HINTS & TIPS for getting through chemo and a cancer diagnosis

These are all things I’ve picked up along the way, whether from a healthcare professional, a friend offering advice, someone who has experienced cancer first hand themselves or a family member/friend or just things I’ve realised myself throughout the slog….

  • Firstly, and most importantly do not have any expectations. Do not think about what might happen, do not base your experience on anyone else’s, try to go with the flow and take things as they come.
  • Listen to your body – do what it tells you. If you’re hungry eat, if you’re tired nap, if you’re thirsty drink. This is just a good tip for life really, cancer or no cancer. It sounds so basic but it’s surprising how often we forget to do this…
  • Find ways to eliminate stress. Before I had cancer if I was feeling stressed or anxious or bored I would do one of 2 things. Either I would go for a run, or the gym, some sort of physical activity to get the endorphins flowing or blood pumping. Or I would go and get really drunk. Both activities were not an option for me when I was ill, so I had to find other ways to eliminate stress, to wind down or to let off a bit of steam. For me taking walks, being creative, doing some light yoga and baking all worked wonders. And of course talking. Talk, talk, talk. Be open, tell people how you are feeling, what is making you anxious, why you are scared. Never be embarrassed about your illness, never feel you have to hide or cover anything up.
  • Buy yourself treats. You have cancer – treat yourself. I would often go into town after chemo and treat myself to a new lipstick, a nice herbal tea, some fresh garms. Anything to make you feel good.
  • Eating – just eat everything! I lost a lot of weight and all of my strength, eating was the only way for me to regain this. DO NOT cut out food groups. My consultant advised me of this very early on. Your body is going through an intense amount of trauma both with being ill, having cancer and then having chemo, which plays havoc with your body. Eliminating food groups which you would normally eat adds to this trauma. I ate all the cheese, all the chocolate, all the meat, all the vegetables, all the fruit, all the carbs, all the bread, all the eggs, all the desserts. The only “health food” I would advocate and actively push is flax seed and chia seed. Add to smoothies, add to cereal, or make into a chia/flax pudding. Simply because it is incredible for easing constipation!
  • Water is your best friend. Drink LOTS of it – at least 2.5 litres a day, especially on the days before, on and after chemo.
  • Ginger biscuits and ginger tea are excellent for nausea. I buy myself a pack every morning before chemo and eat them during chemo and for the next few days after chemo.
  • Walk, walk, walk. Try to get out in the fresh air as much as possible, it will always make you feel better. Walking also stimulates white blood cell production. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow and your biggest bones are your hips and femur. So walking really promotes their production.
  • Start a blog. No seriously. Or a journal. You don’t need to share it with thousands of people online like I’ve done, but writing everything down really helped me to de-compartmentalise my thoughts and make sense of what was, quite frankly, a pretty fucked up time.
  • Rest. As much as you can. You are ill. You are healing your body. You need to rest.
  • Art therapy . Crafts, paper cutting, making pompoms, painting, making collages and bunting were all excellent ways of helping me to switch off, to take my mind of things and to relax. At times I found it required too much energy to read, or even to watch Netflix, but doing something that was quite repetitive, or didn’t require too much intellectual thought, plus was a silent activity I found to be very useful for calming my mind.
  • Accept your down days. It is okay to lie on the sofa, under a duvet, watching shite on TV and eating comfort food. This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. In a way the numerous trips to hospital and being in isolation forced me to do nothing. Even then though I’d often find a way to sneak off the ward for a little walk….
  • Try to mentally prepare for chemo, if you know it’s going to knock you down try to tell yourself this, and then try to visualise the time when you will start to feel better knowing that that this time will come.Patience, as always is key.
  • Use your good days wisely. Try to plan something fun to do, do chores that you know will be too difficult to do when you’re feeling like crap. Equally think about and start planning all the amazing, fun things you will do once you are better.
  • Whenever you are worried or paranoid about something call your consultant or nurse. I often felt as though I was being a burden, or just paranoid, or stupid, or over worrying but that is what they are there for. Often all it took was a 2 minute phone call for my mind to be put at rest.
  • Make an inspo wall – it sounds so cheesy but I love mine and whenever I was feeling a bit down I’d look at it. Once I’ve been given the all clear I plan to burn it all, along with clothes and other items that remind me of being ill in some sort of weird, ritualistic cleansing of the soul.
  • Pet therapy. I’m lucky enough to have 2 dogs at my family home where I lived for all of my treatment. They gave me so much comfort and affection. They always knew when I was ill and would always lie with me when I couldn’t get out of bed. They have such a calming effect and zapped me of anxiety. If you don’t have a dog I would highly recommend hanging out with someone’s every so often!!
  • Moisture, moisture, moisture – your skin will likely be scaly, flaky and really dry. So just slather on that moisture all day, ‘ery day. Also wear factor 50 sunscreen. Chemo thins your skin. I decided to wear factor 15 one sunny day and sun bathe. BIG mistake, within 15 minutes I was red. Just accept that you will not be tanning for a bit.
  • Baths, lots and lots and lots of them. I got the worst bone, joint and muscle pain a few days after chemo and anything hot would help hugely. Having a really hot bath helped to ease this better than anything. Have them hot, add oil, add Epsom salts, add essential oils, light a candle, turn the lights off, chill the fuck out.
  • Have a thermometer with you at all times. Keep one by your bed and one in your hand bag. You never know when your temperature will start to rise and you will have to take a visit to the dreaded hospital. And if your temperature rises above 38c always go to hospital. I would often feel like I was a burden on the NHS and a busy A&E department turning up with a “suspected” infection. You are NEVER a burden, you are ill, you must utilise all the facilities you have at your disposal to make yourself better.
  • On the hospital note, have a bag and wash bag prepped for when/if you need to go into hospital. The amount of times I just rocked up to A&E with no clean pants, no toothbrush, nothing to keep me entertained and no phone charger was just ridiculous. It always stressed me out. When you’re in hospital for a few days all you want are some home comforts.
  • Try to avoid going into hospital altogether by trying to avoid getting an infection. I wash my hands all the time now, be really careful with what you eat https://www.lls.org/managing-your-cancer/food-and-nutrition/neutropenic-diet, avoid anyone who is ill and stay away from big crowds of people, do not whatever you do go into a sauna or steam room. They are germ incubators. I made the mistake of going in one and ended up in hospital for 3 days and had to miss a week of chemo.
  • Yoga. It’s not just for hippies. About half way through my treatment I started to feel much better, however my muscles had ceased up and I was extremely tense from not doing any movement for about 3 months, I’d just been lying down a lot. I started to do yoga, starting with very basic sequences and grew my practise slowly over time. It allowed me 30 minutes every day, on my own, for me and my body. It allowed me to listen to it, to thank it and ultimately to help it heal. My strength came back to me, as did my flexibility and posture. I still have a long way to go to get back to my yogi bunny self that I was before I got ill but everyday I’m building and I have come so far. At the start I couldn’t even turn my neck to look over my shoulder. Now I’m back doing planks, downward dogs, pigeons, the lot. My favourite yoga is with Adriene, her Youtube channel has so many great vids for different levels, I highly recommend her.  https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene
  • If you are UK based and have stopped working you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance, a type of benefit for when you are unfit to work. Again this is not something to be embarrassed of, or think that you don’t need. If you are ill and are unable to work then there is no shame whatsoever in receiving a benefit. I didn’t have a huge amount of savings and of course these quickly ran out, so not having the burden of struggling financially has helped me hugely and eliminated a massive amount of stress. More info here: https://www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance/overview
  • You will be given lots of advice by lots of different people throughout your illness and treatment. Not all of it will be helpful, some of it may make you angry, or sad but some of it will make you feel much better. Work out what’s right for you, what has worked for me is certainly not gospel. Cancer works in mysterious ways, as does life.

2 thoughts on “HINTS & TIPS for getting through chemo and a cancer diagnosis

  1. I’ve read all your articles and meant to leave a comment for a while: You are an amazing woman; wise,
    strong and clever. You are such an inspiration and your words stay with me long after I finished reading them.
    Hope 2017 (& all the years to come) will be full of health, adventure, love and laughter for you!

    Like

  2. Hi Ariane,
    I’ve been lurking for a while, and thought I should finally comment! These tips are awesome and incredibly helpful. I’m another young person currently undergoing treatment for HL (stage IIB), and it has been rough on me. Your blog has been an amazing source of inspiration though, and I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but also of comfort. I’m often riddled with anxiety and uncertainty, but then I see you – being strong and kicking ass while also acknowledging the reality of the emotional shitstorm that comes with a cancer diagnosis. I have to say, your positivity often helps to assuage my fears. So from one Hodge to another, thank you, and my fingers and all other capable appendages are crossed for your recovery.

    Like

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