Dealing With Some of the Toughest Side Effects of Cancer

by Brittany McNabb-WhatNext

Some WhatNexters say the side effects of cancer “may get worse before it gets better.” Here are some of the ways WhatNexters have made it through those common side effects and a few positive outlooks shared by WhatNexters who have come out on the other end. This information is from WhatNexters and should not be substituted for medical advice.

Side Effects

How People Will React
While not medical, a big side effect of cancer is coping with the way people will react to your diagnosis. Not everyone will know how to react and you may feel like the elephant in the room. In this situation WhatNexters have learned to have fun with it, find their sense of humor, let insensitive comments roll off, and focus on friends and family that will stick by their side.

“Some people can’t deal with someone they love being sick, some don’t know what to say, and some people have their own stress issues going on. Don’t worry about those people if they come around good, if not, concentrate on your health and peace of mind.” - Onemancrew62

Loss of Appetite
You may lose your appetite due to treatment or due to change of taste brought on by chemo. WhatNexters say they have had to find foods that are appealing to them and eat even when they are not hungry to keep their strength up. They have also stocked up on food in the house that makes them feel good and healthy food options like fruits, vegetables, and juices.

“I had zero appetite after a major cancer surgery, many things just seemed gross, but then I found I could eat a very small bowl of pasta salad and stayed with that for a time. I would say I had to, be patient, keep trying different foods, and stay in contact with my oncologist for more suggestions.” - fasttdog

Hair Loss
Losing your hair from chemotherapy has physical and emotional aspects. Overall, WhatNexters have had to do what they are comfortable with whether that is buying a wig, wearing head scarves or hats, or just having the mindset that “bald is beautiful” and hair grows back.

“Hair grows back and no one ever knows when I wear a wig. Plus, the wig never frizzes like my hair did. Only thing I can't wait to do is cover up the gray again, then I'm sporting a cute spiky hairdo for a while! The real beauty in life is the love you give and the love you get!” - debco148

“Cancer can take so many things away from you and it's tough that it takes your hair! I knew I would lose mine shortly after the first chemo, so about a week before I expected it to start falling out, I got a mohawk and dyed it bright pink. Perfect hair do for a 60-year-old! Funny how empowering that felt! Eventually I had my husband shave it all off insisting on "being in charge" instead of letting cancer call the shots.” - Ydnar2xer

Fatigue/Loss of Energy
When experiencing fatigue many WhatNexters have to allow themselves time to recover, take time for naps during the day, and focus on getting a full night sleep. Once you have felt like you have rested try to get active to battle fatigue and ask for help from loved ones when they can’t do as much as they used to.

“While I am still dealing with fatigue, I can do more each week. It takes a lot of time and energy for the body to fully heal from the bombardment of treatment. I slept when I needed to and looked for the positive - it does get better!” - gsbasset

“It was important for me to take lots of time for myself, and when I felt tired, took the time I needed to rest. A new job may make this difficult, but sometimes I take my lunch hour and go home for a nap. Even 45 minutes to an hour in the middle of the day can help a lot.” - cheypeggy

Depression
Two ways WhatNexters often battle depression are to speak to their care team for suggestions on how to get help and to form a strong support system. Talk to friends and family on the phone, get out the house, eating right to make their body feel good, and some have gotten a pet to keep them company during the hard times.

“By seeking help for my depression through talk therapy, psychotherapy, and medication I have to say my life is so much better now. I have suffered silently for years with symptoms of depression thinking I would eventually just get over it . A support group helped me to realize that the feelings I was having are completely normal and I can find out how others have dealt with their situations. A counselor can give some insight to what is really eating me and teach me some new methods of coping like breathing exercises and meditation.” - 19972010

Dry Mouth
WhatNexters say that dry mouth, while it may seem like a small, is one of the more unpleasant side effects of chemo. Drinking lots of water, eating hard or sour candy, and using mouthwash has helped.

“Lemon drops seemed to help keep the saliva flowing. I also drank a huge amount of organic lemonade. Anything sour tasted really good but I have to admit nothing would really quench my thirst. It got better when treatment was finished.” - markmather

Bad Taste/Loss of Taste
Change of taste, loss of taste, or metallic taste from chemo can make it hard to find things you enjoy eating. WhatNexters say eating foods with a strong taste like things that are really sour, really sweet, or really salty helped them.

Everything tasted bad while on chemo. The good news is that it corrects itself when you're done. Spicy food helped me. Eating something sweet also helped.” - ticklingcancer

“I tried to change things up. Trying different and new foods. Sometimes eating the "familiar" wasn't too good of an idea since I knew what taste to expect and then if it tasted different my body would not want anything to do with it. I always ate something though. An empty stomach is nauseas best friend. On days when I just could not eat I would drink nutritional shakes with a straw. A straw got it to where it needed to go - to the back and down my throat.” - Lirasgirl33

Chemo Brain
To cope with “chemo brain” WhatNexters have kept a journal or planner, engaged their mind with crossword puzzles or sudoku, used notes around the house, texted themselves reminders, used repetition in their head while doing tasks, organized their medications in a 7-day pill box, and found a sense of humor about it.

“My survivor buddies and I make a joke out of it when we've forgotten something. It also makes you do crazy things like taking the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and putting them in the refrigerator. Sit back and laugh and use the excuse "It’s the chemo brain!!”” - Snooks

If you are discouraged by the side effects of cancer you may want to talk to other WhatNexters who have survived cancer about what they have done. Try to keep in mind that with these side effects there is a light at the end of the tunnel when cancer treatment is finished. For those of you who have come out on the other end, how did you cope with the side effects of cancer? We would love to hear your success stories.

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