Staying Healthy During the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

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Staying Healthy During the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

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As you begin your cancer fight, you may be concerned about the possible side effects of chemotherapy. You are not alone. Many people worry about how chemotherapy will affect their bodies, but there are things you can do to stay healthy and manage these issues.

If you or a loved one is managing a cancer diagnosis and treatment, take a look at ways you can stay healthy and strong during this time, as well as steps to take to manage specific side effects of your chemotherapy treatments.

Proven Ways to Stay Healthy During Chemotherapy

Eat a Balanced Diet

Chemotherapy can change the way your body uses food. Eating well can make you feel better and keep you strong for the remainder of your treatments. Different types of nutrition can help with various parts of chemotherapy. Take a look at how each type of food can help you stay healthy.

  1. Proteins help repair your body tissues and keep your immune system strong. Protein is especially important for those who are battling cancer.
  2. Healthy fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, help you keep up your energy levels.
  3. Water is the body’s natural first aid. It keeps all of your vital vitamins and minerals in balance, and it keeps every cell in your body functioning properly.
  4. Vitamins and minerals are found in many healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. If your food intake has been altered, you can talk to your doctor about taking vitamin or mineral supplements to keep your body strong.

Always discuss with your cancer care team before making dietary changes. A registered dietitian who specializes in cancer can help you find the right balance.

Get Regular Exercise

It has been proven that exercise during chemotherapy can improve your quality of life. Some of the major benefits include:

  1. A reduced risk of falls
  2. A reduced likelihood of muscle loss
  3. Improved blood flow to the limbs
  4. Independence during daily activities
  5. Higher self-esteem
  6. Reduced anxiety
  7. More social interaction
  8. Weight control

For some active people fighting cancer, the intensity of previous exercise routines should be lessened. For less active cancer fighters, simple things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, cleaning your bathroom, taking a walk and washing your car can all be great forms of exercise. Talk with your cancer care team before beginning any exercise.

Manage Your Emotions

There are many emotions involved in the cancer fight, and it can be hard to be positive all the time. The most beneficial thing you can do is learn to manage your emotions and deal with them as they happen. Support groups and meetings with mental health professionals can be one of the best ways to learn how to manage your emotions. Your cancer care team can help you connect with people who can help you.

Steps for Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects

It’s important to remember that every person is different and that each body deals with chemotherapy in its own way. Not everyone will have every side effect, and some people will have more or less than others or even none at all. You can use a side effects tracker to watch your symptoms and share with your cancer care team. Here are things you can do to manage possible chemotherapy side effects.


  1. Plan periods during the day to rest
  2. Get enough rest at night
  3. Drink plenty of water
  4. Eat a healthy diet
  5. Only do activities that are most important to you
  6. Ask for help with daily activities
  7. Stand up slowly

Hair Loss

  1. Purchase a mild shampoo
  2. Use hair brushes with soft bristles
  3. Use the low heat setting on your blow dryer
  4. Don’t set your hair with curlers
  5. Avoid hair dye and perms
  6. Get a short haircut
  7. Protect your scalp with a hat, sunscreen, scarf or wig
  8. Try using a satin pillow

Bruising and Bleeding

  1. Always check with your cancer care team before taking any medication, including pain relievers
  2. Avoid alcohol
  3. Use a soft bristle toothbrush
  4. Blow your nose gently
  5. Avoid sports that could cause injury
  6. Consume enough fiber to prevent constipation
  7. Invest in an electric shaver
  8. Keep your head above your heart when you bend over


  1. Wash your hands throughout the day, especially before eating and after using the restroom
  2. Avoid crowds
  3. Stay away from people who are sick
  4. Talk to your doctor before getting vaccinated
  5. Avoid people who have recently been vaccinated
  6. Keep yourself clean after each bowel movement
  7. Don’t bite your nails or tear your cuticles
  8. Avoid squeezing and scratching pimples
  9. Pat skin dry instead of rubbing
  10. Keep skin moisturized
  11. Always use waterproof gloves when gardening or cleaning up after animals or children and wash your hands


  1. Eat small meals throughout the day
  2. Drink liquids an hour before and after meals instead of with meals
  3. Consume food and drinks slowly
  4. Avoid sweet, fried and fatty foods
  5. Eat cold or room temperature foods to avoid smells
  6. Chew food well
  7. Drink cool, clear liquids
  8. Try sucking on ice cubes, mints and tart candies
  9. Avoid bothersome smells
  10. Stay sitting up after eating for at least two hours
  11. Wear loose clothes
  12. Take deep, slow breaths when nausea begins
  13. Distract yourself
  14. Use a relaxation method

Lack of Appetite

  1. Eat small snacks or meals when you want, not when you feel you have to
  2. Try new foods and recipes
  3. Walk before meals
  4. Try eating in a new place or new environment 
  5. Eat with people or while listening to the radio or TV
  6. Arrange for a program to bring you food


  1. Drink plenty of fluids
  2. Eat high fiber foods
  3. Exercise


  1. Eat small amounts of food frequently
  2. Avoid sweets, alcohol, coffee and tea
  3. Avoid high fiber foods
  4. Don’t eat fried, greasy or spicy food
  5. Stay away from milk products
  6. Eat more potassium
  7. Drink mild, clean liquids to avoid dehydration

Mouth and Throat Sores

  1. Eat cold or room temperature foods
  2. Look for soft or soothing foods
  3. Avoid acidic foods

Dry mouth

  1. Drink plenty of liquids
  2. Suck on ice, Popsicles or sugar-free hard candy
  3. Chew sugarless gum
  4. Moisten dry foods
  5. Eat soft foods
  6. Use lip balm

Skin and Nail Changes

  1. Keep your face clean and dry
  2. Take fast warm showers instead of long hot baths or showers
  3. Apply lotion or cream after bathing
  4. Don’t use perfume, cologne or aftershave
  5. Try using cornstarch for itching

You are not alone during your cancer battle. The dedicated cancer care team at John Stoddard Cancer Center will be with you every step of the way to provide guidance and answer your questions. For more ways to stay healthy and manage the side effects of chemotherapy, visit our cancer education resources and talk with an oncology dietitian about your nutritional needs.