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Life After Chemotherapy Treatment: What to Expect

Chemo may be over, but the effects of your treatment may linger.

Once chemotherapy treatment is over, some might expect that they’ll jump for joy and throw a survival party. Many patients, however, are surprised to find out that their feelings aren’t as consistently cheery as they’d hoped. 

Patients also often continue to feel the side effects of treatment, which can be difficult as they adjust to their new normal. 

Here are important things to consider as you adjust to life post-chemotherapy treatment: 

Caring for Your Mental Health After Chemotherapy

When a patient has completed cancer treatment, they may feel a rollercoaster of emotions. While they may be feeling a sense of relief and gratitude, these emotions may also coexist with feelings of fear, sadness, and isolation. 

Some people may feel uneasy that they’re no longer receiving active treatment, or that they’re not going to get the daily or weekly support that they’ve become used to.

A cancer diagnosis can shake you to your core and change you as a person—in a way that many people do not understand. It can be incredibly beneficial to be part of a support group, whether it’s a formal one or just with a few friends you’ve met along the way. 

Caring for Your Physical Health After Chemotherapy

After treatment, your risk of infection, bleeding, and skin problems may still be high. To stay healthy after chemotherapy, your doctor will give you a plan for follow-up care. Here are some tips to help you take care of your physical health after chemotherapy: 

Take care of your mouth. Chemotherapy can cause dry mouth or sores. This can increase the amount of bacteria in your mouth which can cause an infection. Here’s how to protect your oral health: 

  • Brush your teeth two to three times per day with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

  • Let your toothbrush dry in between brushings to prevent bacteria growth. 

  • Use a flouride toothpaste. 

  • Floss gently once a day. 

Prevent infections. It’s important to take extra care to prevent infections for a year or more after your chemotherapy.

Talk to your doctor about other ways to prevent infection during post-chemotherapy time. 

Get the right nutrients. After chemotherapy, your appetite may still be poor. You may also have symptoms like an upset stomach or diarrhea. Still, it’s important to ensure you’re getting the right nutrition to help you feel your best. Here’s how to get the nutrients you need: 

  • Eat enough protein and calories to keep your weight up. There are many healthy high-calorie foods to choose from (think avocados and nuts), but even ice cream and Oreos are useful tools to keep weight up. For people with extremely low appetites, any calories are better than no calories.

  • Eat whenever you’re hungry, even if it’s not a typical meal time.

  • Avoid low-calorie foods.

  • Eat several small meals a day.

  • Drink mint and ginger teas to soothe nausea.

  • Eat bland foods if you have upset stomach, such as oatmeal, white bread, applesauce, eggs, broth, or low-fat dairy products.

  • Drink plenty of water, which can also help prevent dehydration if you are vomiting.

  • Ask your provider about liquid food supplements. 

Stay active by walking. Slowly increase the amount of time you walk based on how much energy you have. 

Cover up when in the sun. Pick a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to any exposed skin and be sure to wear a wide-brim hat. Here are tips for picking the right sunscreen for your skin type

Don’t smoke. Smoking makes it harder for your body to recover and increases your risk of complications. Here are tips to help you quit smoking

Follow-up with your doctor. Keep all of your appointments with your care team. Follow-up care is very important so your doctor can monitor your health after treatment. 

It’s also important to talk to your doctor about complications, further side effects, and warning signs to look out for. Certain symptoms, such as fever, chills, or abdominal pain, may warrant an emergency doctor visit.

Ashish Saxena, MD, PhD

This video features Ashish Saxena, MD, PhD. Dr. Saxena is an oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.

Duration: 2:34. Last Updated On: July 15, 2019, 7:12 p.m.
Reviewed by: Preeti Parikh, MD . Review date: July 15, 2019
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