards, going without a bra, entering wet T-shirt competitions …what more could a sunbathing, women's libber with a fun side want?

I must admit, however, to being totally distraught about the idea of chemotherapy. I work with children who suffer from cancer and so I am very aware of the frightening side-effects and life-disrupting effects that chemo can have. I tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade my oncologist that I didn’t really need it, that I was really too much of a coward to put my body through such punishment and that years of research into its benefits might be wrong, or at least wrong for me. But, in the end, after several heated and increasingly confusing debates, I decided I would have to at least give it a go. Cancer is like schizophrenia – you are never alone with it. You have to consider (and sometimes dismiss) the feelings of those around you. My family were united in their view that I should go for it and I felt I would be letting myself and them down if I didn’t try it once.

So I did. I am now over halfway through my 18 week treatment and I thought I would like to share some of the hints and tips that have really helped me. I learned through trial and error and definitely, these have helped each treatment become progressively easier. So here goes, hold on to your chemo caps and let's dive in….


  1. "All Thing Pass" - eventually..Do what your granny always told you and “Keep regular” Many chemotherapy treatments make you very constipated and this adds immensely to the overall discomfort. So eat a very high fibre diet, - lots of bran and fruit before and for the first three days of your treatment. Also, drink lots of fluid once you have your chemo. Aim to have to pass urine at least every 2 hrs. This seems to really help to flush the toxins out of your body. When everything comes to pass, it will be such a relief! Believe me!
  2. Proceed gingerly.... Ginger is a fantastic anti-emetic (prevents sickness and nausea). Stock up on the ginger ale, use fresh ginger in your cooking. I have another hub with a recipe for shredded ginger chicken with celery – delicious and great for the nausea!
  3. A Little goes a long way........Eat small amounts and often. I often find that just eating a banana or a cereal bar really helps the energy levels and prevents the awful fluish nausea.
  4. For Women’s Eyes Only – Doctors often tell you that chemo will stop your periods. What they often don’t tell you is that chemo can sometimes make your periods very heavy. That is all you need when you are already suffering the effects of chemo! I have found that tranexamic acid tablets taken for two days really stops the effects of this and keeps makes it less “bleeding” awful!
  5. Beware of "The Aversions".... Be careful about what you do when you get your chemo – especially on your first session. The problem is that you often associate that activity, item or even person with the sickness that you feel and you can form an aversion to them or it. Of course, if there’s a boyfriend or someone you can’t stand, bring them with you and then you have the perfect excuse to end your relationship – “I love you really but it’s just the chemo.” My big mistake was to get my wig on the same day as my first chemo. I still can’t wear it without rushing to the toilet and emptying the contents of my stomach. Another friend now can’t bear sandwiches because these are brought round on a trolley for those receiving chemo. So, beware of chemo-connotations!
  6. Get your 5-A –Day (Blessings not Fruit)
  7. I found it really helped my mood, especially before going to sleep at night to write down five blessings that have been given to me that day – they’re not necessarily huge things, just little moments like the little bedraggled robin that visits my bird table every day, or the dog putting its head on my lap and staring at me with his big brown eyes, or my husband kissing my bald head and telling me I’m beautiful. It’s a lovely way to slip into dreamland.
  8. A Friend in Need (is a Pain in the Bum)..... Friends are one of the most valuable ways of helping you not just survive but thrive on chemo. Just remember they too have their problems and try not to burden them too much with your anxieties or at least spread it around! I try to not give one person too many of my worries to shoulder. If I know someone enjoys make-up and hairstyles, I talk to them about coping with my hair, or lack of it. I have a friend who loves all things medical so I talk to her about different aspects of the treatment. I also try to remember the words of that hymn, “O Master, Grant that I may never seek, So much to be consoled as to console, To be understood as to understand” Sometimes, immersing yourself in other’s problems makes you realise your own life isn’t that bad!
  9. Time to forget.....Allocate yourself 15 - 30 mins a day to think about cancer and then forget it. If cancer does anyhthing, it makes you realise that life is for living!
  10. Laughter is the best medicine.....Laugh and enjoy yourself. Watch comedy programmes, read witty books, find humour in every day. When all my hair fell out, I woke up to my husband staring at my head with a frightened expression on his face. “I think you better look in the mirror,” he said. I leapt out of bed, ran to the dressing table mirror and burst out laughing when I saw the big 666 he had painted on my head!

These are my personal opinions but they really helped me. Really hope they help you cope with chemo- Survive,Thrive and Jive your way to health!!


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    • profile image

      Sali mali 

      6 years ago

      Hi, I am about to start my chemo next week, so am preparing for it now. THanks for your advice above. That's the kind of advice I needed -not quacky or doom and gloom but realistic and practical. Hope the rest of your treatment goes well and all the best for the future.


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