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.
Practice safe eating and drinking during cancer treatment. Here are tips to ensure safe and proper nutrition during cancer treatment.
Wash your hands with soap and water often.
Keep your house clean.
Be careful with pets or animals.
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.
Dr. Saxena is an oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.
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The duration of chemotherapy
in total depends a lot on what
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the chemotherapy is being given for.
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So, usually after the whole
treatment is done and
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most patients have had a number of doses
of chemo, they can feel tired, fatigue.
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They may have side effects from
the chemotherapy that can linger for
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Sometimes it's only weeks,
sometimes it's months.
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But generally as the time passes from the
chemotherapy, they start to get stronger,
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feel better, and get closer back
to how they were beforehand.
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Unfortunately, there's always chance of a
cancer returning after it's been treated.
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But for the different types of cancers,
we monitor them afterwards so
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that we can catch it if it returns.
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And that we may be able to offer other
therapies to make it go away again.
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So, it's important for the person to
continue following with the doctor.
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Whether it's their oncologist, or a
surgeon, or even their primary doctor, so
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that they're being watched to see
if the cancer will come back.
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After getting chemotherapy,
it's important to maintain good nutrition,
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meeting with a nutritionist
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Trying to be as physically active as you
can be based on your side effects from
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I always tell patients not to just sort of
think they should just lie around and say,
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well, I've had chemotherapy,
I shouldn't do anything.
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They should maintain activity and
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try to get back to as much of
your normal life as you can.
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Because the goal of a lot
of the treatment is,
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to get you back to where you were before.
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Any sort of physical activity,
whether it's walking or
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even going back to the gym, as well as
you can tolerate it, is important to do.
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In follow up appointments after
a person is finished with chemotherapy,
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generally the health care provider will
ask them questions about side effects
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from the chemotherapy.
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As well as questions that might make
them suspicious that the cancer may have
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As well as getting blood work,
although a lot of times not, and
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they may go over a scan that the person
may have had when coming in for follow-up
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to go over whether there's anything that
suggests that the cancer has come back.
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It can be very scary after you've
had a diagnosis of cancer,
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even if it's been treated and
you've gone through your chemotherapy.
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There are support groups for people,
the survivorship support groups,
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that's been a sort of a big push
in the field, so that can help.
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Seeing a mental health professional
to help deal with anxiety.
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And also just even talking with your
doctor or oncologist or surgeon or
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anyone who's been providing the cancer
care about what you're feeling.
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So that they can help direct
you to the right place.
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The “End” of the Journey. Oncolink. (Accessed on July 15, 2019 at https://www.oncolink.org/oncopilot/the-end-of-the-journey)
After chemotherapy - discharge. MedlinePlus. (Accessed on July 15, 2019 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000012.htm)
Your Body After Treatment. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. (Accessed on July 15, 2019 at https://www.dana-farber.org/for-patients-and-families/for-survivors/caring-for-yourself-after-cancer/your-body-after-treatment)