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Cheat Sheet

Chemotherapy and Radiation For Dummies

From Chemotherapy and Radiation For Dummies by Alan P. Lyss, MD, Humberto Fagundes, MD, Patricia Corrigan

Facing cancer treatment is unnerving so during your chemotherapy or radiation build a team of people that can support and help you and take care of yourself to ease the stress. Use some practical methods to handle side effects and deal with the hair loss you may experience during treatment.

Building a Cancer Treatment Support Team

When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and you’re going through treatment, you need not only help from your family and friends but from an entire support team of people, with your doctors at the forefront. Build your support team with the following people to help you manage all levels of cancer treatment:

  • Medical oncologist: A doctor who treats cancer

  • Radiation oncologist: A doctor who directs radiation therapy

  • Social worker: To help with practical concerns

  • Psychologist: To help with emotional concerns

  • Massage therapist: To help manage stress

  • Fitness expert: To help reduce fatigue and keep you moving

Treating Yourself Well during Chemo and Radiation

While you’re going through chemotherapy and radiation, take some time to pamper yourself. Even if you experience just a few cancer treatment side effects, you may not have your usual level of energy. So that you have time for family and friends, use these tips to help you save energy:

  • Lower your expectations for yourself.

  • Delegate responsibilities at home.

  • Talk with your boss about a temporary reduction in work schedule or production level.

  • Balance your schedule, alternating busy days with quiet days.

  • Pace yourself — refrain from pushing past what’s physically possible.

  • Eat nutritious meals rich in protein.

  • Content yourself with periods of mild exercise, leaving the marathon workouts for after treatments end.

  • Sleep when you need to.

  • Sleep when you want to, as well.

  • Practice patience — treatments do eventually come to an end.

Managing Chemotherapy and Radiation Side Effects

Don’t panic and assume that since you’re undergoing chemo or radiation that you will experience every possible side effect. Cancer patients experience treatments differently, but most experience nausea and dehydration. Here are some tips for managing them:

For nausea:

  • Take your anti-nausea medications.

  • Eat something before you get out of bed in the morning.

  • Avoid spicy foods.

  • Eat several small meals, and take small bites.

  • Take in some protein.

  • Stay away from sweets.

For dehydration:

  • Sip small amounts of fluids.

  • Drink from a straw.

  • Stick to unsweetened fruit juices.

  • Defizz carbonated drinks.

  • Settle in with a cup of peppermint tea.

  • Avoid caffeinated drinks.

Facing Hair Loss from Cancer Treatments

Many forms of chemotherapy cause temporary hair loss, and radiation causes permanent hair loss for the body part treated. Losing your hair is an emotional experience, so you need to spend some time getting used to the idea of yourself without hair. You can also take some steps to care for your hair before it falls out and your scalp afterward:

Before:

  • Prepare yourself emotionally by deciding that a lack of hair will not cause your self-esteem to suffer.

  • Choose a wig ahead of time — if you plan to wear one — so you can match your own hair.

  • Consider cutting your hair short so the loss is not so dramatic.

After:

  • If you don’t wear a wig, protect your scalp from the sun with a hat.

  • Sleep in a stretchy, cotton knit cap if your head gets cold at night.

  • If you are female, discourage comparison to Telly Savalas, Patrick Stewart, or Howie Mandel.

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