Chemotherapy can create a myriad of side effects. One of the purposes of this blog is to tell you about them, and help you to alleviate them, naturally. Recently, many patients told us: “The doctor didn’t tell me about this [or that] side effect.” Did he think you already knew? Or maybe he didn’t want to scare you? Perhaps he just didn’t know how the treatment would affect you, since everyone is different.
Most survivors agree-it’s better to be informed. With that in mind, here are a few of the side effects your doctor may have neglected to tell you about. You may or may not experience them-everyone is different, and all treatments are different-but just in case.
Eyelash and Eyebrow Thinning: You probably already know about hair loss, and you may have already gotten your wig. What you may not have thought about are your eyelashes and eyebrows. Chemo targets all hair cells, so to be prepared, get yourself an eyebrow kit (read our post), and consider investing in some synthetic brows or lashes.
Dry Skin and Brittle Nails: You may have had dry skin before, but chemo takes it up a notch. Your skin may be especially dry and flaky. Moisturize as often as you can, try some aloe (particularly for radiation burns), and avoid hot water. Your nails may turn hard and brittle, so wear gloves often, avoid chemical cleaners, and apply a soothing oil (like olive or sesame) around the cuticles daily. CV Skinlabs Restorative Skin Balm works perfectly for soothing dry skin or cuticles overnight, with natural ingredients that deeply moisturize.
Mouth Changes: Chemo goes after the cells that line the mouth, which can cause many problems. You may experience metal taste, so stock up on plastic utensils and citrus fruits. Plastic tones down the effect (silverware exacerbates it), and citrus wakes up the taste buds you have left. Johnny of Imerman’s Angels suggests the drink Lemonhead. Survivor Patricia Prijatel suggests Japanese plum sauce, which can help shake up certain foods.
Another common problem is mouth sores-those painful, canker sores that settle on your tongue, inside the lips, and on the lining of the cheeks. Hydrogen pyroxide and water make an effective rinse. Salt water may do the trick as well. Be prepared by asking your dentist ahead of time for some soft, tooth swabs for those days when a toothbrush is too hard, and stock up on soft foods like yogurt, soups, and gravies.
Another possibility is dry mouth. Your doc will have medication for this. Carry a water bottle with you, suck on tart candies, and see here for more suggestions.
Tummy Troubles: Your doctor may have told you that new medications stave off nausea and vomiting. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Most cancer patients complain of one or more of the following: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation. For nausea, the doc will give you drugs, but try some ginger extract as well (500 mg/day starting 3 days before treatment). Studies have shown it helps! To raise your odds of avoiding an upchuck, eat light on treatment days, and go for bland foods like toast, bananas, applesauce, and the like.
For constipation, try a regular regimen of fiber drinks, and be sure to exercise (walk) as much as you can. Prijatel suggests “green drinks” that are full of fiber and antioxidants. Milk of Magnesia might work too, but the more natural you can go, the better, so stock up on green vegetables, fruits, flaxseed, and oatmeal. This may help with diarrhea as well, as it regulates the digestive system. Whatever you do, go easy on the tummy-avoid spices, processed foods, and high-fat items.
Joint Pain: Though the hair, mouth, and tummy are the most commonly affected by cancer treatments, the joints may suffer too. Get yourself a glucosamine supplement and start taking it before you start treatment. Walk every day if you can, and eat foods high in omega-3s, like fish and walnuts.
Malnutrition: There’s no doubt that chemo robs your body of certain nutrients. Many patients mention a lack of magnesium, so be sure you’re taking a magnesium supplement as well as a quality multi-vitamin. Many vegetables (like spinach) contain magnesium as well. A good, healthy diet will always help your body stay strong.
Did you have a “surprise” side effect? What did you do about it? Please share your story.