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Coping with Chemo: What to Expect and How to Handle it

A breast cancer diagnosis is a life-changing experience. There’s no denying that simple fact. To do otherwise would ignore everything your body has meant to you. Imminent surgery is already a lot to handle. You will have to decide with your doctor how you want to approach it. You can maintain a level of control in regard to your decision of when or if to have reconstructive surgery; however, when it comes to chemotherapy, control can often seem out of reach. This can make coping with chemotherapy very difficult.

Most people have a vague idea of what chemotherapy entails. They know to expect nausea, fatigue, and the possibility of hair loss. On the other hand, dry mouth, diarrhea, mouth sores, and the uncontrollable urge to vomit every time you see your chemo nurse, even years later, rarely make it into the movies.

Unfortunately, this is a case where ignorance is not bliss. You should know what can happen, but you should also know that you can and will survive it. In fact, holding tight to optimism while acknowledging reality is your best bet when coping with chemotherapy.

Tips for Making Chemo Less Horrible

Carissa Lucas recently published an article for the University of Texas regarding the five things she found helped most when she was undergoing therapy for her lymphoma. At first, her tips seem small, basic even. However, if you’ve ever been through a cancer battle with someone, then you know just how much those little things are worth. Lucas provides three major suggestions:

Take Care of Yourself (Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise)

This one can be difficult, particularly if nausea and fatigue do present as major side effects. However, maintaining a healthy baseline will help your body to fight cancer while also ameliorating some of the chemo’s side effects.

Stay Busy

Sure, it’s a distraction technique, but it does work for a lot of people. Try to stay engaged in activity by working, caring for your family, or pursuing a favorite hobby. If it keeps your mind off your symptoms for even a moment, then that’s a win.

Keep Mints or a Favorite Hard Candy on You

Chemotherapy and its commensurate treatments can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. By keeping mints or hard candy on hand, you can help cover the taste and help your mouth to produce saliva to reduce dryness.

Your Psychological Health

A recent study published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing explored the strategies that women diagnosed with breast cancer used for coping with chemotherapy. The sample size was rather small, incorporating only twenty women, but their results are promising. Dr. Andrea Gibbons, the first author of the paper, noted that women tended to practice two distinct forms of coping: behavioral and emotional.

Women who practiced both with regular coping appraisals were the most successful at maintaining their psychological health.

Behavioral Coping

In simpler terms, behavioral coping can be divided into two branches: anticipatory behavior changes and activity maintenance. Essentially, women who practice behavioral coping make small changes that help them deal with the symptoms of the chemo itself, such as carry a favorite hard candy in their purse, while also maintaining the rest of their life as much as possible. This second behavior is key, as it helps them to maintain a sense of control, which can otherwise be lost.

Emotional Coping

By contrast, emotional coping comes down to asking for help when they need it. As a result, if you want to maintain your mental health during chemotherapy, then you should try to keep control of as much of your life as possible by sticking with your routine and you shouldn’t shy away from asking for help whether it be physical or emotional. In addition, Dr. Gibbon’s team found that women who made a conscious effort to re-appraise whether their coping strategies were actually working were often able to make small changes that helped to improve their daily life while undergoing treatment.

Breast Institute Houston

Chemotherapy is hard on your body, but there are a lot of aspects of your life that you still have total control over. If you find yourself struggling with your mental health during treatment, don’t be afraid to share your worries with the knowledgeable staff at Breast Health Institute Houston. We will be able to make further suggestions and direct you towards important local resources.

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Houston Breast Cancer Surgeon

Darlene M. Miltenburg MD, FRCS(C), FACS
Call US 713-795-0161
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