Chemotherapy side effects: Breast cancer patient shares 6 coping tips

May 13, 2015 | by Denise Heady

Chemotherapy is an often-essential component of cancer treatment, attacking cells that divide quickly and helping stop cancer's advance. But the very characteristics that make chemotherapy effective against cancer also can make it toxic to healthy cells, leading to side effects such as hair loss, nausea, loss of appetite, dry mouth and fatigue.

coping with chemotherapy Tip 1 for coping with chemotherapy side effects: Take one day at a time.

Each patient devises his or her own ways of coping with such side effects. Here, former City of Hope breast cancer patient Argelia Villalvazo, 45, shares her tips. Now in remission, she made it through four rounds of chemotherapy by following this advice:

1. Take one day at a time.

Villalvazo acknowledges that few things can ameliorate the side effects of chemotherapy. That said, however, she always kept a positive attitude, taking one day at a time. “In my case, I had to take four chemo sessions, so I would tell myself: 'One down, three to go,' and so on. It helped keep the goal close at hand, and I would constantly remind myself that I could do it.”{C}

 2. Use your imagination to help food taste good.

Eating was often difficult for Villalvazo, as it is for many people during cancer treatment, so she would try to play mind tricks on herself. “Due to chemo, everything tasted like wet cardboard, so I had to use my imagination,” she said. “I would eat food that looked fresh and colorful and let my memory do the rest. The result: I never had to deal with anemia and my immune system was pretty strong, I didn't catch anything.”

3. Let yourself take a break.

Treatment can be tiring, so don’t get down on yourself if you need to just sit and rest, Villalvazo said.  “I would sleep as much as I could during the bad days, usually three to four days after the chemo, but as soon as I started feeling a little better (and I mean just a little), I would try to move around, pushing myself to stay busy with small tasks. But I would always rest if I felt tired.”

4. Lean on your family and friends.

“My family was my biggest supporter, always asking what I needed, how I was feeling, taking me to my sessions and were always there for me,” Villalvazo said. “Above all, my greatest incentive to fight and to stay strong was my three girls and my husband. They provided me with the fuel I needed to move, and I was their glue to keep us whole.”

5. Be your own advocate.

Don't to be afraid to ask questions, Villalzavo said, or to repeat those questions until you clearly understand what’s happening. “Remember that everybody is different and medications work in different ways for each person," she said. "If you feel the medication you’re on is not doing anything for you, go back and ask why. Be your own advocate or find someone who will do it for you.”

 6. Remember, treatment is temporary.

“Life is beautiful and sadly, sometimes you never realize how great things are until you get sick,” said Villalvazo. “After I was diagnosed, I wanted to do everything in my power to get my health back, even if that meant going through the torture of chemo and radiation. But always remember, it is only temporary and that at the end of it all, you will have a second chance at life.”


Learn more about breast cancer treatment and research at City of Hope.


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