What Helps Chemotherapy Side Effects

Written by Marc B

Chemotherapy is difficult.

I can admit this after six rounds of CHOP chemotherapy as a teenager, followed by six rounds of GDP in my late forties. Mental health aside, chemotherapy presents of myriad of side effects that can change over the course of treatment. So while the following list is only a starting point, I found in my experience, I was able to find relief. Inevitably, helping me shift my focus from treatment to recovery.


In my experience, fatigue was the single-most debilitating side effect of therapy. I found it worsened over the course of my treatment; however, it seemed to follow a pattern, which provided hope on the days when simply sitting upright was a burden.


Water and caffeine-free herbal teas were key to my daily routine. Keeping in mind, hydrating after dinner was a mistake, as I spent the night visiting the bathroom rather than resting, which only exacerbated my fatigue the following day.


While walking down the driveway felt akin to scaling Mt. Everest, I took a 20 minute walk/stroll everyday. A temporary buzz of energy followed, as well as, the mental satisfaction that I was doing a little something to combat muscle loss.
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Chemo mouth

Food, even water, can taste different. For me, everything had the aftertaste of aluminum foil. Thankfully several days post-infusion, my palette would realign and the metallic bite would disappear.


Good oral hygiene helped limit the duration of my chemo mouth, as well as, reduce the prevalence of mouth sores. During the week of infusion, I would swish multiple times daily with a homemade mouthwash consisting of 1 cup warm water, ¼ teaspoon baking soda & ¼ teaspoon salt.

Flavor foods

Good nutrition is the cornerstone to healing, but a tough sell if everything tastes awful. Bring the flavor back to food. Maple syrup helps with anything metallic and bitter; salt ramps up the flavor; and a little lemon juice eases anything too sweet or salty.

Infuse water

Water can be difficult to swallow with a metal mouth. Caffeine-free herbal teas, lemon or orange slices, and fresh mint/herb infusions helped flavor water to a palatable level, ensuring I was obtaining crucial daily hydration.

Sugar-free mints and lollis

Sugar-free mints and lollis provided temporary relief, especially during infusions or in the middle of the night.


Whether I had napped too often or my chemotherapy drugs were keeping my eyes wide open despite exhaustion, insomnia can be real, especially the days following infusions.

Take an evening walk

A stroll post-dinner and before bed not only helped with digestion, and fatigue; but also established a rhythm to kickstart a successful night’s sleep.

Avoid liquids after dinner

Chemotherapy can increase urination, add in a full bladder and your sleep just was interrupted. Limiting beverages after dinner helped solve the issue.

Avoid napping

You’ll feel like taking one. Trust me. If you must, set a timer for 30 minutes, preferably one without a snooze option.
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Changes in food, decreased activity, lack of fluids or the combination of chemotherapy drugs might cause constipation. In my case, the anti-nausea medications lead to predictable bowel issues.


Senna is an herb containing plant compounds called sennosides, which irritate the lining of the bowel with a laxative effect. Taking around 12 hours to provide relief, I would take the capsules the night before an infusion, as well as nightly thereafter, until things returned to normal.


One of the leading factors in constipation is a lack of fluids, as the colon requires proper hydration to pass stools effectively. Follow the 8×8 rule: eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day. I found warm water was often easier to tolerate than cold.


Extra fiber would find its way into my diet in unexpected places. Psyllium husk and flax meal blended well into fruit smoothies. Applesauce was a tasty topping to bland oatmeal. Dried fruit, especially prunes, were a delicious dessert. High fiber foods that would help my bowel issues, as well as, keep my nutritional needs in check.

Sanitary wipes

Inflammation of the mucous membranes is a common side effect. We think of the mouth and throat, but often forget the other end. Add in the complications of constipation, and I was often too sensitive for scratchy toilet tissue. Moist sanitary wipes not only were hygienic, but soothing.
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Chemotherapy introduces foreign drugs into your body. Your brain turns on its best defense – vomiting. Additionally, your digestive tract also can be affected, causing chronic nausea. Factors aside, nausea during chemotherapy is an issue. While I’m incredibly thankful for modern anti-nausea drugs, they do have their own side-effects. So in order to minimize my nausea, I saved pharma for infusion weeks and abated my symptoms during off-times with a few tricks.


Ice cold water, sipped slowly throughout the day helped ensure I received proper hydration, but also starved off queasiness.

Mild foods

Avoiding the kitchen during meal -prep, as well as, eating small, frequent mild foods were key on infusion days. Cold or room temperature food emits less odor than hot, so simple items like quiche or broth that could be served lukewarm were helpful. I avoided menu items that I really enjoyed, so mentally, I would not taint their palatable memory.


Ginger contains biochemic compounds that have nausea-calming effects. The rhizome has been used to treat inflammation and nausea throughout history, and I will attest it helps relieve side effects. Sipping lukewarm ginger tea helped me not only stay hydrated, but took the edge off my upset stomach.
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Dry skin

Chemotherapy attacks fast-growing cancer cells; skin and hair cells however, are fast-growing as well. As the largest organ in the body, your skin’s epidermis is in a constant state of rapid regrowth. Treatment attacks healthy skin cells during their turnover, causing your skin to become dry, peely and irritated.

Lip balm

An all-natural lip balm is free of chemicals that can actually exacerbate dry, cracked lips. Additionally, I found fragrance-free options didn’t add to the already-present metallic taste in my mouth.


Short, lukewarm showers with a gentle cleanser didn’t further irritate my itchy skin. Slathering a heavy moisturizer, while still moist, was both hydrating and soothing.


Fast-growing nasal hair follicles can also be affected during treatment, resulting in a runny or dry nose. My symptoms presented as dryness, I combatted the discomfort by using a saline spray several times daily.
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Mouth sores

Oral mucositis or mouth sores are not only painful, but can make it difficult to eat, talk, swallow and breathe. I suffered greatly from this condition during my CHOP treatment as a teen. With a first-hand understanding of how this condition impacted my therapy, I chose to be incredibly proactive during the second round. Realizing my mouth tissue’s inability to heal and fend off germs was the catalyst.


Good oral hygiene was key to staving off mouth sores. During the week of infusion, I would swish multiple times daily with a homemade mouthwash consisting of 1 cup warm water, ¼ teaspoon baking soda & ¼ teaspoon salt.

Soft toothbrush

Taking care to not damage or irritate the soft tissue of the gums and mouth, I used an extra soft toothbrush. Additionally, I took time flossing, ensuring I was very gentle and avoided areas that were bleeding or sore.
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I battled with my veins during and after each infusion. Locating “good candidates” was a continual issue, as well as, the irritation, burning, pain and bruising that resulted from each treatment only added to the side effects chemotherapy was presenting.


Being well-hydrated increases blood volume, and is the key to plump veins. Starting the day before an infusion, I avoided caffeine and consumed extra liquids.

Warm compress

Post-infusion, my injection site would often be red, irritated or bruised. I found relief in a hot compress. Taking a cue from my wife’s breast-feeding days, I filled a clean, cotton sock with rice and microwaved it until warm. Reheating as necessary.

Weight loss

From nausea to chemo mouth and sores, treatment often coincides with a reduced appetite and subsequent weight loss. Already slim by nature, I was concerned how a significant weight drop would affect my overall health; interfere with my treatment schedule; and impair recovery. More than ever, my body needed healthy, nutrient-dense foods, but I was also aware how sensitive my appetite would become.

My wife authors a low-carb, diabetic blog, For Good Measure, inspired by our type 1 diabetic daughter. Understanding the correlation between diet and health, she shifted perspective and created a menu to not only maintain my weight, but fuel my recovery.

Following are a few highlights:

  1. Chemotherapy kick-off

    The weeks leading up to your first infusion are an opportunity to clean up your diet. Eliminate caffeine, sugar and processed foods. Eat three square meals daily consisting of fresh vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

  2. Protein smoothie

    Alongside your favorite breakfast, a high calorie, nutrient-dense fruit smoothie will not only jump start your daily appetite, but also take advantage of early morning hunger to pack in those extra calories.

  3. Comfort foods

    Easy to prepare with plentiful servings; mild in taste; and perfect served at room temperature these meals are the backbone to thriving during infusion weeks.



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